Representatives from Quebec’s major municipal organizations were granted a meeting with Education Minister Jean-François Roberge over a last-minute amendment to the province’s school board reform bill, known as Bill 40.
The amendment stipulates that municipalities will be asked to give land to the province’s new school service centres for the construction of schools, but won’t receive financial compensation for the land.
“Cities across Quebec are very angry at the way things were done and at the content of the new law,” said Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
The main concern is that municipalities will be forced to raise taxes in order to fund the acquisition of plots of lands that will then be handed over to the government for free.
“It’s a very important issue from a financial point of view, especially for big cities and also from a partnership point of view,” Pedneaud-Jobin said.
And while the minister was attentive during Wednesday’s meeting and seemed open to finding solutions, Pedneaud-Jobin said it was hard to say just how much headway was made.
“We went further in explaining why their decision is wrong,” he said.
“They seem to be hard to convince to invest in their own land — to pay for the land they need for their own services.”
Education in Quebec falls under provincial jurisdiction, therefore municipalities argue the government is shirking its responsibilities by passing on the bill to them.
For his part, Roberge said that taxes won’t go up.
“During the past years, a lot of land was given to the school boards and we didn’t see taxes raising,” he said, adding there was no need for fear mongering.
However, when pressed by reporters as to how much land was given over, Roberge only answered, “A lot, a lot.”
His takeaway from the meeting was that everyone now has a better understanding of Bill 40.
“Everybody now understands that there are a lot of good things within the Bill 40,” he said.
And while both sides don’t see eye to eye, the minister said he’s committed to working with the municipalities to find a solution.
“The discussions were good enough to decide to have another meeting,” he said.
“We reassure everybody that we will work together to give to the families some schools.”