Education minister defends decision to give service centres power to take over municipal land

Jean-François Roberge said it's not unusual for negotiations to obtain municipal land for building a new school to take four or five years, but this amendment will speed up the process.

Amendment to Bill 40 means service centres can ask municipalities to cede property for free

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge at the National Assembly, Feb. 6, 2020. He said the last minute changes to the education reform bill are meant to help speed up the process of building new schools. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said a last-minute change to Quebec's education reform law which allows service centres to take over municipal land is "nothing revolutionary" and only formalizes a power that already existed. 

In the early hours of Saturday morning, just before passing Bill 40, his government added the amendment granting the province's new service centres the power to demand that municipalities cede public property for the "purposes of construction or expansion of a school or education centre."

A spokesperson for the Quebec Union of Municipalities (UMQ) said that the group was only informed of the change Friday night, less than 24 hours before the government rammed through the legislation.

In a statement, the UMQ said it "strongly disagrees with this decision," which it says goes completely against the recommendations it submitted during the consultation period on Bill 40.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she, too, was caught by surprise, and would need more time to study the legislation.

"We need to talk," she said. "To me, this is not the right way, imposing a decision like this."

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said she's 'disappointed' with the provincial government for imposing its decision rather than maintaining an open dialogue. (CBC)

Plante said she is disappointed with the province's approach, although she understands the need.

"I'm all about having more schools in Montreal, because our families want to stay on the island," she said.

"We were actually having conversations and dialogue, and the dialogue was all open. So I don't understand why the government … decided to take that route," she said, "... imposing that at the last minute."

'Status quo not sustainable': Roberge

Roberge responded to criticism to the last-minute amendment in an interview on Radio-Canada's Tout un matin on Monday morning.

He said negotiations with a municipality to obtain land for building a new school can sometimes take four or five years, and the province needed to find a way to speed up that process.

"The status quo is not sustainable," he told Tout un matin host Patrick Masbourian. "We have schools which are overflowing, particularly in the Montérégie, Laval, Saint-Jérôme and the entire island of Montreal." 

Roberge said school boards have had the power to ask for land from municipalities since 1995. The problem, he explained, was that there was no specific mechanism in place to make that happen.

He said negotiations to obtain land to build new schools could become "never-ending." 

The idea moving forward, he said, is that if a service centre wants to build a school, it will submit its plan to the municipality and try to reach an agreement. If that does not happen, the service centre can go back and demand a land transfer as an "exceptional measure."

He clarified that the municipality does have the option to come back and offer a different piece of land.

The new legislation gives service centres and municipalities two years to reach an agreement on a specific property.


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