Charest bristles at criticism of fund hike for Jewish schools

PQ opposes move Premier stands firm amid reports questioning his motives

Écoles privées juives

The Quebec government yesterday stood by its decision to increase funding to Jewish private schools amid a wave of criticism from the Parti Quebecois opposition and other groups accusing it of creating social tensions.
Premier Jean Charest said his government is sticking to the plan because it is the right thing to do.
Far from a last-minute decision made behind closed doors, Charest said, allowing Jewish day schools to form an association with public school boards and boost their secular funding is an idea that has been in the works for more than 10 years.
The premier angrily denied reports the decision was related to financial contributions to the Quebec Liberal Party by members of the Jewish community.
"There is absolutely no link between political financing and the decision taken by the government," Charest said at a late- afternoon news conference. "If some people want to piece together events to say there is an appearance, they can always try to do that, but I am here to say clearly that's not the case."
Charest said there was no reason for his cabinet or party caucus to be advised of the move
because Education Minister Pierre Reid has the power to make the decision under the Education Act.
And Reid was acting with the approval of the two school boards involved, the Lester B. Pearson School Board and the Commission Scolaire Marguerite Bourgeoys, which voted in favour of the deals at their own meetings and passed the requests up the line, Charest said.
The programs, which increase secular funding for the schools to 100 per cent from the present 60 per cent, would cost $10 million a year if all 15 Jewish schools signed up. So far, seven have.
Charest said that despite criticism the government is creating a precedent, the Greek community already has associations with school boards that entitle its schools to more funding. The Liberals had decided to give private Jewish schools associated status as early as 1994 but lost power to the PQ, which did not implement it.
As for the possibility of similar requests from other cultural communities, Charest said they would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
"The decision was taken in conformity with the law on public instruction," the premier said.
"The net result is we create an associated school that commits itself in return to activities to integrate into Quebec society that go way beyond and are not related to confessionality.
"The objective sought is the integration of all Quebec citizens into the Quebec community. All this goes in the direction of our fundamental values of inclusion - as much for the Jewish community as for the Greek or all other communities, whether they be Muslim or of any other origin."
Charest's news conference came at the end of a whirlwind day in which his government was roundly criticized for the decision, announced by Reid Dec. 7.
Jean Dorion, president of the Societe St. Jean Baptiste, fired off the first volley, issuing a statement demanding Quebec hold a public inquiry into the decision, which he described as "suspect."

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