On February 8, 2020, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government passed Bill 40, a major education reform law. This law abolished autonomous French and English school boards and replaced them with “service centres,” eliminated elections in French-language districts, and ended the role of school commissioners, among many other changes. The bill passed despite widespread opposition from school boards, teachers, and parents in both the French and English systems, who argued that the reform will disproportionately hurt parents and local constitutional rights. These groups also questioned the CAQ’s rush to pass the Bill.
Much of Bill 40’s framework rests on the expectation that parents will take on the primary burden of their children’s education, while teachers and other education partners at the local level will lose authority. School commissioners, who once acted as neutral mediators between schools and the province, will be replaced by a board of directors comprised of volunteer parents and community members. In the case of French-language districts, the board of directors will now be appointed by the Ministry of Education itself, instead of being elected by the community. Switching to a system that relies on appointments is a problematic method of shifting power from community members to biased government officials who don’t have direct knowledge of the community’s needs. English-language districts will continue to elect directors, as part of what Roberge called a “compromise” with English institutions.
These systemic changes risk creating a two-tiered hierarchy in education. By removing neutral offices and placing responsibility on select parents, many schools will no longer have a stable advocate for the equal distribution of resources. Additionally, this system underrepresents often already marginalized families who might not have the capacity to volunteer their time to sit on school boards. The replacement of autonomous school boards and the removal of elections for French-language districts are designed to expand the Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge’s power, which was previously checked by school board unions. This policy especially affects English-language districts, whose democratic and labour operations will no longer be protected by school board unions against any detrimental legislative actions of the provincial government.
For this bill, the CAQ invoked closure: a process that allows governments to heavily limit debate and require a final vote by the end of a sitting. As a result, the assembly over Bill 40 was pressured to last almost twenty hours, proceeding into the early hours of the morning. This is the fourth time the CAQ has abused this policy since being elected: closure was previously used to pass Bill 9, Bill 34, and Bill 21 into law. Bill 40 passed with all 60 attending members of the CAQ voting in favour, and was opposed by the 35 remaining members, who represented all other parties. This adamant push for low-priority legislation like Bill 40 displays the CAQ’s disregard for the needs and interests of their constituents in an arrogant display of control.
Roberge tabled a last-minute amendment during the assembly that would move the extinction of French school commissioners from February 29 to as soon as the bill is passed. This means that instead of having until the end of the month to transition out of their roles, hundreds of school commissioners across Quebec woke up on Saturday, February 8, to the news that they had lost their jobs. Though Roberge claimed the province would continue to pay these commissioners until June 30, the abrupt change is further example of the CAQ’s serious lack of consideration for individuals, especially those who have the potential to speak out against them.
These actions are part of the CAQ’s overarching policy to prioritize their own goals while exacerbating institutionalized discrimination against vulnerable residents of the province. The CAQ has repeatedly used closure to obscure opposing voices, and, in the case of commissioner extinction, has been blatantly inconsiderate of the livelihoods of hundreds of dedicated community members, simply so their agenda can advance faster.
Confront the CAQ about their unnecessary and arbitrary use of closure. Contact the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, and hold him accountable for his disregard of the teachers and families he is supposed to advocate for. Most importantly, support and follow organizations like La Fédération des Commissions Scolaires du Québec (FCSQ), Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), Fédération Autonome de L’Enseignement (FAE), and APPELE- Quebec, who regularly hold community hearings and who will be working directly with teachers, parents, and communities during this transition period.