The first line of the Otis Redding hit song that is the title of this editorial is, “Oh she may be weary...” And how weary our communities are of the tension between the education minister and the English Montreal School Board over the past week. It is the weariness of watching yet another Quebec minister or bureaucrat taking the English community for granted. Minister Roberge should have tried a little tenderness. It was the way he acted rather than whether his position was right or wrong.
Due to Bill 101 English schools are seeing diminishing enrollment. Since immigrants no longer have a choice, they send their children to French schools. Overcrowding is an undeniable problem in French schools. And the EMSB schools do have some excess physical capacity in some schools. Recently the problem became acute in the east end of Montreal.
The Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Île, the French board in the east end, told Quebec it needed more space. In a very clumsy and officious way, the Education Minister declared that the EMSB had to come up with a suitable solution to the CSPI problem or he would unilaterally transfer three anglophone schools to the French board within three months.
In a press conference, Roberge gave the EMSB until June 10 to reach an agreement or he would use a section of the Education Act allowing him to force a transfer. Roberge also said he was upset that a letter he sent to the English board was leaked and that many parents found out about the potential closures through the media. And herein lays the problem.
Roberge shouldn’t have given ultimatums and certainly should not have been upset about a letter a wrote nor that parents found out through the media. He should have openly and respectfully dealt with the EMSB and the anglophone parents. The Education Act has provisions specifically for consultations. As for the media, it is the fourth estate of government. We keep those we elect — our employees — honest. Unfortunately, since the language wars started, the non-francophone communities have not only been treated disrespectfully, but neglectfully. And Minister Roberge exhibited a feeling too often seen in Quebec that non-francophones can be dealt with by state fiat. Roberge seemed genuinely surprised at the pushback. And that’s the sad part. It’s also infuriating. Again.
Roberge has demanded the surrender of General Vanier and Gerald McShane elementary schools as well as John Paul I High School to the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Ile. The French board is short 3,000 spots and will need the buildings by September to ease overcrowding. Parents from Rivière-des-Prairies want Lester B. Pearson High School in Montreal North be swapped with École secondaire Jean Grou, a high school in R.D.P. The swap would free up 1,000 student places for the CSPI in the east end. Pearson can accommodate 2,000 students, but has just under 1,000. EMSB officials support the swap.
The Quebec English School Boards Association has called the Roberge’s ultimatum “appalling” and said Roberge needed to consider the impact on the community. QESBA s right. But more than that, what is appalling is that Roberge assumed that non-francophones would once again roll over as if caught in some “Stockholm Syndrome” haze of self-abnegation. This fashion of decision-making is not what Premier Legault. He promised the title of another great song. He promised RESPECT. Minister Roberge, it’s not too late. Show you can change how you work and make your decision in and with the communities you affect in the northeast of Montreal.