Quebec opposition leaders, daycares join forces to fight CAQ's proposed pre-K classes

Starting Monday, Montreal-area daycare providers will be asking parents to sign a petition calling on Premier François Legault to ditch his proposed amendment to the Education Act that would make pre-kindergarten classes available to four-year-olds.

Petition against Legault's Bill 5 has already collected nearly 20,000 signatures

On Sunday, Quebec daycare groups teamed up with opposition party leaders to decry the CAQ's plan to make pre-k available to kids when they turn four. (Valaeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Starting Monday afternoon, Montreal-area daycare providers will be asking parents to sign a petition calling on Premier François Legault to ditch his plan to make pre-kindergarten classes available to four-year-olds.

The Liberals, Parti Québécois and Québec solidaire are also throwing their combined political weight behind the effort to stop the proposed Bill 5 from going through.

The petition, launched in December, has already garnered nearly 20,000 signatures from citizens opposed to the proposed changes to the education system.

Regardless of the petition's growing support, the Coalition Avenir Québec tabled legislation on Thursday to amend the province's Education Act to ensure "all children having reached four years of age will be entitled to preschool education services."

Legault has stressed that pre-K won't be compulsory and that the public daycare system will continue to play an important role in the province.

As it stands, pre-K classes are available only in schools in areas that qualify as low-income.

If passed, Bill 5 would also require the service to be offered by "all school boards according to the general framework provided for in the Education Act."

The government intends to open 250 new pre-kindergarten classes for four-year-olds as of the start of the fall 2019 school year. 

For Montreal's English school boards, that will mean 19 new classes for Lester B. Pearson school board and 13 new ones for the EMSB.

Petition calls for investing in current system

The Quebec council of early childhood education services (CQSEPE), which aims to improve educational services of daycares across the province, is working with the daycare workers' union (FIPEQ-CSQ) to ensure more parents sign the petition before the March 12 deadline.

The petition calls on the government to focus instead on improving the current daycare system — making it better and more accessible.

The government should, the petition says, be ensuring kids have the "essential skills for successful entry into school at age five."

PQ MNA Véronique Hivon will submit the petition to the National Assembly in March.

Quebec's daycare centres already "do an amazing job," she told reporters after the Sunday news conference.

"The government is saying they will give free choice," she said. "What real choice is there when you put all the investments in the school system and not one dollar has been announced yet for the [daycares]?"

Hivon said there are other needs within the daycare system that need to be addressed before such large sums of money are invested in a new program.

Valérie Grenon, president of the FIPEQ-CSQ, says most parents in Quebec prefer the public daycare system over the proposed pre-K classes the CAQ government wants to put in place. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Valérie Grenon, president of the FIPEQ-CSQ, cited a recent Léger Marketing study that found most parents prefer the province's public daycare system over the proposed pre-K classes.

"For us it's clear that the CAQ must listen to the population," Grenon said. 

Better ways to invest?

Liberal MNA Jennifer Maccarone said Sunday that there are better ways to spend the $400 to $700 million needed to offer pre-K to all four-year-olds in the province.

"Is this really the strategic investment we want to make when we have no room in our schools," said Maccarone, the former president of the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA).

"We need new schools. We have schools that need renovations. And our parents have said, only one out of five is interested in registering their child in four-year-old pre-K."

Liberal MNA Jennifer Maccarone is among those opposed to a pre-K program for Quebec's four-year-olds. (Radio-Canada)

"If you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig," Maccarone said. "We need back up and say, is this really where we need to spend our money today?"

EMSB chair Angela Mancini told CBC that schools in the west end are over capacity, but schools in the city's east end would be able to accommodate four-year-old pre-K classes if properly funded.

There is already a network of daycares meeting the needs of four-year-olds in the province, she added, but there are primary schools across the province the need investment.

Roberge defends plan

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge told Radio-Canada on Sunday that the plan to add hundreds of new pre-K classes to the public school system will not take away from daycares.

The province will continue to expand the public daycare system, building new centres in the future, he said.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says the province is not taking away from the public daycare system in order to add hundreds of pre-K spots to public schools. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec has been going through a "small baby boom," he said, and the province will soon be facing an influx of kids, aged zero to four years old, who need daycare spots.

If parents choose to send their children to primary school when they turn four, Roberge said there will be teachers and assistants in place to provide the needed pre-K service under the proposed plan.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manochhio and Radio-Canada

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