Anglo leaders speak up - is Charest listening?

Loi 104 - Les écoles passerelles - réplique à la Cour suprême

Who speaks for the anglophone community in Quebec? Not Alliance Quebec; it blew itself apart years ago. Not anglophone Liberal backbench MNAs; there are hardly any left and they all appear to be mute.
Not francophone Liberal backbench MNAs from ridings with lots of anglophones and allophones; they've got to keep in with the party brass. Not anglophone ministers Yolande James and Kathleen Weil; they've got careers to protect and, in fairness, cabinet solidarity to respect.
Who else? Not mayors from heavily-anglophone boroughs or towns; they've got to keep on the right side of city hall or the provincial government. Not The Gazette; we're just the messenger. Not the Quebec Community Groups Network; it cares deeply about the community but keeps such a low political profile that it might as well be underground.
The only other candidate, before you get to Bowser and Blue, is the leadership of Quebec's nine English school boards, virtually the only institutions anglophones still control. This week the biggest four of those boards stepped up to the task, on one vital issue on which they're well-qualified to speak.
For years now the consensus has been growing: Quebec's English-speaking community cannot thrive without vigorous English schools. As Marcus Tabachnick of the Lester B. Pearson board puts it, our community needs oxygen. Schools are the community's breathing tube.
On Tuesday, Quebec's four biggest anglo school boards, including the two on Montreal Island, assumed leadership on their natural issue, by convening a press conference to defend access to English schools. With them, demonstrating the importance of the issue, were representatives of parents' committees and officials of the Quebec Association of Independent Schools, which speaks for a range of private English schools.
The specific issue is the pending government response to the Supreme Court's rejection of Bill 104, a 2002 law limiting access more sharply than Quebec's language charter did originally. But the school boards have wisely broadened the issue to access to English schools in general, perhaps including for anglophone newcomers from outside Canada.
"We are here to send our government a clear message that we are united," said Angela Mancini of the English Montreal School Board, sounding downright political. "Access to English schools is vital ... the government must ensure the long-term viability of our school system."
Nobody expects or wants school boards to anoint themselves as the general mouthpiece of the anglophone community. Anglos are a diverse lot. School commissioners have no mandate to deal with anything but their schools, and even for that their democratic legitimacy is limited by the low turnout at school-board elections.
Still, it is fitting and valuable that the biggest anglo school boards have taken it upon themselves to speak up. Shockingly, Premier Jean Charest and his ministers have as far as we know consulted nobody in the English-schools community about how the government should address the Bill 104 issue.
It is heartening that Victor Goldbloom, former Quebec Liberal minister and former Official Languages Commissioner of Canada, attended the press conference and added the weight of his prestige to the school boards' case. It is encouraging that he challenged MNAs elected to represent areas with significant anglophone populations to speak up on the issue, as he told our columnist Don Macpherson (see facing page).
It is good news, also, that the school boards' press conference was extensively reported in French-language newspapers yesterday.
This is an issue where the English-speaking community needs a voice, and has found one. Now if only the government will listen, or even - dare we hope it? - open a dialogue with anglophones about this.

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