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Amendment to Bill 23 means English boards can govern themselves

Quebec has suspended the application of certain sections of its controversial school governance legislation for English school boards.

Education minister Bernard Drainville tabled an amendment at the National Assembly on November 21 that would delay the coming into force of 13 sections of Bill 23 within the English education network.

The sections of the bill referred to in the amendment revolve around three clauses related to school board governance. The first allows the government to appoint or to remove the directors general at school service centres and boards. The second bestows new powers on the minister of Education to annul decisions taken by school boards or to force a decision at the minister’s initiative. The third clause sees school boards enter into management and accountability agreements with the Education Ministry.

The bill was first introduced on May 11 by Drainville, who insisted at the time that it respects the rights of the English-speaking community to manage and control its educational institutions. The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) disagreed, and accused the government of infringing upon these rights while threatening legal action if changes were not introduced.

The decision to amend the bill follows meetings between Drainville and representatives from QESBA. “It was something we have been working on,” said John Ryan, the chair of the council of commissioners of the New Frontiers School Board, which is a member of QESBA. Still, he said, the announcement was “almost unexpected.” Even more of a surprise was the reaction of other parties and MNAs at the National Assembly. “The prediction was that it was going to be problematic, but it went through!” he exclaimed.

Ryan considers the amendment as a win for English school boards. “It takes a lot of pressure off of us,” he explained, while acknowledging that if Bill 23 were to have been adopted without the amendment, QESBA would have immediately applied for a stay. “It saves us energy, time, and more expense,” he added.

The QESBA is also celebrating a partial victory. In a statement, QESBA president Joe Ortona maintained the sections of Bill 23 are unconstitutional, while conceding he was pleased with the understanding reached with the minister to exempt English school boards from these sections of Bill 23. Drainville also promised to consult with QESBA and the English-speaking community before enacting any of these sections in the future.

“Would we have preferred to have been completely exempt? Absolutely, but this is a step in the right direction,” said Ortona.

The bill, if adopted, will apply in full to French education service centres. The government says it hopes to pass the bill before the National Assembly breaks for its Christmas recess.

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