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Author : Martin C. Barry (Laval News)
Four associations of English-speaking Quebecers with a common interest in getting the Liberal government to reconsider its decision to abolish school board elections have banded together to create a panel that will examine and analyze options for choosing future school commissioners.
Support from four groups
Former federal Liberal MP from west-end Montreal Marlene Jennings has accepted to chair the panel which is being formed with support from the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), the English Parents’ Community Association (EPCA), the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), and the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations (QFHSA).
Apart from Jennings, membership on the panel will consist of four people from Quebec’s English-speaking community: former assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Education Leo La France; executive-director of the Townshippers Association Rachel Hunting (representing the QCGN), QFHSA president Brian Rock and EPCA president Rhonda Bouchard.
According to Jennings and QESBA acting president Stephen Burke who led a press conference in Montreal on Wednesday, the panel will have a mandate to identify and consider all options for selecting school commissioners.
Labour Day deadline
Jennings and Burke said the panel will be adding expert members in the coming weeks to ensure that constitutional protections are being met. They said the panel will also be adding a member to be nominated by EPCA. The panel will be working within a very short time frame: they are expected to complete their task by Labour Day.
The panel will seek out the views of English-speaking individuals and organizations on the various options. As well, it will review past school board elections and make recommendations on how to improve the process, then make recommendations for the partners to present to the government so that the latter respects constitutional rights.
“QESBA, QCGN, EPCA and QFHSA have agreed to co-sponsor this panel to complete a thorough community consultation,” said Jennings, adding that everyone involved is participating on a voluntary and non-remunerated basis. “This panel will be at arm’s length from the four groups involved and will deposit a complete report by September.”
Dialogue with Blais expected
Burke said the panel will be examining all scenarios surrounding school board elections. “The Minister (François Blais) has indicated that he will only discuss with us if we have suggestions, so we are going to work,” he said. “We expect that once the report is completed we will be meeting with him to have an open dialogue.”
Jennings said that some will be wondering why she and the other panel members decided to include the election of school commissioners as one of the options under consideration when the education minister has already made known his opposition to it.
“From our perspective it remains a valid option,” insisted Jennings, “the standard by which all other options will have to be measured. At the same time it is incumbent upon us to determine if steps could be taken to facilitate a higher voter turnout.”
Anglo education rights
Jennings said the panel is starting out with the assumption that Quebec’s English-speaking minority has a constitutional right to steer its own course in education: “The framework is our constitutional protection, which states very clearly in our constitution that the English-speaking minority community of Quebec has the right to control and manage its education.”
Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board chairwoman Jennifer Maccarone, who was present for the announcement, said in interview with Newsfirst Multimedia that even though Education Minister Blais “has appeared to be somewhat single-minded in terms of the direction he would like to go in, the reality is that he has also said that he would like to have input from the community in terms of what we can do to move things forward. That’s why we’re here today. Universal suffrage is a right that belongs to the English community and it’s not a right that we feel is negotiable.”