Quebec backtracks on plan to eliminate school boards

The Couillard government is scrapping its proposed education reform, which included a controversial plan to overhaul or eliminate school boards.

In place of Bill 86, Education Minister Sébastien Proulx wants to introduce a series of new measures, a spokesperson for the minister confirmed Friday.

"The minister intends to file a new bill that will include the elements that found consensus during consultations," Marie-Ève Dion said in an email.

"This new legislation is part of our efforts to improve the success of all students."

Proulx outlined the broad strokes of his plan in an interview La Presse published Friday, and later confirmed the details with Radio-Canada.

​Among the ideas laid out by Proulx:

- keep school board elections.

- more pre-kindergarten classes available starting at four years old.

- make school mandatory until 18 years old.

- create a professional association for teachers.

- create a national institute of excellence for education.

Couillard's two previous education ministers, Pierre Moreau and François Blais, questioned the relevance of school boards given low voter turnout for board elections.

Among anglophone school boards, the turnout in 2014 was 17 per cent. On the French side it was about four per cent.

Despite that, Proulx says he's not going to mess with school boards for now.

He didn't give a timeline for the implementation of the new reforms.

A 'disgrace' or democracy in action?

Jennifer Maccarone, chair of the Wilfred Laurier School Board, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak she was pleased with the decision.

"We certainly have a lot of respect for the ministry in terms of listening to us," she said. 

"Democracy is something that needs to be respected and this is great news that we'll be moving forward in maintaining that."

However, not everyone sees it that way.

Chris Eustace, a former teacher who has run for chairman of the Lester B. Pearson Board, said the move is "more than disappointing. It's a disgrace."

Eustace said school boards are a waste of money and they do little to help students.

He doubts anyone would miss them.

"We're talking about a few people losing financial benefits form being elected as chairpersons of various school boards," he said.

The minister does say he wants to address the problem of voter turnout for board elections, perhaps by introducing online voting.