Christine St-Pierre

Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre has a reputation for speaking her mind.

Quebec Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre has a reputation for speaking her mind.

Perhaps because of her background in journalism – she was a TV reporter who covered Parliament Hill and Washington before running for Jean Charest’s Liberals in 2007 – playing politics doesn’t appear to be the Quebec minister of communications, culture and the status of women’s biggest strength.

Case in point: even before becoming culture minister, St-Pierre was suspended from her job at Radio-Canada, in 2006, for writing an open letter in Montreal’s French-language daily La Presse, praising Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

When she first became minister, St-Pierre pledged to enforce Bill 101 with a ‘zero tolerance’ policy, a statement which alienated non-native French speakers. And after dismissing census data showing fewer mother-tongue francophones on the Island of Montreal, she was criticized by the so-called language hawks for not doing enough to protect French.

Her management of one of the province’s hottest political potatoes has elicited mixed reviews. ‘She has skidded from one banana peel to another,’ stated a Montreal Gazette editorial after her first few months in office.

St-Pierre admits that her first months as a minister were very challenging, but it appears to be paying off.

‘It is a very complex and complicated job. There was an incredible amount of information to absorb,’ she recalls.

Montreal’s film commissioner, Hans Fraikin, who recently announced the arrival of two big-budget foreign service shoots in the city, the $35 million Source Code (Vendome Pictures) and Ryan Kavanaugh’s $110 million War of Gods, says Charest, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand and St-Pierre worked exceedingly hard to help Quebec’s service sector get back in the game after an alarming lull: ‘The political will is there. We have cleaned up our act and in 2010 we will be able to rise from the ashes.’

St-Pierre has pushed forward, and become one of the most outspoken critics of Heritage Minister James Moore’s $45 million in cuts to arts programs in 2008. She also rallied many other provinces to issue a collective statement condemning Moore’s cuts, which had created an outcry in la belle province.

Despite her initial disappointment with Moore, St-Pierre is today impressed with the Heritage minister’s willingness to listen to Quebec’s concerns.

‘He’s a Francophile. He speaks French well. He’s making an effort and I think he has a good Quebec team,’ she says, pointing to Moore’s recent pledge of $25 million in additional funds over the next five years to help the struggling TV5 network as an example of his commitment to French-language culture.

‘Diversity is very important,’ she notes, but helping outlets stay solvent is only half the battle. What goes on air is equally important. St-Pierre is closely monitoring the Canada Media Fund file and the CRTC’s ongoing scrutiny of Canada’s broadcasting system.

‘It would be really a shame to simply finance TV blockbusters,’ says St-Pierre, who grew up on a farm in rural Quebec and has a long-term partner but no children. ‘Documentaries aren’t box-office hits but they are essential, as is children’s programming. We need to encourage shows that aren’t necessarily popular.’

And while she’s concerned about the precarious state of conventional TV, St-Pierre isn’t sure that fee-for-carriage is the answer. ‘I don’t believe additional costs should be transferred to the consumer. For an older person, an extra $2 per month can mean a lot.’

Another hot-button issue for St-Pierre was the protracted dispute between the Quebec technicians union AQTIS and the American union IATSE – the latter of which had been trying to break into Quebec to represent workers on foreign service shoots. Many American producers were turned off by the turf war, which had AQTIS claiming it had the exclusive rights to represent local workers under Quebec law.

St-Pierre was determined that the organizations ‘share the pie,’ and was instrumental in changing the law in 2008 to allow both unions to represent workers in the province.

‘Foreign service shoots bring in a massive amount of money. We have the best technicians in the world, but the competition is ferocious. We had to be competitive,’ she explains.

St-Pierre says one of the highlights of her time as minister was watching 20-year-old Montreal filmmaker Xavier Dolan toasted at the Cannes Film Festival last May.

‘It was incredible,’ she remembers. ‘He is so small and so young. And there he was, people were clapping and asking for his autograph. It was wonderful.’

ET CETERA…

• A news junkie, St-Pierre scans at least five newspapers daily, including the Montreal Gazette, Le Devoir, La Presse and The Globe and Mail. ‘Newspapers are my sustenance…’

• Favorite TV programs: 60 Minutes, Six Feet Under and Quebec teleromans

• Favorite vacation spot: England. ‘I think I was English in another life. When I first travelled there I fell in love. I love the people and their way of life’

• Enjoys walking in the woods near her cottage, north of Montreal