Voters decide if school closures are wrong, province argues

The New Brunswick government says it’s up to voters, not the courts, to decide if Education Minister Serge Rousselle was wrong to approve the closure of two schools.

Provincial government argues Justice Darrell Stephenson went too far in his decision over school closures

The New Brunswick government says it's up to voters, not the courts, to decide if Education Minister Serge Rousselle was wrong to approve the closure of two schools.

The provincial government argues in a court filing that Justice Darrell Stephenson went too far in his decision to quash Rousselle's decision about Lorne Middle School and Brown's Flat Elementary School.

"The Minister was exercising a function of government at the highest level" and the courts shouldn't interfere, the provincial government argues in a 27-page legal brief filed at the New Brunswick Court of Appeal on Friday.

"Only the ballot box can control this type of conduct."

The provincial government argues Stephenson only had the power to decide if Rousselle's decision was "reasonable" but instead substituted his own standard of "correctness."

"The Judge chose to substitute his own views and personal interpretation of Policy 409 in place of the minister," the provincial government argues.

Policy 409 lays out the procedure for how district education councils decide whether to close schools.

Stephenson's ruling said the process was flawed. The Court of Appeal will hear arguments on whether Stephenson went too far in a two-hour hearing Sept. 25.

The parents fighting the closure have not filed their response to the province's arguments yet.

The provincial government argues the law is clear that only the minister gets to decide whether a district education council has followed the process laid out in Policy 409. The minister can "be said to act as a gatekeeper," the filing says.

The provincial government says Stephenson was wrong to say the DEC was required to provide "reasons" for its decision, when it's only required to give an "account" of its consultations.

The provincial government's legal brief says the DEC did that.

And it says Stephenson was wrong to conclude the DEC didn't consider economic development -- one of eight criteria laid out on Policy 409 -- just because the council didn't mention it.

Rather, the DEC did hear submissions on the economic impact of closing the school but felt "the economic impact for or against closure was not compelling enough for the DEC to highlight."

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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