Provincial Liberals calling for school board elections delay

By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) is growing increasingly more vocal about pushing the upcoming school board elections in November, citing concerns over voter turnout during a global pandemic.
“With Covid cases increasing and provincial zones going from green to yellow and maybe yellow to orange and then, who knows, orange to red. Is right now really the smartest time to be holding a general election across the entire province,” Liberal MNA Gregory Kelley asked in an interview Friday.
Kelley, who received full support from the Liberal caucus after he presented the situation, said this is about access to democracy. The MNA added that the Quebec government has a vested interest in making the elections work.
The problem, according to Kelley, is he doesn’t believe people, especially seniors, will feel comfortable going to the polls to vote in a school election with COVID-19 still threatening society. On top of that, school boards are already swamped with issues.
“Boards are already preoccupied with finding teachers, keeping schools safe, keeping schools clean, adding this additional burden during the pandemic I think is putting a lot of stress on the people working in school boards who are already short handed,” Kelley said.
As a solution, the QLP is asking the Coalition Avenir Québec government to delay the school board elections for a year and pair them with the 2021 municipal elections. This will also allow Quebec’s chief electoral officer time to study other effective options, like mail-in voting.
“I’m not just arriving and saying push things back just because that will make everything better, but I think there are some things the CAQ can do to ensure the elections are a success and to strengthen democracy,” Kelley said.
If the provincial government rejects the Liberal motion, Kelley wants to see how Quebec Premier Francois Legault plans to run a safe election. How do you handle thousands of people going into schools on the Sunday and then students returning on the Monday, he asked.
Kelley also wants to see Elections Quebec take a bigger role in school board elections going forward. It removes that burden from the school boards, he explained, eliminating added costs and the headache of organizing the event.
“The budget to run an election comes out of a school board’s budget, and I think it’s time Elections Quebec took over and school boards use their money to invest it in services for students and not elections,” said Kelley.
Although the Quebec Court of Appeals maintained the stay for Bill 40, the act that would see the end of English school boards is still in play for the Quebec government and Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge.
Kelley said he is already hearing some people in the French education system grumbling about the effectiveness of service centres. They aren’t elected officials, he told The Record, they’re all civil servants, so they don’t necessarily feel obligated to respond to the people’s concerns.
“It’s just frustrating on Roberge’s part because I think he could take the time, sit down with the opposition, sit down with the community, and find a solution to change Bill 40 to make it constitutional and make it work in terms of what the community wants,” Kelley said.

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