School boards abolished in early-morning decision
Bill 40, which abolishes the province’s 60 French and 9 English school boards and replaces them with service centres, was passed early February 8 after the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) invoked closure, limiting debate on the bill; 60 MNAs voted in favour (all CAQ), while 35 opposed it.
The CAQ claims $10 million will be saved by abolishing school board elections and parents will have more power. Francophone service centres will have appointed members, while elections will still take place in the anglophone centres.
French school board commissioners were immediately shown the door, but those in the anglophone network will retain their roles until November 1 to cover the interim while the English service centres’ directors are elected for a three-year term.
Bill 40 is the fourth time in eight months that the CAQ government has invoked closure. “It’s a sad day for democracy in Québec when a government, regardless of the opposition of many stakeholders, refuses to listen and consult and decides to cut all debate by forcing the bill’s adoption,” said Alain Guy, Commissioner of the Western Quebec School Board.
Although Guy doesn’t think parents’ voices will ever disappear in the Quebec education system, he fears they won’t be taken seriously by the government due to the limited decision-making powers they will have.
The new service centres are expected to be operational by the next school year, but many education associations have threatened to challenge the bill.
“We will meet our lawyers very soon to examine our next steps. All Quebecers should be worried about the dangerous precedent the government established; they have used the continuous and arbitrary imposition of closure to create laws without any public or political accountability,” said Noel Burke, vice-president of the Quebec English School Boards Association.
Diane Nault, ex-commissioner of the Commission scolaire des Hauts-Bois-de-l’Outaouais (CSHBO), said the bill made her lose all confidence in the government. “Saturday was a dark day. There’s nothing in the bill that will help our youth,” she told the Bulletin. “Residents are losing services based in their communities, as happened with the amalgamation of health services in 2015. Director generals won’t be accountable to citizens and will answer to the minister who [will call all the shots].”
Nault believes small schools could be in danger. “The Minister can now close them without consultation, whereas our elected commissioners had policies in place to maintain them,” she concluded.
Pontiac MNA André Fortin did not respond in time for press.