Martin C. Barry
Sainte-Rose CAQ MNA Christopher Skeete, who is in charge of the provincial government’s Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, says he is participating in a dialogue between the government and school commission officials on the future of Quebec’s school boards.
Last Saturday, Skeete and members of his riding office staff hosted their first “open house” for constituents at the Sainte-Rose riding office located in the heart of Laval’s historic Vieux Sainte-Rose district.
Also last Saturday morning, CAQ Education Minister Jean-François Roberge suggested on Facebook that the CAQ government was about to make good on its longstanding pledge to replace school boards with an alternative governing structure.
Minister’s Facebook post
The Education Minister’s Facebook post was made a day after he had met with officials from the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) and the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec (FCSQ) to discuss school board reforms. It was a meeting in which Skeete also took part.
On Facebook, the Education Minister said, “Let us be clear: the government of Quebec will transform school boards into school service centres and abolish school elections.” While adding that the CAQ government is “open to the comments,” Roberge continued, “It is imperative to bring the decision-making process closer to those who know the pupils by their name.”
Future of school boards
In a lengthy interview with the Laval News editorial team last year before the provincial election, CAQ leader (and now Premier) François Legault spelled out what his government would do with regard to school boards –a plan that they are on the verge of implementing.
“School boards will be replaced by service centres,” said Legault. “On the English side there are now nine school boards, so there will be nine service centres. Service centres will continue to give services like transportation. But instead of having a board, where people vote with a very low participation rate, people will be nominated on this board by are presentative of parents coming from school governing boards.”
Skeete sat in during talks
Regarding his involvement in the issue as head of the Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, Skeete had this to say last Saturday in an interview with the Laval News. “Yesterday I was invited by the Minister of Education to sit in on the discussion they were having with the Fédération des commissions scolaires and the English school board association,” he said. “I sat there and we had open conversations.
“I will also be sitting in on future discussions to make sure that the unique reality of English-speaking Quebecers is taken into consideration whatever that we do,” Skeete added.
With regards to another governmental body, the Conseil supérieur sur l’enseignement en Anglais, he said he was also engaged in talks to see whether the Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers would be able to get a seat there.
Passing the Charter test
Even though he seemed confident that the point of view of Quebec’s Anglophones is being heard within the CAQ government, Skeete alluded to the fact that English school board officials are poised to challenge the abolition of school commissions by invoking a Canadian constitutional clause which guarantees linguistic minorities school board rights.
“We are trying to make sure that the English point of view is always considered in everything the government does, and we’re making really important strides there, I think,” said Skeete. “And I think people will be very happy to learn that whatever it is we end up with, we are confident that it’s going to pass the Charter test.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there and confusion, and I understand the fear and concern. The reality is our proposal,we believe firmly, will respect the Charter. So we’re not removing power away –we’re changing power. And we’re not removing control – we’re changing control.”
Board elections must go
Asked by the Laval News whether this means the CAQ government is leaving room in its plans for compromise, Skeete answered, “Well, we’re firm that we want to abolish school board elections. Once we have that, what the future looks like in terms of how does the English community control or make decisions – we’re very open.
“What’s important, though – and this is what’s protected by the Charter – is who. And I think the English community definitely should be in charge of its institutions. But I’m not sure that it has to be elected officials per se. I think what’s important is control. And what’s important is respecting the right. I think there we’re one hundred per cent on board with that point of view.”