Montreal

Writing's on the blackboard for Quebec school boards as CAQ moves to take away EMSB schools

In what appears to be a foreshadowing of the Quebec government's plan to eliminate school boards altogether, the education minister has made it clear he's prepared to take property from one school board and hand it to another without much consultation — for the second time this year.

Roberge's plan for school swaps 'bodes very, very badly for the English-speaking community,' says QESBA

General Vanier Elementary School in Saint-Léonard is one of three English Montreal School Board buildings the education minister has said he will use his powers to transfer to the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île, which needs space for another 3,000 students. (EMSB)

In what appears to be a foreshadowing of the Quebec government's plan to eliminate school boards altogether, for the second time this year, the education minister has made it clear he's prepared to take property from one school board and hand it to another without much in the way of consultation.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the chair of the English Montreal School Board, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said he's poised to order the EMSB to transfer three buildings to the Commission scolaire de Pointe-de-l'Île, a French-language board in Montreal's east end that's squeezed for space.

The schools are General Vanier elementary and John Paul I junior high in Saint-Léonard and Gerald McShane elementary in Montréal-Nord.

In his letter, Roberge cites article 477.1.1 of the Education Act, which gives the minister the power to order a building be transferred from one school board to another.

School boards in Quebec have negotiated among themselves for the loan or transfer of buildings often over the years.

Normally, such consultations last 18 months, the EMSB's vice-chair, Joe Ortona told CBC News. But Roberge gave the EMSB just over a month — until June 10 — to tell him what issues could arise from the building swaps.

An 'extraordinary measure'

The Liberal critic for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, Greg Kelley, said Roberge's threat to use his powers is "an extraordinary measure" which, if he proceeds as planned, Roberge will have used twice in the first year of the CAQ government's mandate.
The critic for relations with English-speaking Quebecers for the Official Opposition, Greg Kelley, said he hopes cohabitation between the two school boards is still being considered. (CBC)

Last January, Roberge ordered another English-language board, Lester B. Pearson, to turn over Riverdale High in Pierrefonds to the French-language Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys in July.

"It's an exceptional use, but for a minister who clearly plans on abolishing school boards — he just kind of plans on doing it anyway with this power," Kelley said.

The Legault government is drawing up legislation to abolish all Quebec school boards  — one of the premier's key promises during last fall's election campaign.

Russell Copeman, the executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association, said that making these decisions in Quebec City "bodes very, very badly for the English-speaking community."

"I think there is a pattern developing … of the government of Quebec centralizing these decisions, cutting out democratically elected school boards who are better placed to make local decisions," Copeman said.

Roberge argued the move is necessary because English-language students are attending mostly empty schools, while the Pointe-de-l'Île board's schools are overflowing.

"Almost 3,000 students will have no classrooms next year," he said in his May 8 letter to the EMSB.

"We are taking action, and we are taking a responsible decision, because the English Montreal School Board didn't do so," Roberge told reporters Friday.

The board's commissioners are inviting parents to a special meeting on the subject at the EMSB headquarters at 6000 Fielding Avenue on May 13 at 7 p.m.

With files from Cathy Senay, Elias Abboud and CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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