The decision by the Quebec government to appeal the unequivocal judgement by Quebec Superior Court on Bill 40 is another indication that Quebec is intent on dismantling what remains of the institutional presence of the English-speaking community. How can it be interpreted any other way?
Bill 40 dismantled all school boards and converted them into regional service centres within the Quebec ministry of education. English school boards were given a stay when the legislation was challenged in court by the Quebec English School Board Association (QESBA) on grounds that the change violates minority language education rights guaranteed in Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Quebec Superior Court agreed categorically.
The Quebec government’s rationale for appealing the decision is disingenuous and ignores just how important remaining institutions are to the English-speaking community after 60 years of demographic decline and legal restrictions. Premier Francois Legault claims that the community didn’t participate in school board elections, and that service centres are a better way to administer the educational system. The message is clear: a uniform bureaucratic structure to deliver education in Quebec is more important than the linguistic rights of the English-speaking community.
It’s doubtful that an administrative service centre will improve the educational outcomes for Quebec’s beleaguered school system. Bill 40 is a political imposition that purposefully set aside the question of linguistic minority rights and is yet another example of how the English-speaking community is regarded as just collateral damage in the language politics of Quebec.
There are better ways forward. Rather than bulldozing ahead with legal challenges and mountains of regulations (Bill 96, anyone?), there needs to be renewed dialogue between the two linguistic communities about how to better protect and promote the French language while respecting minority rights and ensuring access to important services in English. Right now, the Quebec government appears deaf to that conversation, and that’s the wrong signal to send to a community that is supposedly a valued member of society.