Chapter Two: The Structure of Canadian Schooling

2.8 Local Participation in Education Governance: Recent Developments – Regional Centres for Education, Service Centres, Advisory Councils and School Councils

In the second half of the twentieth century, Canadian public school governance generally operated on a shared, relatively decentralized, collaborative model. While provincial government maintained and exercised final authority over education policy, school boards – elected, with taxing authority as a significant resource for independent action, and, representing small enough populations to be in touch with local communities – were afforded considerable flexibility to adapt provincial policy to reflect local circumstances as well as a respected role in the development of provincial policy (Bedard & Lawton, 2000; Gidney, 1999; Lessard & Brassard, 2009).

Since the 1990s in all Canadian provinces the role of school boards has been substantially restructured as provincial governments have moved to centralize a great deal of decision-making authority, including all taxation powers. Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia school boards, with the exception of Francophone boards, were eliminated completely in 2012 and 2018 respectively. In PEI, school board responsibilities were taken over by the Public Schools Branch which operates with an appointed, three-person Board of Directors. (In 2019 the PEI government committed to return to an elected Board in 2022.) In Nova Scotia, school boards were replaced by a central Education Service Centre and a Provincial Advisory Council. (See Table 2.8.1)

In 2020 the Quebec Government converted its 60 French-Language School Boards to Education Service Centres replacing elected school trustees with an appointed 15-person Board of Directors for each Service Centre.

Legislation currently before the Manitoba Legislature, if passed, will see the abolition of school boards in that province, the establishment of a Provincial Education Authority overseen by an appointed Provincial Education Council, along with 16 regional Directors of Education appointed by the Provincial Education Authority.

Across Canada, this restructuring of provincial-local authority in education governance is still very much in flux, but the centralization of authority and the shift in local oversight from elected school trustees to centrally appointed officials have been significant developments. Instead of a more collaborative pre-existing model, the dominant model of provincial-school board relationships – where school boards continue to exist – is now closer to one described by Bedard and Lawton (2000) as “administrative agency” where the “local authority exists to ensure accountability and efficiency through regulation enforcement and uniform service delivery” (p. 243) with little autonomy to reflect local needs and interests.

Table 2.8.1

Local Education Authority Structures (as of early 2021)

Province Student Enrolment Local Education Authority Representation: Elected/Appointed
British Columbia 561,501 60 Boards of Education Boards consist of 3-9 elected trustees
Alberta 673,788 65 School Boards Boards consist of 3-9 elected trustees
Saskatchewan 182,577 28 School Boards Boards consist of 5-10 elected trustees
Manitoba* 186,522 37 School Boards Boards consist of 5-11 elected trustees
Ontario 2,040,480 72 School Boards: 31 English Public, 29 English Catholic, 4 French Public, 8 French Catholic Boards consist primarily of publicly elected trustees but may also include First Nations trustees representing communities with education agreements with the board, and (non-voting) Student Trustees
Quebec 944,922 60 Francophone School Service Centres, 1 Special Status School Service Centre, 9 English Language School Boards, and 2 Special Status School Boards (Cree School Board and Kativik Ilisarniriniq) In 2020 Francophone School Boards with elected Trustees were replaced by School Service Centres each administrated by a 15-person appointed Board of Directors. English Language School Boards continue to have an elected Board of Trustees
New Brunswick 97,896 7 District Education Councils: 4 Anglophone, 3 Francophone Councils consist of 7-13 elected members
Nova Scotia 120,603 1 Francophone Board. Anglophone Boards were abolished in 2018 School Boards replaced by a provincial Education Service Centre and an appointed provincial Advisory Council. Francophone School Board remains
Newfoundland & Labrador 64,188 2 School Boards One provincial elected English School Board and one Conseil Scolaire Francophone
Prince Edward Island 20,361 1 Francophone School Board. Two Anglophone School Boards were abolished in 2012 Schools governed centrally via provincial Public Schools Branch and an appointed Board of three Directors. In 2019 the government committed to returning to an elected Board by 2022. One Conseil Scolaire Francophone. Eight District Advisory Councils
Yukon 5,448 29 Boards consist of 5-9 elected trustees with provisions for guaranteed Yukon First Nations representation
Northwest Territories 8,496 36 District Education Councils with 5-7 elected members. Provision for public Denominational Councils
Nunavut 10,653 27 District Education Authorities with 7 elected members

* Legislation is currently before the Manitoba Legislature that, if passed, will abolish school boards in the province and replace them with a provincial Education Authority overseen by an appointed provincial Education Council.


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