Quebec’s Bill 40 further weakens the province’s English-language school system

Faced with the recent elimination of Quebec school boards, the association representing English-language school boards in Quebec invokes Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on official language minority education rights and provides for a legal challenge. Bill made does not affect the three Native school boards in Quebec.

On February 8 at 3:20 a.m., the majority government of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) led by Prime Minister François Legault abolished the 60 francophones and nine anglophones. school boards across the province and transformed the public and secondary school systems in Quebec by forcing adoption of bill 40.

The majority of the CAQ took advantage of the closure to adopt Bill 40 with its 300 items, as well as 160 last minute amendments, after a parliamentary session that lasted nearly 70 hours.

These changes included the immediate dismissal of all 700 commissioners of French-language school boards to avoid litigation against the closure of their school boards. The bill also made changes to teacher training, forces cities to pay for land needed for new schools and influences how parents can choose schools.

Widespread opposition

Véronique Hivon, spokesperson for the Parti Québécois in education and representative of the riding of Joliette, questions the need for the CAQ to invoke closure during question period, on February 7, 2020, at the Legislative Assembly of Quebec.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jacques Boissinot

The CAQ adopted Bill 40 despite opposition from the Liberal Party, Quebec solidaire and the Parti Québécois, as well as French and English school boards, teachers unions, advocacy groups and parent groups, including some who have children with special needs.

Opposition parties were frustrated that the CAQ government had again used its majority to impose closure in order to pass Bill 40. The same tactic was used to impose the law deregulation of Hydro-Québec rates, reduce the number of immigrants accepted in Quebec and impose adoption of the controversial law on secularism which prohibits teachers and other public officials from wearing religious symbols at work. In October, the English Montreal School Board filed a legal challenge against the law on secularism.

When Education Minister Jean-François Roberge tabled Bill 40 last October, he justified this decision by saying that it would save taxpayers $ 45 million over the next four years and ensure more local school governance. Upstream of the bill, Roberge alleged that a government investigation had shown that the English Montreal School Board had improperly awarded contracts and that he had contacted the police accordingly. He appointed Marlene Jennings, a former Liberal MP, as school trustee.

Bill 40 replaced school boards with French and English service centers whose unpaid members will have little decision-making power other than to adopt the regulations of the Ministry of Education. Anglophones will be able to vote for such representatives in Anglophone service centers next November.

Protection of language rights by the Charter

Quebec’s English-speaking minority school boards should be exempt from Bill 40, argues Joan Fraser, vice-president of Quebec. Alliance for the Promotion of Anglophone Public Education in Quebec and a former senator.

Francophones in New Brunswick and Ontario underlined their common cause with Anglophones in Quebec by support the maintenance of their hard-fought school boards.

The CAQ granted English-language official minority school boards and their commissioners a 10-month transition period.

Bill 101 revisited

As a Quebec francophone and social psychologist, part of my research focuses on the study of how dominant majority language groups and their national or regional governments treat their linguistic, ethnic and religious minority populations.

Camille Laurin, former Minister of Cultural Development of Quebec who was the chief architect of Bill 101, briefed journalists in April 1977 at the Legislative Assembly of Quebec. The historic bill was passed in August of the same year.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Louise Bidault

Recent events refer to another law contributing to systemic decline
of the English-language school system in Quebec. Bill 40 can be seen as a complement to the Charter of the French language (Bill 101), adopted by the Parti Québécois government in 1977 to increase the status and use of French over English in Quebec.

The preamble to Bill 101 affirmed that its pro-French legislation would be conducted with fairness while respecting the existing institutions of the English mother tongue population, constituting 13% of the Quebec population.

Despite such assurances, Bill 101 undermined the English-speaking elementary and secondary school system in the name of protecting the French-mother-tongue majority in 80% of Quebec.

Education of “beneficiaries”

To neutralize the power of attraction of English over French, Bill 101 prohibits immigrant, allophone and French-speaking students from entering English-speaking schools. Bill 101 stipulated that English-speaking students could only attend English schools as “rights holders” if one of the parents had spent most of their primary education in English in Quebec, then in Canada, at the same time. following a Supreme Court decision.

In 1971, before the passage of Bill 101, 255,205 students were enrolled in English elementary and secondary schools in the combined public and private systems of Quebec. In 2018, data from the Ministry of Education showed that there was only 96,235 pupils remained in the English school system, which is only 37% of the original 1971 baseline, a drop of 158,970 students.

Such a drop, due to the low birth rate of Anglophones in Quebec, emigration and restrictions on access to Anglophone schools, forced Anglophone school boards to vote on painful mergers and school closures for students. English-speaking students and parents. Such closures have also had the effect of reducing the number of teachers, administrators and staff employed in these establishments, further contributing to the overall emigration of Anglophones from Quebec to the rest of Canada.

Bilingual anglophones

Data from the Ministry of Education also shows that, as provided for in Law 101, the number of allophone and immigrant students studying in the French school system rose to 91% in 2018 (128,361) against only 15% in 1971 (9,652), before Bill 101.

These figures demonstrate the effectiveness of Bill 101 in moving allophone and immigrant students from the English school system to the French school system, thus contributing to the vitality of French in Quebec.

Quebec Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge answers questions from journalists on February 7, 2020 at the Legislative Assembly in Quebec City.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jacques Boissinot

In July 2019, the Minister of Education forced the transfer of several English-language schools in Montreal to French-language school boards in Montreal struggling with overcrowding, a situation caused by laws prohibiting immigrants and allophones from attending English schools. . English-speaking school boards contesting these transfers received support from Francophone minority advocacy groups in Ontario and New Brunswick.

Anglophone schools in Quebec offer quality French instruction to their students as part of their French immersion programs. In 2011, 83% of students in English elementary schools were enrolled in French immersion classes, and at the secondary level, this figure was 65%.

As highlighted in the 2016 and 2018 reports of the Government of Quebec of the Advisory Council on English Education, English school boards have contributed to the academic strength of Quebec schools and have supported the training of highly competent English-speaking bilingual French-English students.

Until now, English-speaking school boards represented the last level of governance still controlled by and for the English-speaking communities of Quebec.

In the words of Joan Fraser, English-language minority school boards should be exempted from Bill 40, to echo the path taken “by Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as well as the Yukon Territory for French-language minority school boards when these jurisdictions have changed the governance of their education systems. ”

The maintenance of English-language school boards in Quebec is rightly considered important to legitimize the maintenance of French-language school boards across Canada, which contribute to Canada’s linguistic duality.


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