By Jean jr. Landry, with contributions by Peter Stock, Megen Zelinka and Manon Fortin

The Bill

Following the public consultations in the fall of 2016, we didn’t exactly know in which direction the government’s reform would go, nor how broad it would be. Among other things, HSLDA had proposed to the government establishing a clearer homeschool policy in order to put an end to the war waged on parent-educators by certain school boards. But in the spring of 2017, we learned that the changes would be much deeper than anticipated: the government would not content themselves with homeschool policies but would reform the Education Act. A change in law would be particularly serious because this change would have an impact on homeschooling for decades to come. HSLDA quickly mobilized members to contact their Member of the National Assembly (MNA) and expressed their concerns and expectations. For its part, HSLDA submitted a second document to the Minister which presented specific elements that the government should keep in mind while drafting this new law.

It is important to note the significant impact the mobilization of parent-educators has had on the new legislation. Each year, innumerable laws are adopted by often misinformed politicians, without the knowledge of the public. In this case, MNAs across Québec were systematically contacted to make them aware of the reality of homeschooling so they could participate in the debates with an informed opinion rather than preconceived ideas. Undoubtedly, this mobilization contributed to the protection of our rights and freedoms.

On June 9, 2017, Bill 144 was finally introduced. In the days that followed, HSLDA asked questions and discussed the text with the political attaché of the Minister. Within that week, we published a summary of the Bill for our members. Although Bill 144 contained certain elements that would have to be followed closely, it did include some very good points favorable to parent-educators. It included the establishment of a permanent Advisory Panel, in which we would be able to participate and represent parent-educators. This initiative was a giant step in the right direction. Homeschooling was coming out of the shadows and would have a voice with the Ministry of Education. Clearly, the Minister had been listening to parent-educators.

Nonetheless, the Bill had to go through a long legislative process, including amendments, before the final version was passed. It was within this framework that HSLDA pursued the work of lobbying and in August 2017 submitted, jointly with ACPEQ, a brief aimed at improving the Bill. Manon Fortin, of HSLDA, as well as André Riendeau and Patrice Boileau of ACPEQ, then had the opportunity to explain in greater detail the content of this brief to Minister Proulx during the parliamentary commission committee sittings on September 7. This was the same date that the National Leadership Conference (NLC), organized by HSLDA, began in Québec City. When they emerged from the parliamentary commission, the representatives of HSLDA and ACPEQ were able to share the good news at NLC; once more, Minister Proulx had demonstrated openness, and hope reigned.

However, the following month, the debates surrounding the legislation demonstrated that openness and a listening ear was not to be found among all the political players in the National Assembly. The opposition did not welcome the latitude the Minister wished to offer parent-educators. The rhetoric of the opposition was similar to that of the school boards: if parents wanted to teach at home, they should follow the Ministry program and have their children evaluated just like children in school. But, Minister Proulx had done his homework and understood our reality. Therefore, he remained firm in the face of the opposition.

On November 9, 2017, the Bill was passed. Even if the text did not entirely correspond to our hopes, the majority of favorable elements had stood firm against the opposition. The game was not yet won, but we were able to celebrate the gains that the new legislation would bring.

Nevertheless, there was still much to do. If Bill 144 gave a new direction to the relationship between homeschooling and the province, the actual practice of this relationship needed to be detailed in the draft regulation that would accompany the law. Once again, HSLDA was closely involved in this new phase. This latest development was crucial because the regulation would determine concretely the legal requirements that parent-educators must respect as of autumn 2018.

The Advisory Panel

In the beginning of 2018, the Advisory Panel for homeschooling was established. One of its first mandates was to arrive at a consensus and provide recommendations to the government regarding the draft regulation. This panel is comprised of representatives from different homeschool associations, including: English and French school board representatives; researchers; and, of course, people from the Ministry. Manon Fortin who serves on the Panel alongside Louise Frazer on behalf of HSLDA and its members, provided her impressions of the work accomplished there:

“It was a major undertaking and very enriching for all participants (…). HSLDA looked out for the interests of homeschooling families as well as for those who will do so in the future. We are proud of all the work accomplished and proud to have been the voice of families (…). Personally, I am happy to have had the privilege to be in the front row and see the work accomplished by HSLDA in the past several years, especially in what we have just completed, has made a difference.”

Manon Fortin is aware that some families are disappointed regarding Bill 144 and admits that the difference HSLDA has made might not be obvious if we consider the unpleasant aspects of the new legislation: “Even if everything is not perfect,” she says, “It is obvious that the result would have been vastly different had we not been involved. “

Manon Fortin also reminds us that the work accomplished on the Advisory Panel, the meetings with the government, and the various recommendations submitted since 2016 are only a fraction of the extensive work that HSLDA has undertaken at the grass-roots level for years in order for homeschooling to be recognized and respected in the province.

“In the past ten years we have worked in Québec to establish contacts with the Ministry, the different associations, researchers, school boards and everyone involved in homeschooling. With the advent of this new law, an advisory panel was created and it will be permanent. We are, therefore, confident that we will continue to influence all parties to promote homeschooling.”

In our next article, we will complete this series and discuss the draft Regulation recently published as well as the work HSLDA has done up to now so that the Regulation is as advantageous as possible for parent-educators.