The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government invoked closure for a fourth time in 8 months in order to pass an education bill that would spell the end of school boards across the province.
The proposed legislation, expected to pass early Saturday thanks to a CAQ majority at the National Assembly, keeps with a Legault government promise to abolish school boards in favour of so-called service centres.
The bill will also do away with French school board elections, although English boards will be allowed to keep their elections in part.
Opposition parties were critical of the Legault government’s plan to push through the reforms through closure — which will cut short the discussion and force a vote on the legislation, known as Bill 40.
“There are so many questions and it’s like the minister doesn’t care about giving answers. All he cares about is passing his legislation,” said PQ MNA Véronique Hivon.
But Premier François Legault has blamed the opposition for the decision to invoke closure, saying they’re needlessly extending the debate and obstructing the process. He suggested it was a political strategy.
“I’ll make you a prediction. In 2022, I’m sure that the Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois, they won’t promise to put back the school board elections,” he said.
Opposition parties have countered that the Legault government is heavy-handed in its rush to pass bills at full speed, cutting short the debates that often serve to improve them.
Opposition parties called on the Speaker of the National Assembly to stop the government from invoking closure on Friday, but François Paradis ruled his hands were tied, saying it was part of procedures in place and up to lawmakers to change those procedures.
Closure is often used to pass legislation at the end of a session, but in this case the legislature had only resumed sitting on Tuesday. Bill 40 contains more than 300 articles. Education Minister Jean-François Roberge tabled 160 pages of amendments this week. Then, Friday evening he tabled another last minute amendment – school commissioners would lose their jobs immediately once Bill 40 was adopted.
Originally Roberge said they would have until the end of the month, and possibly even longer.
“We realized today that since the beginning he had the intention to fire everyone in the night… It’s a cynical move,” said Quebec Solidaire (QS) house leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
“So we can’t trust him,” said QS MNA Christine Labrie.
“This isn’t to insult anyone,” Roberge said, but rather it’s “about correcting the system.”
Introduced last October and having undergone nearly 70 hours of detailed study at committee, the government decided this week that Bill 40 had been through enough scrutiny.
Roberge has said eliminating boards will mean $40 million more to inject into schools over time — which will mean better support to staff and other investments.
The bill would also expand the education minister’s powers to set targets for the new service centres as well as change other aspects of the education system.
The province’s proposed reforms have their share of opponents, including teachers’ unions and school board associations, which have threatened legal action.