Preventing the merger of the Eastern Townships School Board

Preventing the merger of the Eastern Townships School Board

By Colin Standish

“This was Ascot School House,” said my mother as she waved her hand towards an abandoned two-story red-brick school in a farmers’ field at the end of Spring Road, where former Eaton and Ascot Townships met before the hill slopes down to the St. Francis River and Bishop’s University below. The school house was demolished several years ago, and only the trees standing in orderly lines and a small patch of raised earth, pay homage to the fact that school children once played and were educated here.

Small clapboard and brick school houses litter the rural Eastern Townships, some are restored as in Milby, while others are left idle in farmers fields or used as woodsheds. Left-overs from rural depopulation, the exodus of English-speakers from Quebec, and the forced closure and amalgamation of community schools into large regional institutions. Along with school closures, a focal point for community involvement, cohesion and education of future generations of disparate rural minority-language communities was lost.

Now, like Ascot School House, and innumerable tiny Townships schools which exist only in memory or forgotten on pastures, the Eastern Townships faces an assault to its’ public English-language education. The Quebec government’s proposals to merge the New Frontiers, Riverside and the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) will serve to further marginalize and isolate English-speakers in the historical Eastern Townships and hinder equal access to education for English-speaking communities.

1. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ETSB
Firstly, the significance and attachment of local English-speakers to the ETSB cannot be underestimated. The ETSB is the only administrative structure that covers the entire former Eastern Townships (save Thetford Mines), is governed by local English-speakers and provides exclusively English-language government services in the region.
The Eastern Townships have seen their original counties, townships and municipalities slowly administered out of existence and replaced by faceless regional administrations.

2. MINORITY-LANGUAGE EDUCATION IS CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED AND MULTI-FACETED
Secondly, while the Province has promised that English-language services and schools will not be affected by the mergers, the government has forgotten that the right to minority-language education is far more expansive than physical schools and the language used in classrooms by teachers and schoolchildren. The right to minority-language education in Canada is enshrined in S. 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Education rights for language minorities extend to the management and control of school boards, the location and construction of schools, fostering community development, and confer a positive right to compel governments to meet these requirements.

3. COMMUNITY AND CULTURAL IMPACT OF MINORITY-LANGUAGE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
Thirdly, educational institutions are critically important for the community and cultural development for minority-language groups in Canada. Education is inseparable from the means and institutions to transfer language inter-generationally and foster community cohesion and engagement. The Supreme Court of Canada stated in the Albertan Mahe case that schools were, “community centres where the promotion and preservation of minority language culture can occur.” In PEI’s Arsenault-Cameron case, “the Supreme Court reaffirmed that, “language rights, especially in the context of education, cannot be separated from a concern for the culture associated with the language”. Even where the small size of a school might limit services and activities, protecting the culture of a minority-language community takes precedence and can compel a government to construct new schools.

4. MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL OF MINORITY-LANGUAGE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
Fourthly, the management and control of school boards and educational institutions is integral to the right to minority-language education. The Mahe case established the wide-ranging nature of the right: guaranteed representation on school boards, design of programmes of instruction, funding expenditures, appointment of administrators and teachers, and the establishment of school programs.

5. APPLICATION OF MINORITY-LANGUAGE EDUCATION RIGHTS BASED ON POPULATION AND TERRITORY
Fifthly, the the numbers and geographic territory to which these education rights apply are fluid and are accorded on a “where numbers warrant” basis, taking into consideration a variety of factors. Mahe established that parents and representatives from a linguistic-minority are best placed to identify local needs and to define the territorial limits of educational management structures, taking into account historical, social and geographic factors. In 1993, the Supreme Court compelled Manitoba to establish an independent French-language school board for around 5,000 students under the exclusive management and control of the minority. The English-speaking community in the Townships is defined by what is described as the “missing-middle” with English-speakers aged 15 to 44 who have, on average, lower levels of education, income and employment than their French-speaking counterparts. Youth stand to earn 4,000$ less a year than a francophone their age with the same education. The Eastern Townships, with its unique history and identity, socio-economic challenges and close to 6,000 students served by the ETSB, would certainly meet the established criteria for autonomous minority-language management and control.

6. MINORITY-LANGUAGE EDUCATION RIGHTS ARE A POSITIVE RIGHT
Sixthly, minority-language education rights confer positive rights that can compel governments to build schools and establish school boards for linguistic minorities, if necessary. In Nova Scotia’s Doucet-Boudreau case, the courts actually supervised the construction of five French-language schools!

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, while it is laudable that the Quebec government take a proactive approach to cost control, basic access and control to minority-language services must not fall under the axe as well. What is appropriate for the majority is not always appropriate for the minority. The government not only risks political fallout from school board reductions, but might provoke constitutional challenges. The centralization of certain accounting and other technical services, while maintaining local policy-making decisions, might prove more beneficial to cost-reduction.
Every weekday morning, bright yellow buses emblazoned with the black lettering ‘EASTERN TOWNSHIPS’ ply over 16,000 km of roads to bring our children to school.

Let us ensure that this structure remains for future generations. The elimination of the ETSB will push our community further into obscurity. I know my community deserves better and our children deserve better.

Editorials and opinion pieces represent the opinions of their authors.
LifeinQuebec.com maintains a socially and politically neutral ground to  enable and facilitate the exchange of ideas.
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You can take action to save the ETSB if this is something you believe in:

The Quebec Government is consulting on a potential ETSB merger over the next two weeks before making a final decision.

1. Contact your local M.N.A. and encourage them to advocate against the measure.

a) Pierre Reid in Orford
b) Guy Hardy in Saint-Francois
c) Ghislain Bolduc in Mégantic
d) Pierre Paradis in Brome-Missisqoui
e) Luc Fortin in Sherbrooke
f) Karine Vallières in Richmond
g) Sébastien Schneeberger in Drummond-Bois-Francs
h) Andre Lamontagne in Johnson
i) Francois Bonnardel in Granby

2. Sign the petition online to be sent to the Government and local MNAs before December 1st here:

https://www.change.org/p/dr-yves-bolduc-save-the-etsb-eastern-townships-school-board

3. Tweet #SAVEETSB

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Did you know that from December 2014, Life in Québec Magazine will be distributed in the Eastern Townships.

To find out more, and for details on how to guarantee your copy, please read the information below:

To the Eastern Townships – The expansion of Life in Québec Magazine

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Categories: Opinion

About Author

Colin Standish

Colin Standish has a law degree from Université Laval in Quebec City and a history and politics degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Colin was born and raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Compton-Stanstead. He has learnt French in order to be able to study his chosen degree subject in the language.

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