English-language advocates say they’re grateful Quebec’s school board reform has made an exception for them to still hold democratic elections. However, they argue it’s unfair for the French system to lose their right to hold general elections.
“We’re looking to see whether or not those constitutional rights are maintained in this model, but we’re also saying that the loss of school democracy in Quebec is not good for Quebecers. It’s not good for Quebec in its entirety,” Quebec English School Boards Association (QEBSA) Executive Director Russell Copeman insisted.
“The notion of a compromise is, I think, inappropriate and we’re here today to say that we believe that school governance democracy is an important value for Quebec.”
Rather than holding general elections, Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge proposed that the board of directors for new service centres in the French system will instead be elected by the parent, professional and student representatives on the schools’ governing boards.
“Is it fair in Quebec to have a two-tier system here? That we have a system for the francophones and another for the anglophones? Since when is this fair in Quebec? I think Mr. Roberge and Mr. Legault are starting something very unfair here in Quebec,” argued Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy.
“Democracy should be available for everyone — for the anglophones and also for the francophones.”
Alain Fortier, president of Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec also denounced the “loss of school democracy for more than half of all Quebecers.”
“The French and English school boards are uniting to say all Quebecers deserve the same democratic right,” he argued, adding that there will be a loss of power in the province’s regions.
“Roberge’s reform doesn’t fix anything and we’re making sure that we’re calling it ‘Roberge’s reform’ to make him accountable for the chaos he will create if it goes on the way he wants it to go on.”
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QESBA has expressed its disappointment over some aspects of the proposed school board reform, calling the model “a mistake.”
The association is currently studying Bill 40, but Copeman said he hopes the the proposal goes through a consultation process rather than being rushed through the National Assembly by the government to become law.
“We’ve seen absolutely no demonstration that the new model will improve students success, so why undertake this huge sterile debate about structure, this massive reorganization, this disruption?” he said.
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Nevertheless, Christopher Skeete, the parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, insisted the exception was made to help anglophone Quebecers keep authority over their institutions — after Roberge noted the English community had argued hard to protect its minority language rights.
“The community will maintain control and they will benefit from a revamped governance and I think this is a solution going forward,” Skeete said.
The Parti Québécois (PQ) noted that though it is open to Bill 40, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about who is going to take care of the schools.
“There’s a lack of participation in school board democracy, this is a fact. We don’t deny that at all, but…the main reason why you decide to legislate is to make sure you increase the success of the students in school, which is not the case with this bill,” insisted PQ interim leader Pascal Bérubé.
The Liberals agree, stating Roberge doesn’t understand the “reality of parents,” nor was there any assurance that there would be more services for children.
“I don’t think he understands the reason we have school boards,” Rizqy noted.
“I think he had one idea and the only way to do it is to abolish the school boards and call all the shots now.”
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Roberge shot back that the members of the governing boards would only have to attend about 10 meetings a year and participants will get about $100 a meeting each.
Why service centres?
The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government announced its intention Tuesday to nix school boards across the province, replacing them with service centres in a move it considers to be “the end of school boards as we know it.”
Bill 40, which was tabled by Roberge, will essentially give more power to the ministry.
“Right now, with our school boards, we have too much bureaucracy, too much petty politics at the expense of our children and too much money taken away from our schools,” Roberge argued.
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The government explains the centres will be administered by a board of directors made up of parents, community members and staff.
Under the proposed legislation, school boards will cease to exist as of November 2020.