QUEBEC CITY -- With closed discussions in small groups and opposition MNAs confined, the Summit on Educational Success in Quebec has suddenly taken on a whole new look.

Those who imagined that this would be a major meeting to discuss education issues and prepare for the start of the 2021-2022 school year were dismayed when they learned that Minister of Education Jean-Francois Roberge had ordered the meeting to be held behind closed doors.

Roberge explained that some were uncomfortable expressing themselves in public. He will therefore meet privately on March 31 and April 1 with about 60 people, divided into four separate groups.

The teachers federation (FAE) is now calling the virtual consultation a "charade" and at least one National Assembly member is considering boycotting the event.

"The minister retains the right to determine what the consensus will be... He's going to hold the show and make sure the doors stay closed," lamented FAE president Sylvain Mallette.

He said that it was through "asking questions" that he realized that the forum he expected would be "a political operation orchestrated to save the minister's head."


"On the other hand, if people don't want to make their proposals in public, it may be because they are not good," said Mallette. "We are not talking about a military operation in the Middle East."

He does not understand why the meeting is now behind closed doors.

"We're talking about the success of students in Quebec, especially those in the public school system, which is funded by taxes," he added.

On Friday, the Federation des syndicats de l'enseignement (FSE) said it was equally disappointed with the format, which it said would prevent it from hearing from the other groups.

President Josee Scalabrini pointed out that each speaker will only have three minutes to make his or her presentation. She fears the absence of exchanges and debates that would allow a real consensus to be reached.

"We are not looking for solutions together," she said. "The formula, in our opinion, is not the winning formula for the level of difficulty we have to face in the coming months and years."


Three themes will be addressed in a "surgical manner," explained the minister's press officer, Jean-Francois Del Torchio.

They are: educational success and catching up, psychological assessment and supervision, and mental health and well-being at school.

"It's not a government show, it's not an opposition show, it's really a meeting for the children and what can be done quickly," he said.

The objective, Del Torchio said, is to table an action plan by the end of April.


For her part, Quebec Solidaire (QS) MNA Christine Labrie said in a letter to the minister that she realized "with amazement and disappointment" that the consultation would not be public.

It was confirmed to her this week that the only meeting in which female MNAs will be able to participate is the one for female members.

"The consultation was already disappointing, but the fact that it is being held in private is the last straw, to the point where I am seriously questioning my participation," she wrote.

Labrie asked Roberge to commit to making all the summit meetings public, as well as all the briefs, as soon as they are received.

She said she hoped that the opposition, the media and the public would be able to read what participants had to say, in order to enrich their own thinking, "as is usually the case in a real consultation."

The last (regional) consultations on educational success date back to 2016, when the Liberal Francois Blais was Minister of Education.

They resulted in a policy on educational success, presented in June 2017 by his successor, Sebastien Proulx.

In 2015, the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) held a "forum of ideas" on education, which cost $150 to register.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2021.