New Brunswick considered a bilingual, private school bus system
Currently, there are buses for French schools and buses for English schools.
The government of New Brunswick has considered implementing a bilingual and private school transportation system in New Brunswick, according to documents obtained by Radio-Canada Acadie. Two legal opinions, commissioned by the Higgs government in the last year, point to a change as early as September 2023.
In these documents, we learn that the Government of New Brunswick has considered major changes in school transportation. He sought 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.
In New Brunswick, there is a duality in education, which means that there are two separate public school systems, one in French and one in English. The main objective is to restrict the assimilation of the French-speaking community.
Currently, there are buses for French-speaking schools and buses for English-speaking schools.
In recent years, voices have been raised to denounce what they perceive as a duplication of services and have wondered if the duality in education extends to school transportation .
This is not the first time that the idea of transporting Anglophone and Francophone students on the same buses has been raised in the province. It had been firmly dismissed by the Liberal government of Brian Gallant in 2015.
However, this is the first time that the possibility of privatizing school transportation in a single service has been mentioned.
The government led by Premier Blaine Higgs has looked into the school transportation system in New Brunswick (archives).
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 consideration.
In an email late Thursday, the Department 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 worked with partners to explore other options.
On the language issue, the government wanted to know the legal risks it faces .
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 the Anglophone and Francophone [education] systems, read a notice dated July 7, 2022.
Want a legal opinion on the risks associated with this vision, in particular the constitutional barriers and how to mitigate the risks, can be read in the same document.
A first legal opinion, signed by lawyer Isabel Lavoie Daigle, of the Office of the Attorney General, notes several potential legal issues 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 boarding a school bus.
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 transport as an administrative matter, handled by regulation, unlike curriculum and teaching.
The lawyer concedes, however, that this argument may not pass the test of the courts.
The constitutional issues surrounding 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 minority, explains lawyer Isabel Lavoie Daigle.
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, of the Office of the Attorney General.
Result: the English and French education systems would use the same supplier and share the same vehicles, thus eliminating the obligation of duality that currently exists in the system.
By examining the employment contract of the 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 violate the collective agreement, it says.
This does not mean that the employer cannot take steps to plan for privatization in the future. […] Unfortunately, I do not believe that such a significant change can be discussed in such a short period of time, so that a transfer of service is completed by September.
The idea of having a single, bilingual school bus system was first floated by former Education Minister Dominic Cardy when he was leader of the New Democratic Party.
The idea was later picked up by several politicians, including current Premier Blaine Higgs in 2016, who said: I believe transportation of our children should be managed by one system.
Minister Kris Austin, when he was leader of the People's Alliance of New Brunswick, also called for a single system for all schoolchildren.