What in Hell is the CAQ Government Trying to Do to the English Schools in the Province of Québec?
Over the last decade, the English schools in Québec have always delivered the goods consistently: higher graduation rates, higher examination results, lower drop-out rates, enhanced extracurricular activities both during lunch hours and afterschool, and more involvement from their parents and community members. Not only did the English schools outperform the French schools in the province but many of the schools in surrounding educational jurisdictions as well.
Education Minister Jean-François –Roberge introduced Bill 40 with a plan to eliminate les commissions scolaires and English school boards replacing them with service centres for schools.
Bill 40 was passed in the National Assembly of Québec by the CAQ majority government using closure. Law 40 eliminated the sixty commissions scolaires and replaced them with les centres de services scolaires. The electoral nominations process were planned to begin on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020 with the opening of the period of nominations for the election of the parent representatives and the community representatives for the boards of directors of the nine service centres for English schools. Election Day was scheduled for Sunday, November 1st, 2020.
The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) represents the nine English school boards in the province. The QESBA President is Dan Lamoureux, Chair of the Riverside School Board, and the QESBA Vice-President is Noel Burke, Chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board and who is a former Quebec Assistant Deputy Minister for English Education. Also serving as a Member of the QESBA Executive Committee is Alain Guy, Chair of the Western Quebec School Board. The QESBA Executive Director is Russell Copeman, former MNA, ex-Borough Mayor, and ex-Member of the Executive Committee of the City of Montreal.
Legal counsel for QESBA has mounted a Charter challenge to Law 40 on the grounds that Law 40 impinges negatively on Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Constitution Act of 1982 which grants official minorities in Canada management and control of their schools.
Three judges of the Québec Superior Court of Appeal heard arguments regarding Law 40 and its effects on Section 23 of the Charter on Monday, September 14th. Their decision announced on Thursday, September 17th maintained the stay on the suspension of the application of Law 40 to English school boards pending a decision on the merits of the case in the Superior Court of Québec.
Also involved in the defence of English school boards is the Alliance for the Promotion of Public English Language Education in Quebec (APPELE-Quebec). Chaired by Geoffrey Kelley, former Quebec Minister Responsible for Native Affairs and former MNA, Kelley is supported by co-Vice Chairs Joan Fraser, former Senator and ex-Editor in Chief of the Montreal Gazette and Me. Kevin Shaar, a parent of school-age children and lawyer with the Canadian Transportation Agency in Gatineau. APPELE-Quebec believes that the Quebec Government should exempt English school boards from the legislation as has been done with the Cree School Board and Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the school board of Nunavik. If the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement is, quite rightly, sufficient cause to exempt the Cree and Inuit educational networks from Law 40, then the Constitutional rights of the English-speaking community to manage and control its educational system merits similar treatment.
Members of APPELE-Quebec include Linton Garner, President and Carol Meindl, Executive Director of the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations Inc. (QFHSA), Katherine Korakakis, President of the English Parents’ Committee Association (EPCA), and Geoffrey Chambers, President and Sylvia Martin-Laforge, Director General of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN).
What makes the most sense, taking into consideration both the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing constitutional confrontations, is to postpone until Sunday, November 7th, 2021 whatever elections must be held (school board chairs and commissioners or parent and community representatives to the boards of directors of service centres for English schools). This would twin the elections with those already scheduled for the municipalities, resulting in an increase in voter turnout and a decrease in overall expenses for elections province-wide.
These last several months bring to mind Clifford Lincoln, former Quebec Minister of the Environment and MNA, and former Federal Member of Parliament, and his famous statement during a speech in the National Assembly of Québec in 1989: “Rights are rights are rights!”