Martin C. Barry
Jennifer Maccarone, the Quebec Liberal Party’s official critic for family issues on the National Assembly’s opposition benches, says that even though her party doesn’t disapprove completely of the CAQ government’s plan to make children as young as four attend pre-kindergarten, the PLQ thinks resources would be better used on more pressing educational projects.
PLQ questions plan
Maccarone, former president of the Quebec English School Boards Association and past chairperson of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board, was among the guests who attended a press conference held in Laval on Feb. 11 at the Joyeux Bambins children’s daycare in Fabreville by the Conseil québécois des services éducatifs à la petite enfance (CQSEPE) and the Fédération des intervenantes en petite enfance du Québec (FIPEQ-CSQ).
While the Liberals question the government’s plan, the CQSEPE and the FIPEQ-CSQ both want the CAQ government’s plan stopped altogether. “Childcare workers and employers from the sector are agreed in calling for a stop to the development of new kindergartens for all four-year-olds,” CQSEPE director Francine Lessard and FIPEQ-CSQ president Valérie Grenon said in a statement.
Petition by PQ
Although now reduced to 10 seats in the National Assembly, the Parti Québécois is also behind the movement opposing the pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds. A petition launched by PQ MNA for Joliette Véronique Hivon last December is gaining support.
In the meantime, some of the criticism has been directed at the CAQ’s only elected member of the National Assembly from Laval – Sainte-Rose CAQ MNA Christopher Skeete.
“How can Christopher Skeete endorse the implementation of four-year-olds kindergartens wall-to-wall when this is not the will of fellow citizens,” said the FIPEQ-CSQ’s Valérie Grenon. “We are calling on them to demand investments for our little ones in our public network of children’s daycares.”
Against wall-to-wall plan
In an interview with the Laval News, Maccarone said, “We’re not against the idea of four-year-old pre-k – we’re against the idea of wall-to-wall implementation. We believe in complementarity – in having a complementary system. And we think what we need to do is to take some steps back to evaluate.”
However, at this point the Liberals remain uncertain as to how the CAQ is going to proceed implementing the plan, she added. “We now know that the price tag has gone up from $250 million that they had announced during their electoral campaign, to between $400 and $700 million.” But in the meantime, Maccarone and her PLQ colleagues agree there is considerable opposition to what the CAQ wants to do.
Léger poll backs claims
“We have many stakeholder groups that are saying that this isn’t the solution that we need to put into place today, from teachers to specialists and researchers. And now we’ve added the voice of parents.” She cited a recent survey conducted by the Léger polling firm indicating that just one of every five parents would choose four-year-old pre-k in the education system over the daycare system.
“The minister is saying that this is the best way to early diagnose some children that have potential difficulties. But the reality is that four years old is too late – it has to happen much earlier. And so rather than invest the $400 to $700 million in the school system to get four-year-old pre-k, why not take that money and invest it in the daycare system?
More thinking needed
“Because if we’re talking about having professionals, then we can certainly have those professionals available in alternatives that work. And we know that our schools don’t have enough places. If we’re talking just about the Francophone network especially, they are bursting at the seams.
“Many of our schools require significant investments in infrastructure to improve the quality of the buildings. We also have a shortage of teachers and a shortage of labour in general,” Maccarone added. “What we need to be doing is focusing our attention elsewhere. So it’s not that four-year-old pre-k is a bad idea – it’s just not well thought out.”