Most back allowing choice in schooling

Public, Private; Poll shows 61% of francophones, 87% of others want restrictions loosened

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

By HUBERT BAUCH, BRENDA BRANSWELL - A new survey of Quebecers' attitudes on education shows that two out of three prefer to have the right to send their children to any school in the province they choose, public or private.
The poll, conducted for The Gazette by Léger Marketing, asked whether students other than those now allowed, including franco-phones, should have access to English-language schools if they wish.
A total of 66 per cent of a representative sample of Quebecers agreed that they should - including a 61-per-cent clear majority of francophones.
Non-francophones were even more overwhelmingly in favour, at 87 per cent.
Women, at 71 per cent, were significantly more so than the 66 per cent of men who agreed.
Overall, 30 per cent disagreed - that is, 35 per cent of francophones and 11 per cent of non-francophones.
The current law, upheld by all Quebec governments for three decades as essential to the survival of French in Quebec, limits English-language public schooling to students whose parents were educated in English somewhere in Canada.
The poll comes at a time when an element of the Quebec language law - closing access to English public schools formerly obtainable through a stint in private school - has been struck down by the Supreme Court and the province is under pressure from nationalist elements to bar all but anglos certifiable by present criteria from all Quebec schools, private or public.
The poll shows that Quebecers are even more strongly of the opinion that access to English CEGEPS should remain unrestricted. Fully 84 per cent - including 80 per cent of francophones - agreed, despite growing pressure from the Parti Québécois, now running strongly ahead of the currently governing Liberals in voter preference, that the public elementary and high school restrictions should be extended to the college level.
Marcus Tabachnick sees generational change in the results. "The average 30- or 35-year-old today has a very different view of language than does the average 60- or 70-year-old," said Tabachnick, chairperson of the Lester B. Pearson School Board.
It all depends on how you ask the questions, countered Mario Beaulieu, president of the Société St. Jean Baptiste de Montréal.
"When you ask the question in terms of freedom of choice, everyone is for freedom," Beaulieu said.
"But when you ask the question (and) talk more about the consequences or what is done elsewhere, then the answer will be different."
If the consequences - the decline of the French language - were explained, Beaulieu said: "I think the answer would be different."
English education officials plan to deliver a joint message today, calling on Quebec to respect the Supreme Court ruling on Bill 104 and arguing that the government has a responsibility to ensure the viability of English schools. Those scheduled to attend the event include the chairpersons of four Montreal-area English school boards, representatives from English private schools, and Victor Goldbloom, a former commissioner of official languages.
"What we're intending to demonstrate is that it's a concern community wide and it's not just a school issue," Tabachnick said.
The strong support for free choice is remarkable considering how entrenched the current restrictions are, said pollster Christian Bourque. But he also cautioned that it has shaky underpinnings and could crumble if the issue comes to a political crunch.
"It's one thing to talk to people individually on this, then pretty well everybody is quite liberal. But they easily move back into the protectionist fold if they get reminded that it's a matter of French surviving in Quebec. It's not necessarily an indication of what the consensus would be if the policy were at stake."
Bourque also suggested that francophones tend to favour free choice as much for the opportunity English education would offer their children as they do on liberal principle.
"Part of it is a reflection on, well, 'This can be an opportunity for my kid, then why not?' There's a lot of that as well. It's as much a perceived opportunity as an ideological perspective."
The online poll was conducted May 3-6 with 1,001 respondents. Data were weighed by age, gender, mother tongue, education level and household composition to obtain a representative sample of Quebec's population.

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