Community / Press Release

EMSB Chair takes aim at Language Minister’s talking out of both sides of his mouth about English public schools

Stephane playing cello
Montreal - Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The English Montreal School Board takes strong exception to comments made by Minister of the French Language, Jean-François Roberge, which unjustifiably take aim at English school boards. 

Mr. Roberge’s comments last week are particularly stunning since, when he was Minister of Education in the previous CAQ mandate, his administration issued a directive for the EMSB to reduce the number of hours devoted to French instruction in  immersion program schools. “Whether Mr. Roberge is ignorant of the facts, or disingenuous, such statements are unbecoming and undignified of an elected official, much less a minister,” said EMSB Chair Joe Ortona. “Has his position   changed? Was he not even aware  of what letter he signed?”

Mr. Roberge claimed that CEGEPs are struggling to apply Bill 96, Quebec’s language law. He went on to say that English school boards need to work harder to improve the quality of French of their elementary and high school graduates before they move up the chain into the higher education network.

“Furthermore, on the quality of French instruction in the English system, the Minister has not done his research” stated Mr. Ortona. “The quality of French our students receive is reflected in the Education Ministry’s own official results. Students at our Board who write the French high school leaving exam score higher than the students in the French sector, who write the same exam. Shame on him! As a former Minister of Education this is a documented fact for which he is supposed to be aware. It is unconscionable that he could just intentionally omit it so that he can deliberately deceive the public about the quality of French being taught in English schools.”

Mr. Ortona said that it is increasingly frustrating that Mr. Roberge can continue to scapegoat English-speaking Quebecers and use us to score cheap political points. In the case of English public school boards, Mr. Ortona added that the Minister did not once set foot in an English public school during his four years as Minister of Education. To their credit, Mr. Ortona said, Finance Minister Eric Girard and the leaders of the three main opposition parties, Marc Tanguay, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, have all done so in the past year. “And when they visited, they were all very impressed that our students interacted with them fluently in French!,” said Mr. Ortona. “Our doors are always open  for  more such visits and this includes Mr. Roberge.”

“At the EMSB we embrace the French language,”  Mr. Ortona continued. “We want all of our students to graduate fully proficient in both official languages. Many of our graduates go on to CEGEP and university in French. Mr. Roberge and the CAQ need to stop portraying the English-speaking community as a unilingual hub that refuses to learn French. It was the English public system that adopted a strong French immersion program in the 60s, a full 15 years before the adoption of Bill 101. I went through that myself and today I am practicing attorney who functions primarily in French. If Mr. Roberge thinks he can attack our community and our educational institutions with blatant falsehoods and unsubstantiated claims, he should expect a response that sets the record straight.  Perhaps Mr. Roberge should have tackled real issues like literacy rates, success rates, and dropout rates, rather than force unconstitutional legislation on us like Bill 40, something he obviously carried over to his current functions. If he and his colleagues want to know who’s responsible for the state of French in our schools, a mirror is a good place to start.”

About the English Montreal School Board

With a youth and adult sector population of more than 35,000 students, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English public school board in Quebec. Established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards along linguistic lines. Our network consists of 77 schools and centres. For more details, visit the EMSB website at