Opposition parties at the National Assembly showed a united front on Tuesday, denouncing a last-minute amendment to Quebec’s education reform bill that will force municipalities to cede land to future school service centres without compensation.
The government invoked closure on Friday to pass Bill 40, which will abolish school boards and replace them with service centres.
On Monday, the Union of Quebec Municipalites (UMQ), which represents 390 municipalities across the province, expressed its outrage.
In a written statement, the UMQ accuses the Quebec government of overstepping its boundaries.
“The Quebec government is granting non-elected managers the power to intervene in a municipality’s fiscal affairs,” the statement reads.
The UMQ says municipalities are willing to have an open dialogue about which properties are best suited to accommodate a school, but feel they shouldn’t have to foot the bill, which ultimately would be passed on to taxpayers.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante agreed, adding it would be unfair to Montrealers because land is more expensive in the city.
Plante explained that if the government decides it wants a school downtown under the new regulations, even if that school is on private land, the city will have to buy the land and then hand it over to the province for free.
“What it means is that education will be more expensive for Montrealers than it is for elsewhere in the province,” she said.
“Of course everybody wants schools, but education is within the provincial jurisdiction.”
Opposition parties are asking the Legault government to take a step back.
“I think they should realize they did a huge mistake,” said Québec solidaire house leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. “There is no flaw in recognizing you did a mistake.”
Nadeau-Dubois said the education minister’s reform is unlikely to work.
“When you impose reforms on people on the ground and the people on the ground don’t want those reforms, it cannot work. And the confusion we’re seeing this morning with the municipalities is just the beginning.”
Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy urged the government to the responsible thing and suspend the articles.
But Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said Tuesday there’s no question of delaying or suspending the application of Bill 40.
“It would have been nice to have more time to discuss this issue, but it was an emergency to vote for Bill 40,” he said.
Roberge explained that Quebec’s director general of elections was about to start organizing for school board elections on Nov. 1, so the government had to act immediately.
As part of the new law, the adminstration of service centres will fall under a board of directors comprised of parents, community members and staff.
General elections will be eliminated for schools within the French-language system, but the English-language service centres will retain the right to hold democratic elections.
As for the question of municipalities, Roberge argued the status quo isn’t working.
He also said that handing over land wasn’t a new thing.
“Since 1995, cities have been giving land to build some schools,” he said, but added that in the last few years cities were ceding land that was inadequate for building schools, such as floodplains and farmland.
He also hinted at poor planning on the part of cities like Montreal and Brossard.
“Just seeing what we’ve done with Griffintown, a lot of families but no schools, no land and with the REM (light-rail train network) in Brossard. A lot of families, a lot of condos, a lot of houses and no schools.”
Roberge said Bill 40 sets guidelines to allow for negotiations between school service centres and cities.
“They’ve got two years, it’s not a rush, they have two years,” he said.
“It’s enough time to decide which land we will have to build some schools, so it think it’s a reasonable solution.”
— With files from Global’s Raquel Fletcher