After 24 hours of debate, English education bill becomes law
QUEBEC CITY - After a day and night of rowdy, raucous, angry debate, members of the National Assembly voted along party lines early Tuesday morning to pass Bill 115.
The bill will allow children who spend three years in an unsubsidized English private school to continue in the public school system if a team of bureaucrats determine that this is part of their "correct educational pathway."
A special emergency sitting began Monday so the Charest government could force the passage of Bill 115.
In the final vote just after dawn broke Tuesday, 61 MNAs voted in favour of Bill 115, 54 voted against, and there were no abstentions.
Angry moments in National Assembly
The debate throughout the day was very heated, with the Liberal party and the Parti Quebecois making references to the War Measures Act passed 40 years ago.
Premier Jean Charest said Bill 115, which focuses on education and eliminated some language altering the Quebec Charter of Languages contained in Bill 103, is a balanced approach.
"It's one that respects the primacy of the French language, and even a very close adviser to Rene Levesque describes the PQ position as being radical. And that's why they're going to systematically obstruct this piece of legislation," said Charest.
PQ language critic Pierre Curzi has repeatedly taken a very hard line against allowing any francophones or allophones to study in the English school system, saying that adults should not be allowed to study at English Cegeps unless they have a certificate of eligibility.
During Question Period Monday he said the Liberals were gutting any respect for the French language, and said invoking closure on Bill 115 was the equivalent of having armed soldiers patrol the streets.
"That's a very provocative metaphor. Yes, we are in a debate on a closure, and a closure is an extreme measure. So I'm fighting that extreme measure," said Curzi.
Harsh criticism for proposed bills
Last year the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Bill 104 as being excessively harsh in the limits it imposed on children being allowed to attend English schools.
Previously, children who had done the majority of their schooling inside Quebec at an unsubsidized English private school were allowed to switch to the public school system after one year, but this was halted when Bill 104 came into effect.
Since Bill 101 was enacted in the seventies, only children whose parents or older siblings had studied in English in Canada were granted a certificate of eligibility, which allowed them to attend public English language schools.
Public English school boards in Quebec say only a few hundred children actually switch from private schools to the public system each year, and by denying those children access, the government is strangling the English community in Quebec.
The Parti Quebecois and a number of separatist groups say the government should use the notwithstanding clause to apply Bill 101 to English private schools, which would mean only children who had a certificate of eligibility would be allowed to attend even unsubsidized private schools.
A spokesperson from the Quebec Association of Independent Schools said the group supports the legislation, though they would have preferred a two-year window as opposed to three, and for the criteria to be accepted into the public system to be less complicated.
"We're pleased with the legislation and that they followed the judgment of the Supreme Court. Our issue now is on the regulations and in the details, said spokesperson Jonathan Goldbloom.
Rally Monday evening against bill
That debate continued Monday evening with a rally outside the premier's Montreal offices on McGill College.
A few hundred protesters supporting banning those without eligibility certificates from English schools attended the event, organized by the Societe Saint-Jean Baptiste de Montreal.
"It a very sad day for the French language to see that the National Assembly of the Quebec government is adopting a legislation that weakens the French language. It's totally unacceptable. We should be expecting from out government the promotion and protection of the national Quebec language, which is French," said protester Jean-Paul Perreault of Imperatif francais.