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School boards important to English-speaking Quebecers: Léger survey

WATCH: Former MNA Geoffrey Kelley joins Global News senior anchor Jamie Orchard to discuss a new Léger poll that suggests that while they many may not vote in school board elections, a majority of English-speaking Quebecers feels boards play an essential role in protecting minority language rights in the province.

English-speaking Quebecers want to elect their own school board officials and reject the provincial government’s proposal to replace them with service centres, finds a new Léger survey commissioned by the Alliance for the Promotion of Public English-language Education in Quebec (APPELE-Québec).

READ MORE: Quebec education minister says plan to abolish school boards will respect constitutional minority rights

“School boards have deep roots in the English-speaking community and are viewed as playing a critical and valuable role in ensuring our elementary and secondary schools effectively respond to the needs of our community,” said  former MNA Geoffrey Kelley, chair of APPELE-Québec.

“Not surprisingly, we believe that our neighbour who we have elected to serve on a school board will better represent our interests than a bureaucrat in Quebec City.”

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According to the survey, a majority of people believe the English school boards are important to their community’s identity — though less than half of them would consider it a “hub.”

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About 88 per cent of respondents of the survey said they were aware of the existence of the English school board in their region. Half of those people knew or had heard of their commissioner.

Eighty-one per cent of people said school commissioners need to work harder to meet the needs of the entire population in their jurisdiction, and not just families with children.

WATCH BELOW: ‘No room for interpretation’: Quebec will abolish school boards

‘No room for interpretation’: Quebec will abolish school boards
‘No room for interpretation’: Quebec will abolish school boards

Though 68 per cent agreed school board officials should be elected by the public, only 56 per cent of respondents knew that they have the power to vote in school board elections. Most of the people who were aware of their voting rights were people aged 55 or older and people with university degrees.

To increase voter turnout (only 31 per cent of respondents voted in previous elections and 30 per cent say they plan to vote in the future) Kelley suggests that school board elections should be held at the same time as municipal elections (74 per cent of respondents agreed) and “voter turnout would increase significantly if there was internet voting.”

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Sixty-one per cent of people said they were aware of the government’s plan to abolish school boards, but just 12 per cent support it.

READ MORE: Premier calls for French schools in Quebec to follow English lead

Another 16 per cent believe the Quebec government should be able to make decisions regarding the boards’ futures.

Those who believed school boards should be abolished cited reasons of money savings and avoiding the waste of taxpayer dollars.

WATCH BELOW: QCGN ready to fight government to preserve school boards

QCGN ready to fight government to preserve school boards
QCGN ready to fight government to preserve school boards

The survey notes the debate mostly comes down to protecting minority language education rights — with 90 per cent of respondents saying this is important to them and 87 per cent of people saying school boards should remain independent of the Quebec government.

About 67 per cent said they believed school boards contribute to the efficient functioning of elementary and secondary public schools.

For Kelley, protecting minority language rights is the crux of the issue.

While he says he’s not defending the status quo when it comes to school boards, Kelley said he feels the government isn’t listening to the concerns of the English-speaking community.

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“The government claims they’re going to respect the rights of the English-speaking minority, well let’s find a place, a table where we can sit down with representatives of the English school boards, representatives of the English community and let’s find a model that works,” he said.

Kelley argued the government’s plan to abolish school boards raises constitutional issues and that he still believes a political solution is possible — if the government is willing to come to the table.

READ MORE: François Legault stands firm on religious symbol ban, eliminating school boards in inaugural address

The web survey was conducted between March 13 and March 21, sampling 1,001 English-speaking Quebecers aged 18 and older.

WATCH BELOW: Quebec MNAs debate over plan to abolish school boards

Quebec MNAs debate over plan to abolish school boards
Quebec MNAs debate over plan to abolish school boards
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