New Brunswick has considered a bilingual, private school bus system

In these documents, we learn that the Government of New Brunswick has considered major changes in school transportation. He wanted to know the risks associated with the idea of ​​eliminating the obligation of linguistic duality in school buses so that a single supplier could serve the French and English systems.

To better understand

In New Brunswick, there is a duality in education, which means that there are two distinct public school networks, one in French and one in English. The main objective is to restrict the assimilation of the Francophone community.

Currently, there are buses for French schools and buses for English schools.

In recent years, voices have been raised to denounce what they perceive as a duplication of services and have wondered whether the duality in education extends to school transportation.

This is not the first time that the idea of ​​transporting Anglophone and Francophone students in the same buses has been raised in the province. It had been firmly rejected by the Liberal government of brian Gallant in 2015.

However, this is the first time that the possibility of privatizing school transport into a single service has been mentioned.

The government led by Premier Blaine Higgs has looked into the school transportation system in New Brunswick (archives).

Photo: Radio-Canada

The Government of New Brunswick has still not responded to our request to know if this scenario has been ruled out or if it is still under study.

In an email late Thursday, the Ministry of Education sent the following statement: Due to additional pressures on school bus services during the pandemic, as well as during the labor dispute, the Department of Education and Early Childhood has been working with partners to explore other options.

Duality and school transport

On the language issue, the government wanted to know the legal risks to which it is exposed.

We have been advised that the government is examining the possibility of transforming the public school bus system in time for the start of the school year in September 2023. The proposal would eliminate the obligation of linguistic duality on buses, so that a single supplier can serve both systems [d’éducation] Anglophone and Francophoneis it written in a review dated July 7, 2022.

You want a legal opinion on the risks associated with this vision, in particular the constitutional barriers and how to mitigate the riskscan we read in the same document.

Significant risks

A first legal opinion, signed by lawyer Isabel Lavoie Daigle, from the Office of the Attorney General, identifies several potential legal problems with a single school bus service.

She points out that section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that Anglophones and Francophones can receive instruction in their language.

Students board a school bus.

Students board a school bus.

Photo: iStock

A person might argue that the word “instruction” does not include services such as school transportation. When we look at all of the legislation, it might be possible to categorize student transportation as an administrative matter, managed by regulation, unlike curriculum and teaching.

The lawyer concedes, however, that this argument may not pass the test of the courts.

The constitutional issues on the elimination of duality in school transportation are considerable. When we look at this issue through the lens of language rights […]we can come to the conclusion that school buses are an extension of schools, and that the government has an obligation to protect the language and culture of the minorityexplains lawyer Isabel Lavoie Daigle.

Problems also with the collective agreement

In a second legal opinion, dated June 29, 2022, the Ministry of Education wants to know what the constraints are in connection with the collective agreement for bus drivers.

The new bus system would be chosen through a competitive process and would be responsible for transporting students who need it at the same cost as the current public system, with efficiency and without compromising safety standards. writes lawyer Michelle Brun-Coughlan, from the Office of the Attorney General.

Result: the Anglophone and Francophone education systems would use the same supplier and would share the same vehicles, thus eliminating the obligation of duality that currently exists in the system.

In examining the employment contract of bus drivers, represented by local 1253 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the lawyer comes to this conclusion.

According to my review of the case, Articles 2, 13 and 29 suggest that the proposed changes to the school bus system would constitute a violation of the collective agreement is it written.

This does not mean that the employer cannot take steps to plan for privatization in the future. […] Unfortunately, I don’t believe that such a major change can be discussed in such a short period of time, so that a transfer of service can be completed by September.

A resurgent debate

The idea of ​​having a single, bilingual school bus system was first launched by the former Minister of Education, Dominic Cardywhen he was leader of the New Democratic Party.

The idea was then taken up by several politicians, including the current Prime Minister Blaine Higgs in 2016, who said: I believe that the transportation of our children should be managed by one system.

The Minister Chris Austinwhen he was leader of the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, also called for a single system for all schoolchildren.

New Brunswick has considered a bilingual, private school bus system