Quebec’s education minister plans to transfer control of three English Montreal School Board schools to an overcrowded French board by ministerial decree.

On Tuesday morning, Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge told 98.5 host Paul Arcand that he wasn’t satisfied with other solutions proposed by the EMSB.

While the EMSB had suggested sharing some facilities to help ease the overcrowding situation in the French schools, Roberge said that solution would not work in the long-term.

“We have to transfer the schools because a lot of the students are children of immigrants, it’s a multiethnic environment and we have to work hard for Francization,” said Roberge. “Co-habitation with the English board could work in the short term but in the long term Francization is better in a Francophone environment.”

Roberge added that if a viable alternative was offered before the decree is adopted -- which will take 10 to 12 days to be adopted by cabinet -- he would be willing to listen to it. 

"An empty class isn't useful to anyone," Roberge told reporters Tuesday. "We need to raise ourselves above a partisan debate or a debate of anglophones versus francophones."


EMSB not told directly

The deadline for the EMSB to submit proposed solutions passed at midnight. Roberge had previously said that if no arrangement between the EMSB and the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île was reached, he would consider transferring control of Montreal North’s Gerald McShane St-Leonard’s John Paul 1 and General Vanier to CSPI control.

According to Roberge, the CSPI is short 3,000 student spots. The three Anglophone schools currently have a total of 743 students who will all have to find new schools when the next school year begins. 

In a news conference, EMSB chair Angela Mancini said she had not heard from the minister directly for any official confirmation, but said she is "extremely disappointed" that the announcement was made in the media.

“Today when I hear the minister say he is again is open to the cohabitation model and expects me to go back to the table and negotiate with the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île chairperson and in the same breath, tells me that he is starting the transfer of building, you will agree with me that the incentive for the CSPI to come back to the table to discuss cohabitation is close to nil,” she said.

"That is the predicament this particular minister has put us in from the beginning," Mancini told reporters.

Roberge said he would have agreed to the two boards sharing some schools, but only for the "short-term," stating that it would be difficult to integrate newcomers to Quebec if they went to school alongside English speakers.

"It's not ideal conditions if you want new arrivals to learn French, if there is a school with a lot of anglophones in it at the same time," he said.

QESBA ‘appalled at the lack of consideration’

Condemnation of the announcement was swift. On Tuesday morning the Quebec English School Boards Association issued a statement strongly opposing transferring the schools, saying easing overcrowding in the French school system is coming "at the expense of our students and communities."

"The QESBA is appalled at the lack of consideration and respect towards our students, parents, teachers and community at the forced removal of three buildings from the EMSB," said QESBA President Dan Lamoureux. "It is our estimation that the government of Quebec is penalizing their minority community. We have always been ready to sit and discuss with our French neighbours and successive governments for appropriate and smart solutions that will benefit all students and communities. This is a sad day in our history."

Quebec Community Groups Network President Geoffrey Chambers said he was disappointed that Roberge made the announcement via French radio without giving prior notice to the affected parties.

"I think we're entitled to some kind of courtesy and explanation," he said. "Taking away our schools is just not alright. The EMSB has gone through a lot of effort to put together a reasonable offer. They are not obliged to do this. These are our assets that are supposed used for our kids."

‘Unconstitutional’: QCGN

Chambers said they are ready to take legal action if necessary.

“This is unconstitutional, and I think not taking legal action allows it to stand as a precedent, so I think we absolutely have to stand up and say the schools of the English-speaking communities are owned by the English-speaking communities’ institutions, not by the minister of education,” he said. “That’s what the Supreme Court jurisprudence says and he’s not respecting it, so we absolutely have to have that clarified for him through a court process if he’s not prepared to come to the table in a reasonable way.”

Mancini said the board would wait to have all the details before making any decisions on legal action.

The Quebec English School Boards Association said the government move penalizes the minority anglophone community.

Russell Copeman, the executive director, said the association and the school board are examining their options, which could include a legal challenge. He said the English-speaking community has a constitutional right to control and manage its school system.

"We would far prefer a negotiated settlement," Copeman said. "This government doesn't seem to want to let the system do what it needs to do to in a timely fashion to resolve these issues."

- With files from The Canadian Press