The current slew of litigations filed and threatened almost makes the infighting over Bill 40 before it was passed seem like a gentle prelude. From the EMSB, to the QCGN to QESBA and to a variety of French school boards, the legal papers are flying and many law factories are gearing up for a cottage industry over this fight. We have rarely received so much correspondence on any matter save language rights, health care and social security. Some eight months ago we had suggested in this space that Education Minister Roberge “try a little tenderness.” We wish he had listened.
Without dwelling on the merits — or lack thereof — of “service centres” replacing boards, certain things are clear in the nature of things. It is the nature of bureaucracy deciding on policy that policy will be mucked up beyond all recognition. Bureaucrats may carry out specific tasks detailed with exactitude. They have no capacity to decide on broad questions that must of necessity take in competing interests of diverse communities. The best of elected officials can barely do that. Bureaucrats aren’t even trained for it. In a very short while schools will be left directionless with very little room for compassion or compromise. The nature of bureaucracy, particularly in the command-state mentality of Quebec, is to pasteurize, homogenize and sanitize. It seeks “one size fits all” solutions. Those never work. Particularly in education where special attention needs to be given to each child. The basis of family law in sec.34 of Quebec’s Civil Code is the “best interests of the child.” What is now going on in education — a basic interest of all children — flies in the face of that most foundational principle.
Another matter that is as clear and sure as the day is long is that the public will bear the costs. The moral costs surely as we set out above, but the material costs as well. Litigation will be long and costly. The Quebec taxpayer will pay millions to the governments lawyers for questionable purposes. And the process will be long. The challenges will certainly follow through all levels of courts and may reach the Supreme Court in five years. Four with luck.
This idea has been tried before. And failed. Prince Edward Island did away with elected school boards some ten years ago. The experiment failed and this year that province is restoring elected boards. The Education Minister once called boards “dysfunctional” and said “everything is on the table including trusteeship.” We urged the Minister to tread carefully. Since then, he has indeed put everything on the table including the kitchen sink and proceeded to smash it all.
The political infighting within the Boards clearly needed mediation. And that was a role the Ministry could have been helpful in. But the government chose euthanasia over corrective surgery. The English boards certainly did not merit such treatment having maintained the highest standards in the province in terms of graduation rates and test scores. Additionally, at a time when Premier Legault was rightfully trying to reassure the million strong non-francophone minority that it’s place within Quebec is secure, the fallout from Bill 40 will always evoke almost as much suspicion as that from Bill 101. Throughout the process, the Minister’s language and reports were filled with subjectivity as when it was claimed that the EMSB showed a “lack of maturity.” No one even knew what that meant. And it was quite rich coming from the Ministry of Education. Typical bureaucrat-speak.
There was a role for the Ministry and the Minister to play but instead the latter became the instrument of this government’s ill-fated decision that will forever be tinged with the patina of yet another Quebec encroachment on Canadian constitutionally protected minority rights. EMSB commissioner Julien Feldman once called the Minister’s words and reports “a bit exaggerated.” He was right. In this era of hyper-legislation, this may have been a law too far.