Queen's University

It's all about integrity

Eight years after she became the youngest person – and the first black woman – ever elected to the Quebec National Assembly, Yolande James is still breaking new ground.

After sitting for eight years in the Quebec National Assembly (QNA) as a member of the Liberal government – including five years as a cabinet minister – Yolande James, Law’03, now finds herself sitting in Opposition and coming to grips with a whole new set of challenges and priorities.

Former Premier Jean Charest last fall had tabbed James to become the province’s next environment minister. Instead, the Liberals lost out to the Parti Québécois in last September’s general election, and when James, who retained her own seat, returned to the Assembly it was as Deputy Opposition House Leader and critic for Sustainable Development and the Environment.

“As Minister of the Environment, I’d have dug deeply into climate change issues and the proposed Enbridge pipeline, “says James. “These are concerns I’m passionate about.”

Yolande James, Law'03Yolande James. Law'03, was the first black woman elected to the Quebec National Assembly and to hold a Cabinet post in the province.

However, she notes the scandals that plagued the Charest government and September’s election results served to remind her that being elected to political office is a privilege. “There’s a reason why when I stand up in the National Assembly, I’m never called by my name. I’m called by my seat,” says James. “[In government,] you have a responsibility for a period of time, and the way you behave and interact with people in that role is not for your own name and your own benefit, but in the name of the position that you’re privileged to hold for that time.”

James believes her youth and her plans to have a family of her own helped in her efforts to develop and implement the Work-Family Balance accreditation initiative, a program that “sends the message that Quebec promotes the right balance between work and family,” as James said when the program was announced in April 2011.

“I kept meeting young professional women who were having babies and finding that there just wasn’t a connection between their work life and their home life. We hadn’t been giving families or businesses the tools they needed.”

In developing the accreditation system, James visited all types of businesses because, as she notes, “the issues and what parents need are so different depending on location.”

What James found was that when businesses were finally given the tools to ­create a work-life balance, they became creative. She cites the example of “an accounting firm that offers all meals catered to ­employees and their families during tax season.”

Mention of the word “season” serves as a reminder that now that James is sitting in Opposition and serving as her party’s sustainable development and environment critic, her job is to hold the PQ government accountable on climate change ­issues. “You can’t talk and talk about ­reducing emissions, and not have a good plan to achieve that,” she says.

Is the current government respecting the environment?

“We can do better,” says James. “I’d like to see us finally make the switch to ­renewable energy.”

She intends to pursue that concern with the new PQ Minister of the Environment. But first she has other, more pressing concerns. “I’m having a baby in March!” she explains.

James won’t return to Quebec City (where she lives three days a week when the QNA in session) this session, but since she lives near her Nelligan riding office, she plans to keep working there and will resume “interacting with constituents” a few weeks after her baby’s arrival.

As a bright young MNA with integrity, heart, brains, and the ambition to make the world a better place, does Yolande James see herself one day campaigning for a leadership role in her party?

James laughs at the question. “Not likely,” she says, noting that her family life takes precedence. “I love my career, but I’m about to go on an adventure that I know will change everything.”

Queen's Alumni Review, 2013 Issue #1Queen's Alumni Review
2013 Issue #1
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