November 17, 2016

By: Jennifer Maccarone – President, Quebec English School Boards Association.

It is obvious that this Quebec government just doesn’t get it. At his party’s convention last weekend, the premier insisted that the English community is a vital part of Quebec society and its rights must be respected. But then, Wednesday, government members stood up in the National Assembly to insist that Bill 105, the revisions to the Education Act, is a wonderful compromise and the result of careful consideration of the anglophone community. And Thursday, they voted it into law.

This clone of Bill 86 is no compromise.

Two of the most prominent constitutional lawyers in Canada have written legal opinions describing Bill 105 as an unconstitutional assault on the minority-language community of Quebec. The Quebec Liberal Party seems incapable of understanding the threat that this legislation poses to a diminishing minority community.

Quebec governments consistently act in ways that fail to recognize the English community as a linguistic minority community requiring special support and consideration. A prime example is the way in which the limiting of access to English education has had a devastating effect on the English school system. In negotiations with the federal government concerning transfer payments, the Quebec government fights for French communities outside Quebec, but not for its own linguistic minority. Quebec insists that all funds be sent directly to them and not, as the Constitution guarantees, to the minority community to manage and control.

Compare the way “the best treated minority in the world” is treated with the French minority in the rest of Canada. In most other provinces, minority-language education rights under Section 23 of the Constitution are respected. In many provinces, the minority community develops its own pedagogical programming and is responsible for the control and management of its financial resources. In Quebec, everything is controlled by the provincial government. Are English Quebecers not capable of good decision-making? Is our 10-per-cent-higher graduation rate the result of good luck? Is this “understanding the fundamental role English school boards play within their communities in terms of controlling and managing their schools,” as stated by one MNA?

Bill 105 gives never before seen power to the minister to go directly into schools, to change their pedagogical programs, redefine how they spend their money, close schools, transfer property, change school missions and success plans, and more. This is not to impugn the current minister’s intentions, but who knows who the next minister of education will be, or the one after that? We cannot place blind faith in a government that has shown precious little regard for our community, as we have seen in the recent changes to the health system.

Bill 105 gives the minister directive powers that exist in no other jurisdiction. Those powers do not enhance the role of parents, they insult the professionalism of teachers and undermine the authority of the school principal and school boards. While members of our community may have differing opinions on school board governance, as members of a minority community within a minority community, we should agree there is no reason to compromise on our rights. No government has the right to take them away. The Supreme Court has said so in decision after decision.

The Quebec English School Boards Association has not fought against a decentralized management model. In fact, most of our system is built on decentralization and respect for the local principal and the school staff, and the ability of our parents and community to work with school officials. We are saying that it is our choice if we follow such a model. Our rights are clear and the government must respect them.

The Quebec English School Boards Association worked with the ministry to effect changes to the bill. We are disappointed that the government stopped short of full recognition of our management and control rights.

We want and support continuous improvement for our system. We are ready, willing and able to continue to work with the government, but it must fulfill its duty to respect, protect and promote the minority language community — the English community of Quebec.

November 17, 2016