The New Endangered Species: School Boards in Québec
As la Coalition avenir Québec majority government puts the finishing touches to le projet de loi to most likely abolish An Act respecting school elections E-2.3 and to amend the Education Act I-13.3, we wonder aloud why in heck is this really happening.
We have witnessed the Premier and the Minister of Education rattle off the statistics of extremely low voter turnout in previous school board elections. There is certainly an overall decline from 8.4% in 2003, to 7.9% in 2007, to 5.54% in 2014 in all school board elections. In the French school board elections, the decline was from 8.1% in 2003, to 7.2% in 2007, to 4.87% in 2014 – rather paltry figures. However, the results have gone in the opposite direction in the English school board elections: from 14.6% in 2003, to 16.7% in 2007, to 16.88% in 2014 – not impressive enough to write home about. But clearly, the interest has increased in the English school boards while going south in the French school boards: voter turnout 1.8 times higher in 2003, 2.32 times higher in 2007, and 3.47 times higher in 2014.
The late Jim Shea (former Chairman of the Western Québec School Board) used to passionately speak about the attachment that Anglophones felt towards their school boards because it was the only level of government in Québec where Anglophones could determine who would represent them. Jim’s respected voice of reason will be dearly missed, not only at the W. Q. S. B. but also provincially at the Quebec English School Boards Association.
Leo La France, the former Assistant Deputy Minister for English Education, used to proudly say that English education in Québec is just fine: higher examination results, higher graduation rates, and lower drop-out rates. The English education system ain’t broke; it doesn’t need any fixing. Reform the French education system all you want, but please leave the English education system alone - just the way it is.
The government’s plan of regional service centres for schools may very well hit the constitutional wall of Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Constitution of Canada guaranteeing minority education rights for the management and control of English schools in Québec. Both the government and Q. E. S. B. A. are confident that they will have the upper hand in any court challenge.
We may not have to wait too long as the National Assembly of Québec resumes sitting the first week of February, and le projet de loi will appear on the order paper sooner than later. The public hearings before the Committee on Culture and Education promise to be memorable and charged. I can’t wait!