Montreal

Quebec passes education reforms abolishing school boards

Bill 40, which abolishes school boards and replaces them with service centres, was passed after the government invoked closure — limiting the amount of time to debate the legislation.

Amendment relieves French-language commissioners of their duties as of Saturday

English-language boards, like the English Montreal School Board, will be replaced by elected directors of service centres. French-language directors will be appointed. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Quebec's law reforming the public school system passed in the early hours Saturday morning.

Not all MNAs were there until the very end. The final vote at 3:21 a.m. was 60 for and 35 against, with no abstentions.

Bill 40, which abolishes school boards and replaces them with service centres, was passed after the government invoked closure, limiting the amount of time to debate the legislation.

The opposition parties did not hide their anger, noting it was the fourth time the Coalition Avenir Québec government has invoked closure in eight months — referring to its secularism law, immigration reform bill and its law on deregulating Hydro-Québec fees.

Parti Québécois education critic Véronique Hivon said the government added "insult to injury" by adding an amendment that ended the powers of French-language commissioners as of Saturday, instead of Feb. 29.

What's changing

English school board commissioners will stay on until November to allow time for directors of the new English service centres to be elected.

Directors of the French-language service centres will be appointed.

On the French side, service centres will be composed of five parents, five staff members, and five members of the community. 

English service centres will have four community representatives, four staff members and between eight and seventeen parents.

Bill 40 also makes changes to teacher training, school choice and the role of directors, and reorganizes how educational services are managed.

Éric Caire, the junior education minister, said the government will save $10 million by abolishing school board elections, and that the reforms will give more power to parents.

Lack of transparency?

Speaking with reporters in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Premier François Legault defended the decision to invoke closure on Bill 40, saying that after nearly 70 hours of debate in committee, the opposition was "obstructing" the passage of the law.

"The same arguments were repeatedly made," he said, adding that his majority government intended to make good on its campaign promise to abolish school boards.

"At some point we need to take action," he said.

As for whether his government would invoke closure a fifth time, Legault said that would depend on the actions of the opposition parties.

Quebec Liberal Party spokesperson Marwah Rizqy said the passing of Bill 40 was a "spectacle" that lacked transparency.

"We are receiving emails from parent committees — more than 30 — saying that Bill 40 is not the solution. These parents must be heard," she said.

Noel Burke is the vice-president of the Quebec English School Boards Association and chairperson of the Lester B. Pearson School Board. (CBC)

​Noel Burke, ​vice-president of the Quebec English School Boards Association and chairperson of the Lester B. Pearson School Board told CBC that he is "very disappointed" with the way this law was pushed through.

"To our great dismay, overnight the French school boards have been abolished," he said, adding that many questions remain about how these sweeping changes will be implemented.

Burke said he felt recommendations for more public consultation were ignored by the government and that "the National Assembly has now been muzzled in terms of a full debate."

He said the association is considering its legal options.

With files from CBC's Sarah Leavitt and La Presse Canadienne

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