QUEBEC CITY — With the start of the school year quickly approaching, many school service centres still haven’t reached an agreement with school bus drivers, leading the government to mandate a negotiator.
The Ministry of Education announced on Wednesday the appointment of Claude Sauvageau as negotiator “to guarantee a reliable and safe transportation service for all Quebec students.”
Discussions are still underway between the government and the Fédération des transporteurs par autobus to facilitate the renewal of contracts. A meeting was to be held Wednesday between representatives of the carriers and Sauvageau, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge confirmed.
“We are really moving into high gear,” Roberge told reporters. “We’re entering a major blitz and I’m confident we’ll find a solution.”
Sauvageau’s mandate will be to “rally the parties toward a common position,” the press release says. He will also act as a support to the school service centres and school boards that are engaged in a “negotiation sprint” with transporters.
Roberge defended himself for having let the file drag on while the start of the school year is imminent.
“We started in May, in the spring, to negotiate with the carriers. There are several contracts that were already signed. There are contracts being signed every day,” he said, noting that less than half of the agreements remain to be settled.
“The important thing is (that the contracts) are all signed before the start of the school year,” Roberge said, refusing to reveal the exact number of agreements still pending.
According to the ministry, several student transportation contracts expired on June 30 and renewals have been slow for a number of reasons, including inflation, which is affecting the operating costs of companies, and a shortage of manpower, which could lead to service disruptions in some regions.
The Fédération des centres de services scolaires du Québec (FCSSQ) says it is prepared to “deploy contingency measures.” While the possibility of postponing the start of the school year or offering remote learning has been ruled out, some have suggested public transportation could be used or that daycare services could be offered to allow parents to drop off their children and return to pick them up.
The FCSSQ says each school day without busing saves about $5 million, which gives service centres room to fund alternative measures.
In its press release, the federation said it welcomed the appointment of Sauvageau and said it was “reassured” by the continuation of negotiations. It hopes these steps taken by the Quebec government will make it possible “to conclude contractual agreements with the carriers based on the available budget.”