Court judgement puts school board changes on hold

By Gordon Lambie

Bill 40, the Quebec Government’s law to transform school boards into administrative service centres, is on hold, at least with regard to its changes to the English school system. Although the bill was passed into law in February, a Québec Superior Court judgment on Monday requires the implementation of changes to English boards that was planned for November to wait until a challenge to the constitutionality of the law can be heard.
“What we have is a judgement suspending the application of Bill 40 for the English school boards for whatever time it takes to hear the constitutional case on its merit,” said Michael Murray, Chairman of the Eastern Townships School Board. “It’s not declaring that the law is or is not constitutionally valid. It’s simply determining that to abolish commissioners could potentially work irrevocable harm on the rights of the anglophone minority.”
The challenge to Bill 40 was launched by the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) in May.
Despite hailing the judgement as good news, Murray said that it remains to be seen what action the government will make next.
“They can appeal or try other legislation, but this requires the government to stop and rethink what they were doing,” he said, arguing that the planned shift to a system of governance where only parents with children in the schools could vote on service centre administrators selected from within existing governing boards was extremely limiting. “(The government’s) plan for moving ahead involved a lot of centralization of powers in the hands of the minister and by retaining school boards and elected commissioners with all their former powers it prevents them from executing whatever changes they had intended to make in the English system.”
Even with the changes being put on hold, however, there are lingering questions about what happens next.
Prior to the passage of Bill 40, school boards would have been in election mode this year, with the vote for new commissioners set to take place November 1. With the uncertainty created by the law and the legal challenge against it, however, very little of the usual preparation work has been done.
“We’ve selected returning officers,” Murray said, “but even now, preparing for an election either under the new system or the old system probably is not a practical reality.”
Even as further reaction and consequences of the bill and decisions about its future remain uncertain, the chairman argued that it has been divisive.
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