By Julie Jacques
On February 8th 2020, the National Assembly passed Bill 40, which transformed school boards into service centers. The CAQ was able to stay true to a notable campaign promise due to its majority in the government. The bill became law with help of a governmental closure, which limited debate about the bill, a move the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec called “anti-democratic”.
Despite not necessarily being against the abolishment of school boards, an elementary school teacher (and mother-of-three) declares that there is a general “sense of frustration” towards the CAQ’s actions amongst her colleagues.
“Teachers have felt abandoned by the public system for a while now, and this may be the last straw for many of us,” she weighs in, citing the bill as a factor that could potentially worsen an already grave shortage of teaching staff in Québec.
Véronique De Sève, vice-president of the Confédérations des syndicats nationaux, scrutinizes Legault’s actions, saying that “the government should have learned that there is nothing to be gained by rushing. There is no emergency.”
Similarly, the elementary school teacher says that this is “a recipe for disaster,” adding that “it was a similar experience with adding more recess time– nobody consulted schools and their staff.” Implementing a second recess for elementary school students was another campaign promise that the CAQ has now fulfilled, but at what cost? A lack of planning has caused students to lose five minutes of teaching or recess time in order to get dressed and undressed, “which isn’t allowed.” The fear is that the CAQ is doing the same with Bill 40 and the 82 amendments that were tabled only days before governmental closure. This deprived members of parliament a chance to debate new additions, many of which were small changes to parts of the bill that deal with teachers’ rights, responsibilities, and training.
The elementary school teacher explains that the government is deciding what training teachers need without taking into account that teachers take training based on their student’s needs. She says that the people in the government who are “making these decisions are far too removed from the reality of teaching in the public system they underfund.” She points out that “teacher working conditions are student learning conditions”.
Met with outrage after the Bill was passed, Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge sticks to his guns and suspects that support for the reform will increase as people come to understand its benefits. He even went so far as to say that teachers’ concerns are caused by misinformation spread by the union and opposition parties, and that “it must stop.”
“Roberge made it seem like we are misinformed, but really he is the one misinforming the public,” the teacher says, accusing Roberge of disguising Bill 40 as a means to eliminate school board, while actually using it to take power away from teachers, parents, and municipalities.
In the end, what does this bill mean for Québec? In essence, money to transition existing schoolboards into service centers, the removal of an elected council of commissioners, and regulations about how the new board of directors will be required to function, but also many changes on how teachers and staff will be treated in the coming years. Perhaps the CAQ has bitten off more than they can chew, but then again, they may surprise us!