Laurier School Board’s Council of Commissioners swings its hammer at Bill 21

But transparency controversy resurfaces over public disclosure of commissioners’ expenses

Renata Isopo

In a nutshell, the March 27th Council of Commissioners meeting was an elaborate presentation of all the events, activities, planning, and successes executed in the month of March. The Laurier Board also came out swinging in condemnation of Bill 21 (religious symbols).

The long list of activities included breakfast with Argenteuil mayor Christian St. Pierre, a tour of Crestview Elementary, Vocational Training, Leadership Summit at Laval Junior Academy, partnership with Le Centre de Formation Construct-Plus, a visit to La Chambre Commerce St. Eustache, and a student leadership event “Food for All” at Laval Senior Academy.

Director General, Gaelle Absolonne announced preliminary enrolment of 12,715 students for 2019-20; six more students than the MEQ’s 12,709 projection – “an encouraging and positive upswing” says Absolonne. 

Feasibility Ecosystem Study

Material Resources reported on the financial implications of the Ecosystem feasibility study, which leaves SWLSB with two options: award the contract in September 2019 to move forward with the project or, stop altogether. $350,358 will be allocated for Ecosystem’s detailed feasibility study if savings are confirmed.

In its submission, Ecosystem scored 90.5%, also meeting minimum requirements for two mandatory criteria. Subsequently the “8 envelopes” containing financial figures were opened. According to documentation presented, Ecosystem submitted the best weighted assessment at $1,970 520 for 20 buildings, reducing energy costs 23%, savings of $281,112.

Of trees and seat belts

Commissioner Peter MacLaurin announced that a commemorative tree and plaque have been donated by the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) to former Chairperson Jennifer Maccarone in recognition of her diligent work with SWLSB. Thrilled, Maccarone requested that the tree be planted at board headquarters.

Commissioner Emilio Migliozzi proposed mandatory seat belts on school buses. The next bus contract renewal is in 2022, thus the seat belt implementation must be part of the contract negotiation. “It’s a safety issue and can’t be ignored,” he stated. “This must also be communicated to the Minister of Transport of the Government of Quebec and to the MEQ.”  The potential economic impact of seat belt requirement is unclear until discussions with the bus company take place.

Commissioner Peter MacLaurin made a plea to the Council that each member contact his MNA, communicate to them that the commissioners are doing their jobs. “They are doing what they should be doing,” he stated. This is part of the QESBA, Quebec English School Boards Association, success plan in their fight for retention of school boards.

Public funds disclosure put on hold  

Commissioner Guy Gagnon struck a sour note with Council when he moved to publish expense reports on the Board’s website, proposing that the data be published proactively. “It’s about time the expenses are made public. The last time it was put on the table was in 2015.”

Commissioner Melissa Wall was not convinced of the need, and did not wish to vote on it, stating that this information can be obtained through Access to Information.  Commissioners Bob Pellerin and James Di Sano did not support Gagnon’s motion and moved to postpone it. 

A war of words

Discussion bounced around the definition/difference between the words postpone and table.  Secretary General Stephane Krenn, stated that to table means to “postpone” and was based on the precision and clarity of the words. Commissioner Gagnon objected to move to “Table”. Gagnon also stated that the Lester B. Pearson School Board, publishes reports on line and there’s no reason why SWLSB does not do the same. “It should have been done a long time ago,” he stated. There seemed to be an apparent aversion to being open with the public. TLN’s efforts to obtain comment from commissioner Gagnon were fruitless as he stated that he did not wish to answer any questions from the media. However, TLN requested one response to the question, ”Does the Council prepare and submit monthly expense reports?” He responded, “Not necessarily.” Chairperson Paolo Galati stated that Council should discuss the matter further in order to clarify the process and implications. “I am in favour transparency,” he told TLN.  It was decided to resume the discussion at the April 24th meeting.

Bill 21

As stated at Council and officially delivered by Communications Coordinator Maxeen Jolin, “The Council of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution against Bill 21 prohibiting anyone in a position of authority, including school principals and teachers from wearing religious symbols in the performance of their functions and duties.  Council believes that Bill 21 will alter the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and for this reason owes it to its communities to take a stance against this legislation. SWLSB is proud to be part of a diverse community and has long embraced values of inclusion and respect.”