The Quebec English School Boards Association and the education minister both say they’re pleased to come to an understanding on the province suspending some governance rules contained in the new education law.
“I said from the outset of the parliamentary commission we were going to enter into a dialogue with the representatives of the English-speaking school boards, and I said I was very sincere,” said Minister Bernard Drainville. “I really wanted this to be a fruitful dialogue, a positive dialogue, and you know what, this is exactly what we had, we came to a common understanding.”
Drainville tabled an amendment to Bill 23 (An Act to amend mainly the Education Act and to enact the Act respecting the Institut national d’excellence en éducation) on Tuesday that suspends the sections of the law that would give the government the power to name directors of English boards, allow the government to veto board decisions, require the boards to produce yearly management agreements and others aspects of the law.
“While we maintain that these sections in Bill 23 are unconstitutional, we are pleased with the understanding reached with the minister to not bring these sections of Bill 23 into force for our school boards,” said QESBA President Joe Ortona in a news release.
Ortona added that it is a “significant step” for the government to acknowledge “the English-speaking minority’s right to manage and control its school system.”
“Would we have preferred to have been completely exempt? Absolutely, but this is a step in the right direction as far as we are concerned,” he said.
Ortona said that suspending those parts of the bill means avoid a costly court challenge for the English boards.
“If the government or any future government decided to change their mind in that regard, well, then obviously we have to remind them of what our constitutional rights are and what their obligations are towards us,” he added.
Drainville called it “very good news” that the English boards were happy. “We are very happy with it too,” he said.
Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy, who has been fighting to suspend those sections of the bill, said Wednesday she’s also pleased with the Legault government’s decision.
“They have to respect constitutional rights,” she said. “They have to respect that the English-speaking community, they have the right protect their own schools and manage their own schools. This is something the government of Legault has a hard time to understand. They do have rights here in Quebec. They have to understand.”
Ortona said later in an interview with CTV News that while the boards would like to be completely exempt, they’re no longer considering legal action against Bill 23 — at least not right now.
“If the government, or any future government, decided to change their mind in that regard, then obviously we’d have to remind them of what our constitutional rights are,” he said.
There are no current plans, he said, to drop their legal challenge against Bill 40, the original law that replaced school boards with school service centres. The English boards won their case in August but the government is appealing it.
The Liberals are calling on the CAQ to drop the case.
“Stop putting money into the lawyers, just give the money for the students, the kids,” Rizqy said.
In the meantime, Drainville is hoping to push Bill 23 through before the holidays break.
With files from CTV News Montreal’s Angela MacKenzie