This article contends with the Quebec Government’s plan to dismantle the Province’s longstanding confessional school boards and replace them with a unified, so-called “neutral” school system. It was published in The Montreal Gazette on: Wednesday, November 11, 1981.
The provincial government’s plans to replace confessional school boards with regional school councils providing Protestant, Catholic and “neutral” schooling in French or English to all students in a given region. Government representatives argue that a “unified” education system such as this would eliminate waste and place more power in the hands of parents to define the character of their neighborhood schools.
Our provincial legislators are posturing as a “good government” seeking to “democratize” education and provide administrative efficiency. In so doing they are prepared to strip the last remnants of authority from Quebec’s Protestant and Catholic communities.
They intend to define our religious and linguistic rights as existing only at the level of individual schools and create the illusion that religious instruction and Quebec’s Anglophone, culture will be accommodated in a so-called “neutral” Quebec education system. In a word, the Quebec Government plans to “nationalize” our schools.
While such a plan is perhaps understandable for a government that is pursuing fundamentally socialist aims, it will nonetheless mean that the Anglophone presence in Quebec education will virtually be reduced to insignificance. As Parti Quebecois spokesman, Henry Milner, pointed out in The Gazette (Background, September 25), the only way Quebec Anglophones will exercise any real influence within the proposed new structures will be to maintain themselves in English ghettos outside the mainstream of Quebec society.
Although such a development might not be considered undesirable among some members of the PQ rank and file, it certainly would not contribute to the realization of the “social justice” which this government is fond of talking about.
After careful consideration our Protestant school boards are convinced that this legislation should not go forward. We believe the plan to be illegal and morally wrong. We also believe that it defies established convention in Quebec education and is detrimental to the interests of all sectors of Quebec society; especially to the Anglophone Protestant minority which our Boards represent. Here is why:
In the first place, the Quebec government intends to ignore constitutional guarantees for Protestant and Catholic education presently existing under the British North America act.
It is the Quebec government’s contention that confessional and linguistic rights will be protected will be maintained and respected at the level of individual schools. We cannot believe that this will be born out in practice.
In fact, we believe this is a highly questionable prospect from both a legal and administrative viewpoint. We doubt that the Fathers of Confederation intended to give her Majesty’s Protestant and Catholic subjects, access to individual schools and, at the same time, deny their respective right to establish “school systems” in the service of expanding populations.
A public school board represents a system of schools that is organized for the efficient and coherent administration of schools in a particular region. Our forefathers did not will that we should have floating, rudderless and disconnected schools in local constancies.
Citizens should be equally skeptical of seductive government claims that; “orientation councils” composed of parents, students, teachers and administrators would effectively share the responsibility for supervising the quality of instruction at the local level.
If the way in which this government has progressively expropriated powers of teacher certification and curriculum development is any indication of the Minister’s sincerity when he talks about “democratizing and decentralizing,” it is difficult to believe that local school councils would be left with any meaningful authority over our children’s education. In all likelihood, their power would amount to nothing more than the right to say “Oui” to the instructions of Camille Laurin, our present Minister of Education.
It has been pointed out that the proposal to dismantle Protestant and Catholic school systems is not a new idea. This may be so, but it does not mean that it is a good idea. Many of the so-called educational reforms emanating from the 1960’s, when the scheme was first hatched by the Parent Commission, are now seen to have contributed to weakening the quality of instruction and general discipline in our schools.
Finally, it is important to remember that the proposed changes are being defended primarily on the basis of “financial responsibility” and the “rationalization of the education system in Quebec. We are told that we must consolidate our resources to preserve quality instruction in a period of declining enrollments.
But why is it assumed that this can only be accomplished under the tutelage of our provincial government? In fact, given this government’s increasing tendency to overspend its tax dollars on high priced bureaucratic structures, the cost of maintaining our present local systems may pale in comparison. There is presently no law to say that Anglophone Protestants and Catholics cannot cooperate among themselves to provide sound educational services in areas where one or the other populations has dropped too low to provide an independent confessional school.
For example, at Dorval High School, the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal and the Baldwin Cartier (Catholic) School Commission are cooperating to provide English education at the neighbourhood level. At the same time, students and teachers are encouraged to maintain contact with their respective confessional communities. This was accomplished without the assistance of our costly new class of social engineers in Quebec City.
In the face of this government’s transparent hostility to our locally elected institutions, Quebec Anglophones must realize that this is indeed a time for action. Only a very clear signal of dissatisfaction and alarm from the educational community, the churches and the public will interrupt this government’ plans to obtain complete control over education in this province.
School boards must begin to challenge provincial legislation that will pre-judicially affect their rights and freedoms under the Canadian Constitution.
The operations of our boards are already heavily restricted by the administrative directives of the Ministry of Education. We no longer levy taxes nor entirely control our own budgets. We no longer set the curriculum for our own schools. We can’t even issue graduation certificates at the local level. We have been relegated to rubber-stamping government policies that often reduce the effectiveness of our services.
Consequently, we must make a clear and unequivocal effort to roll back the waves of provincial legislation that have progressively removed our power to make decisions in the best interests of our communities.
But most importantly, parents and citizens must recognize that the right to elect their own school boards and hold their local education commissioners accountable on election days is the only real means they have to maintain an effective education system that they can continue to call their own.
Mr. Brooks was elected to the Lakeshore School Board in June, 1980 and is now serving as Chairman of the Board’s community Relations Committee.