Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 18,1999
Francophones upset by gov't school edict
Some fear local identity lost in one province-wide district
By JAY CHARLAND
WCR Staff Writer
Some Alberta francophones are upset with the provincial government's decision to turn seven francophone regional school districts into one provincial school board.
Francophones will not sit back and accept the decision, says L‚o Piquette, chairman of the East Central Francophone Education Region.
According to the former MLA, Alberta francophones have struggled hard over the past 15 years for the right to have their own school system.
"We have finally received some recognition that we have a place in the society and we don't want to see that disappear," Piquette told the WCR.
But Education Minister Gary Mar is "trying to make us disappear again," he said.
"For Alberta francophones to be mistreated for so many years and their rights not being respected, they deserve to be respected by this minister."
He went on to say that perhaps the minister was ill-advised and asked that he should "retract himself very quickly."
"Studies have shown, and school councils have shown and consultation with all kind of provincial bodies have shown that the will of the Alberta francophone is to recognize in the legislation, as it was in 1994, the regionalization of our school boards."
The government's decision, Piquette says, "would be the same thing if the government would simply get rid of all the health regional boards and say 'We don't need to have these. We've regionalized it now but that's not good enough. Let's get rid of all the regional health boards and run it out of Edmonton.'"
Faced with a regional authority in the Peace River area with a five-person board, a superintendent and a secretary- treasurer and only about 250 students, the government had asked the Federation of Francophone School Boards to submit a proposal on how to make the situation viable.
In response, the federation submitted a proposal for four regional divisions.
The minister's decision to form one francophone school district for the whole province, released two days before Christmas, brought a mixed reaction from francophone school boards and councils.
It also raised a number of questions, including the practicality of one board for the whole province which the Federation of Francophone School Boards hope to address with the minister in a Jan. 18 meeting.
Denis Tardif, chairman of the North Central Francophone Authority which includes Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge, says that while his board is not happy with the decision, it would reluctantly go along.
According to Tardif, "Peace River and St. Paul want the minister to reverse the decision, (Fort) McMurray, Red Deer and Lethbridge have indicated they would agree with the decision and Edmonton is sitting in the Middle and saying, 'Somebody's got to make this work.'"
"Our position (as a board) from the beginning was to have three boards - a northern, a central and a southern board," Tardif said.
While the urban boards seem to be reluctantly accepting Mar's decision, the same is not true for rural boards in the St. Paul and Peace River areas.
Rural boards, Piquette insists, will be the losers in this plan. Policies that have been allowed at the "local school level" will be blended into provincial policies that "would try to homogenize the schools as opposed to reflecting their community."
As well, he questions the ability of rural boards to have real representation on a province-wide body.
"We're saying the same things to the provincial government that the provincial governments are always saying to the federal government, `We know best our constituents,'" Piquette asserted.
"Rural boards want to make sure that we retain at the very least rural representation."
Pointing to the fact that francophone school boards regionalization came before regionalization of public and separate school boards, Piquette suggests that the latest decision should be a warning for those boards now.
"If we become a provincial francophone school board, the crack is in the door to have basically one public school board and one Catholic school board for the province."