For the second time in just over two weeks, Quebec politics have taken a history-making turn.
Following the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s (CAQ) landslide election win on Oct. 3 came the appointment of Kateri Champagne-Jourdain, an Innu from Uashat Mak Mani Utenam, and the first Indigenous woman to win a seat in a Quebec provincial election.
On Thursday, Champagne-Jourdain was confirmed as the province’s new minister for employment – becoming the first Indigenous minister in Quebec’s history.
“I’m going to do what I can to the best of my abilities, with all the will that’s driving me,” Champagne-Jourdain told reporters Thursday.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s new expanded cabinet is made up of veteran ministers from his party’s first mandate and several newly elected members.
Legault had plenty of names to choose from after the CAQ won 90 of the legislature’s 125 seats, but he said it didn’t make the final calls any easier.
He qualifies Champagne-Jourdain’s appointment as a gesture of goodwill to improve the quality of Quebec’s nation-to-nation relationships.
“I want to see her nomination as a signal of reconciliation between the Quebec nation, the First Nations and the Inuit,” Legault said.
“I want to be clear that this doesn’t meant that Kateri has this on her shoulders, all Quebecers have this on their shoulder…we need one another.”
Two-thirds of the 30 cabinet posts are held by returning ministers, with nine newly elected members and one former backbencher.
However, some “second chance” appointments made by Legault are already garnering strong reaction.
Pierre Fitzgibbon, the former Quebec finance minister who resigned in 2021 after he was investigated for ethics violations, is now considered Quebec’s “super minister” of energy and economy.
His appointment is stoking concerns that Quebec will push through construction of Hydro dams – one of his campaign promises – without the approval and consent of Hydro Quebec or First Nations and Inuit communities.
Ghislain Picard, Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL), told APTN News there’s an economic “roundtable” in the works to discuss future development.
“I’ve already asked whether this table will have a place for First Nations- and what I got so far was an indication that….probably not,” Picard said.
“To me, that’s totally unacceptable.”
Jean Boulet, the former immigration minister who was roundly criticized for saying 80 per cent of immigrants don’t work, speak French or adhere to Quebec values, was appointed labour minister during Thursday’s cabinet shuffle.
He has also been appointed the minister for the ‘Nord du Quebec’ region, which encompasses both Cree and Inuit territory – two regions equally threatened by potential development.
“If Mr. Legault wants to have partnership with Indigenous peoples and speak about development, you really need to establish that relationship, you have to have that connection, you have to have that dialogue,” Mandy Gull-Masty, grand chief of the Cree Nation Government, told APTN’s Nation to Nation.
“And he has to be prepared to understand that there is a type of development that Indigenous peoples may accept – and there’s also a range they will not accept.”
Following the swearing-in, Legault listed education, health and the economy as priorities for the coming mandate. He also said he would chair a special committee on the transition away from fossil fuels.
He noted he wants to consult opposition parties and environmental groups on the transition.
Ian Lafreniere, the returning minister for Indigenous Affairs, set policing, child welfare and possible Indigenous language legislation as his priorities moving forward into the next four years.
Quebec’s National Assembly will resume sitting on Nov. 29, when Picard and the AFNQL will be keeping an eye on their progress.
“So far, anyway, I don’t really see any change of heart,” Picard added.
“We’ll keep a close watch – as we always do – on how these things evolve, and react accordingly if we feel there’s a need to do it.”
–With files from The Canadian Press