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Who gets to choose? NFSB looks carefully at Bill 23

“It will mean a big change in the democracy of education,” says the New Frontiers School Board’s outgoing director general, Rob Buttars, of Bill 23. The bill, if passed, will overhaul the education system for the second time in three years.

The bill to amend mainly the Education Act – and to establish the act respecting the “Institut national d’excellence en education” – makes significant changes to school governance while centralizing more power within the Education Ministry. Once the bill is approved, the minister of Education will be charged with appointing or dismissing the directors general and will have the capacity to override the appointees’ decisions if they do not coincide with the ministry’s objectives.

The bill was introduced on May 11 by Education Minister Bernard Drainville, who insists that it respects the rights of the English-speaking community of Quebec, and that it will apply to all French service centres and English school boards.

“We are taking the time to analyze the bill,” says Buttars, while lamenting the fact that, once again, government policy is forcing the education sector to manage significant change “without letting it get in the way of teaching and providing educational services.”

The fact the government is wanting to appoint the directors general of service centres and school boards “is a little bit concerning, because it would make the director general a direct government employee,” says Buttars, who admits he is not comfortable with the proposed change.

The most immediate concern for the NFSB, however, is whether the bill could impact the appointment of Michael Helm as the incoming director general. Buttars says he is confident this will not interfere with the transition, which is set to take place over the summer when he officially retires.

The bill is also subject to a full consultation at the National Assembly, which is slightly reassuring, says Helm. “It is not a bill that will be ascending during the month of June,” he says, suggesting it is more likely to be presented in the fall. “There is probably going to be some push-and-pull over the course of the next few weeks,” he adds, noting this could lead to some modifications.

For example, the Quebec English School Boards Association is already promising swift legal action if the bill remains in its present form. The organization, which represents the province’s English school boards, is accusing the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government of infringing on “English-speaking communities’ rights to manage and control their institutions by virtue of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Buttars suggests a second element to the bill that is very interesting is the government’s intention to create a national institute of excellence in teaching. “This is something that has been talked about for 30 years or more,” says Buttars, while questioning why the response to this aspect of the bill has been relatively muted. He suggests he is surprised the teachers’ unions have not been more vocal, but acknowledges they may be more focused on contract negotiations.

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