Could CAQ education reforms spare English-language school boards?

The Coalition Avenir Québec government has vowed to abolish school boards and replace them with service centres. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Coalition Avenir Québec government is keeping its cards close its chest after a comment made on a popular Montreal morning radio talk show about school board reforms is making waves in the anglophone community.

Political commentator Bernard Drainville told 98.5 FM’s Paul Arcand that the province’s plans to eliminate French-language school boards and turn them into service centres will spare the English-language boards.

Drainville explained to Arcand that Quebec’s Education Minister Jean-François Roberge wanted to do away with all school boards, but ultimately the argument for the protection of minority language rights prevailed in the debate.

“He found that there was a lot shakeup with [Quebec’s] secularism law, that there was no support on the anglophone side. There was a lot of resistance on the part of anglophones regarding this law, so the CAQ government decided to — let’s say ‘spare’– the English-speaking community by keeping their school boards,” Drainville said.
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Drainville then went on to explain that while English school boards will survive, they may not keep their same structure.

“There may be adjustments. But they will keep control of their institutions,” he said. “I look forward to see how the CAQ caucus will react to that and how the CAQ electorate will react to that.”

CAQ government stays mum

A spokesperson for Roberge said the ministry will not comment on the possibility of keeping English school boards under its reform. Christopher Skeete, parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, also declined to comment.

For his part, Quebec Premier François Legault said no decision has been taken yet. “I think we are an open government. We’ve listened to the anglophone community and we’re trying to find a compromise,” Legault told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll come back to you in the next few weeks.”

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Quebec government insists it will protect English-language rights

The English Montreal School Board (ESMB) said it did not want to “speculate on rumours.”

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“We will know soon enough,” said Russell Copeman, executive director of The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA). “There will be ample time to analyze the legislation when it is tabled, follow the debates, participate in the debates and we hope — in fact — that English-speaking Quebecers become engaged in this debate because it is so important for our future.”

While the CAQ stays mum on the issue, the Quebec Liberals said the move is good news — if it is true. Interim Liberal Party leader Pierre Arcand also criticized the Quebec government.

“This is always something that is improvised,” Arcand said.  “We have been supporting school boards and of course the government will have to propose a plan, a plan that will be coherent for the future.”

The rumours come one day after the EMSB asked the province to seek a Quebec Court of Appeal opinion on its intended bill to remove school boards.

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The Legault government has long contended that eliminating school boards in favour of replacing them with service centres is necessary. The move would also quash school board elections.

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However, members of the the English-speaking community in Quebec have argued the change infringes on their rights.

The province is expected to table a bill on the school board reform this fall.

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— With files from The Canadian Press, Kalina Laframboise and Brayden Jagger-Haines 

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