English school boards threatened by Bill 88 election plan



    
                                     By
    Debbie Horrocks, Audrey Acteson, Steve Bletas, David C. D'Aoust, Michael
    Chiasson, Angela Mancini, Michelle Morin-Doyle, Michael Murray, Moira
    Regan-Bell and Marcus Tabachnick
    

    MONTREAL, Oct. 27 /CNW Telbec/ - It has been a decade since Quebec's
English-speaking community - after intensive effort and debate - secured a
public school network controlled and managed by the community itself. The
adoption of linguistic school boards signaled a watershed change: henceforth,
there would be a unique level of government entirely elected by and
responsible to the English-speaking community of Quebec.
    Now, a major change proposed in a bill to amend Quebec's Education Act,
Bill 88, threatens to seriously compromise this precious gain for
English-speaking Quebec. The bill proposes that school board Chairs be subject
to election by universal suffrage from across the entire territory of their
school board rather than by the elected members of the school board itself.
The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) and the undersigned
Chairs of its nine member school boards believe that this change will be
unworkable, ineffective and ultimately, undemocratic.
    We respect and appreciate that the Minister of Education, Recreation and
Sports, Michelle Courchesne seeks to enhance democracy, accountability and
transparency in the governance and administration of public education in
Quebec. We have actively contributed to those efforts. The proposed change, we
fear, will have the unintended effect of hampering access to and delivery of
quality school board governance and administration.
    Specifically, we fear the draft legislation will:

    
    - Discourage quality candidates from running for Board Chair

    - Render less legitimate the mandate of those who do; and

    - Compromise the ability of elected school boards to truly serve their
      educational communities.
    

    There are nine elected English school boards in Quebec. They cover a
total territory of 1.68 million km2. Based on the most recent school board
elections held last November, there were 146,000 eligible voters spread out
over that territory who were eligible to vote for English school boards. One
can quickly deduce that it will be a challenge indeed for a prospective Board
Chair candidate to undertake a transparent, informative or democratic campaign
across an entire board territory under such conditions. At many of our boards,
there is one urban/suburban population centre surrounded by vast rural
districts with limited numbers of eligible voters. Under the proposed regime
of universal suffrage, the possibility of a candidate from a rural area
garnering the necessary support to become Chair of a Board becomes rather
remote. Similarly, it will become difficult for a candidate to reach out to
and receive a mandate from all corners of the Board territory in question.
These constraints, not to mention the time and resources involved in such a
campaign, might well discourage many quality candidates from coming forward.
    While universal suffrage is an important and democratic principle, its
legitimacy is put in question in this case. There are no checks and balances
yet proposed in Bill 88 to facilitate or finance effective campaigns for Board
Chair candidates, nor is any protection afforded against a Board Chair winning
a mandate from one narrow corner of a Board with little or no support from the
majority of the territory.
    Currently, Board Chairs are elected by the Council of Commissioners, each
of whose members does have a legitimate mandate stemming from his or her
election by universal suffrage from within a single, circumscribed district,
or ward. These individuals, entrusted to represent the school board, and the
community that elected them, are properly mandated to elect the Chair from
within their ranks. It is an open and serious question whether a Board Chair,
not elected by his or her elected colleagues, will be in a position to build
the collaborative, responsible and effective school board leadership so
essential to the delivery of quality education.
    There is a solution: Not all Quebec school boards cover the wide and
disparate territory we have described here. Those that do must be afforded the
right to derogate from the requirement to elect their Chair by universal
suffrage. As the voice of English public education in Quebec, we have often
insisted that, "one size does not fit all". Here is an important example where
allowing a flexible fit is the best road to fairness and equality. We urge
this government to take heed.
    The above signatories are, respectively, President of the Quebec English
School Boards Association and the following member school boards: Eastern
Shores, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, New Frontiers, Western Quebec, English Montreal,
Central Québec, Eastern Townships, Riverside and Lester B. Pearson.




For further information:

For further information: Kim Hamilton, Communications and Special
Projects Coordinator, (514) 849-5900, ext. 225, (C) (514) 919-3894


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