The Quebec provincial government, currently led by the Parti-Quebecois (PQ), has ordered Quebec school boards to make $100 million in budget cuts over the next two years. This is the latest development in what has become a relentless back and forth between provincial policy makers and school officials. It is also another big blow to the province’s public educational institutions.
Earlier this year, Pauline Marois’ PQ government announced a two-year plan to cut funding to all public school boards by $200 million. School boards across the province responded by raising school taxes on residents some by as much as 30 per cent. Today the PQ have adjusted their stance. According to Minister of Education Marie Malavoy, the inflated taxes are “unacceptable.” The provincial government is now demanding school boards reduce taxes to their original rate in exchange for reducing the cuts from $200 million to $100 million. However, this still leaves the schools with a significant overall funding reduction. Josée Bouchard, head of the francophone Quebec Federation of School Boards, insists that the government’s demands cannot be met without degrading the quality of education delivered, and cutting services to students.
Ever since Marois and the PQ were elected in September of last year, their agenda has come under frequent criticism. Take last month, when thousands took to the streets of Montreal to protest the proposed Charter of Values. The ‘charter of secular values,’ ironically legislated under a crucifix at the National Assembly in Quebec City, highlighted a familiar case of ethnocentric hypocrisy from provincial government officials. The motives behind Premier Marois’ actions are questionable to say the least. There have been plenty of rumours going around Quebec of an upcoming provincial election, and there are few better ways to gain valuable votes from parents of a million-strong student body than to lower their taxes. This announcement, along with last Monday’s aptly timed four-year ‘jobs plan’ costing upwards of $2 billion, all point to the likelihood of an upcoming election.
Rather than playing politics at the expense of our children, the Ministry of Education should look inwards to reduce the deficit. In ‘Busting Bureaucracy to Reclaim Our Schools,’ a study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Prof. Stephen B. Lawton notes that the Quebec Ministry of Education has 5,000 administrators to oversee the education of a million students, while the entire country of Denmark—first place in the UN’s Education Index—has only 50 administrators to oversee the same amount of students. Maybe this suggests that the fat can be trimmed elsewhere. Or, instead of targeting our childrens’ education to balance the budget, maybe obsolete public organizations such as the ‘Office Quebecois de la Langue Française’ should be the ones to take the hit considering the redundant nature of its tasks, as well as its $19 million annual budget.
Regardless of the motives behind the government’s thoughtless approach to balancing the budget, this flip-flop points to a serious lack of direction. The government imposed $200 million in budget cuts earlier this year, only to back down from that decision merely a few months later. Did they not expect the school boards to retaliate to the regulations the way they did? More than anything, this behaviour shows that even our so-called ‘leaders’ do not have a clue as to how this is going to be settled. Unfortunately, the students will be the ones who suffer.