Opinion Editorial Letter from Canadian School Boards Association President, Laurie French

Friday, October 4, 2019

Following a difficult and frustrating week for school board trustees across the country, we watch our colleagues in Quebec under the threat of a potentially devastating piece of legislation tabled by their provincial government. The CSBA, our members and the communities we represent across the country are shocked and dismayed to hear the Quebec provincial government’s interest in robbing its French-speaking citizens of a public education system governed by democratically elected community members dedicated to public education.

We have seen the effects of dissolving governing school boards and it’s not good. The loss of majority English governing school boards in Nova Scotia has had a negative effect on the education community. Parents, guardians, students and education staff have spoken out that they no longer have access to policy and decision makers. This elimination of community voice has not improved public education. Having community members govern public education is vital for both majority and minority communities. All people of Quebec have a right to democratically elected governing school boards in their public education systems, regardless if schooling is in French or English.

Like the situation in Nova Scotia, the provincial government in Quebec is obligated to provide some form of self-governance to its minority language education system under a charter designed to protect minority languages, never imagining it is majority language students and citizens who will lose these democratic processes. In Nova Scotia that means the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial was able to survive the elimination of governing boards, but we have heard directly of the loss of voice at a provincial level with no local access in response to concerns. In Quebec the English boards will remain under charter protection, but they too will be weakened.

The democratic practice of electing representatives to serve the needs of citizens is a cornerstone of Canadian society, and this applies to representation supporting public education. Governing school boards are members of the communities they serve, dedicated to the public education system, and providing access and transparency to local decisions. The solution to concerns with a democratic system is to improve it, not to eliminate it. If the provincial government of Quebec has such concerns with governing school boards, we call on it to work WITH the provincial school boards associations to strengthen these roles in service of students to whom they are accountable.

Recent research strongly indicates that “high functioning governing school boards support student success and quality public education”, found here http://www.cdnsba.org/Literature-Review.  Governments would be wise to strengthen this partnership. For governments to criticize governing boards for not being effective is a reflection on themselves, as we have seen governments strip away the autonomy and influence governing school boards have on public education. If the government feels school boards are not effective, we would like to remind them that they have brought us to this place.

The Quebec government should also consider the election process for governing school boards if voter turnout is a concern – a problem that touches all levels of government. In other jurisdictions across Canada, school board elections are tied with municipal elections to support participation, reduce duplication of costs and improve accessibility. Quebec should consider following a similar approach.

We strongly urge the government to conduct broad consultations, and work with the Trustee Associations in partnership before any change is made to strengthen governance in support of student success.

Public education deserves community representation via all governing school boards who have the autonomy to make the best decisions for their students. We urge the Minister to reconsider this legislation and work with school boards to strengthen student success for all citizens, for now and future generations.