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‘Not good for democracy’: Quebec government’s plan to invoke closure on Bill 40 sparks anger

Forcing school board reform
WATCH: The Quebec government will push forward to pass its controversial school board reform, Bill 40. Despite massive opposition, the province hopes to force the legislation through by Friday night. As Global's Raquel Fletcher reports, this is the fourth time in eight months the Legault government has invoked closure.

Calls for the Quebec government to back down on plans to invoke closure over Bill 40 are mounting.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), the province’s second-largest trade union, staged a protest Thursday afternoon in front of the offices of the Commission scolaire de Montréal urging the government to let the democratic process take its course.

The proposed legislation seeks to eliminate school boards and replace them with service centres. The administration of the centres would fall under a board of directors comprised of parents, community members and staff.

READ MORE: Quebec government to invoke closure on Bill 40 Friday

As part of the law, general elections would also be eliminated for schools within the French-language system. The English-language service centres would still retain the right to hold democratic elections.

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The bill — which has 300 articles and would amend 80 existing laws — has been the subject of amendments, a study and hearings at the national assembly.

On Tuesday, the provincial government tabled 112 pages of new amendments to its proposed school board reform legislation with news breaking on Wednesday the Legault government would invoke closure at the end of the week to force the bill through.

READ MORE: Quebec government proposes dozens of amendments to controversial school board reform

The education branch of the CSN, which represents more than 30,000 members working in over 1,600 schools, argues the government is rushing ahead with the bill without taking the time to consider the impact of the proposed changes.

“Just before resorting to closure, the government itself tabled 82 amendments,” said CSN vice-president Véronique De Sève in a written statement.

“These changes to the bill will never be considered by parliamentarians. The risk is now very high of ending up with a poorly crafted bill.”

The fear now, according to the union, is that the employees, the students and their families will pay the price.

READ MORE: English-speaking groups ask Quebec to seek court guidance over constitutionality of Bill 40

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Opposition parties at the national assembly agree.

“You invoke closure as a last resort,” said Liberal interim leader Pierre Arcand. “So the government is clearly anti-democracy.”

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said the government had no choice but to invoke closure, accusing the opposition of using stall tactics to delay the passing of the bill.

Roberge said they’ve already discussed the bill enough, having spent 60 to 70 hours on it already.

“They keep asking the same questions again and again,” he said of the opposition, adding that at that rate it would take 1,000 hours to go through the bill.

READ MORE: Quebec education minister weighs invoking closure to adopt Bill 40

Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy shot back at Roberge.

“The only person who has been wasting time is the minister himself. He came unprepared every single day,” she said.

Arcand said the ruling party is operating the government as if it were a company and that needs to change.

“The government is not a company in itself.  It is there to listen to the citizens and the opposition is there to improve the laws of the nation,” he said.

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“I think this is our role, but the government doesn’t see that and it’s not good for democracy.”

Premier François Legault, for his part, says the government is doing its job by fulfilling its electoral promise to do away with school boards.

“I think it’s important that we proceed with the will of Quebecers and we’ve been very clear during the electoral campaign with this promise,” he said.

It will be the fourth bill imposed by the Legault government in less than a year.

— With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise, Raquel Fletcher