The provincial government introduced Bill 23 to amend the Education Act on May 11, the same day that the province’s directors general had gathered for an annual conference. The announcement made some waves, and not just from those representing English school boards who have been treading water since Bill 40 was passed in 2020.
The move by the government to centralize even more power in the Education Ministry while siphoning even more decision-making capacity away from service centres and boards is concerning. The fact that the government insists the bill does not infringe on the language rights of the English-speaking population is outrageous.
The new legislation will allow the ministry to name or dismiss the directors general of English school boards, while giving the minister the power to reverse or annul decisions made at the board level if they do not meet the governments approval. Education minister Bernard Drainville insists the bill is necessary to ensure coherence between government orientations and how they are applied at the local level and in classrooms. This may be true, but it will render the directors general accountable to the government, which will inevitably erode their accountability to the communities served by our schools.
There is little doubt that Bill 23 will face legal challenges, much like its predecessor Bill 40, for trampling all over the constitutional rights of the English-speaking community. The Quebec Superior Court issued a stay of Bill 40 citing its impact on the English network, which was upheld by the Quebec Court of Appeal. A final ruling on the constitutionality of the bill by Justice Sylvain Lussier is expected at any moment, and as the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) points out, the introduction of Bill 23 clearly violates the spirit of the stay put on this legislation.
The fact the CAQ government is “reforming its own reform” to the educational system suggests there are underlying issues at the level of the ministry. Schools play a central role in our communities, and it would be a shame if we began to question the deep ingrained trust we have in our educational institutions because of a power grab.
Let’s hope that our representatives at the provincial level listen closely during consultations. They just might hear that it is not only English voices rallying against this bill.