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Marlene Jennings, who in 1997 became the first Black woman elected to Parliament in Canada, was tasked by Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge to serve as administrator of the English Montreal School Board, which was placed under trusteeship by the Quebec government on November 6.
Her appointment comes in the midst of a drawn-out conflict between the Coalition Avenir Quebec government and administrators of the school board, whom it accused of poor governance and irregularities in the awarding of contracts.
The accusations stemmed from a report delivered to Roberge following an investigation he launched into the EMSB earlier this year.
According to a release from the government the inquiry uncovered several disconcerting revelations that included:
• major deficiencies in the management of the public funds entrusted to the EMSB
• a poor understanding of the roles and responsibilities of elected school board officials
• excessive politicization of decision-making to the detriment of the interests of the students, parents and school staff
• irregularities in the awarding of contracts
• irregularities in the management of the school board’s human resources.
As a result the minister said he felt obliged to place the EMSB under trusteeship. The initial period will be for six months, at which point the government can renew one time for another six months.
For its part the EMSB sees the government move as being motivated solely by politics because of the CAQ’s election pledge to dissolve school boards across Quebec and as a response to the court challenge launched against Bill 21, the legislation banning public service workers, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols.
In naming Jennings as administrator of the EMSB the government is placing into her hands all the functions and powers of the EMSB’s Council of Commissioners apart from its power to institute and manage legal proceedings.
Ms. Jennings will also be responsible for presenting a plan to restructure the EMSB’s administration to the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement.
Before losing her seat to the NDP in what was known as the Orange Wave, Jennings, a lawyer by training, represented the Liberals in the riding that was NDG-Lachine from 1997 to 2011. While in Parliament she served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation and Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada. From 2004 to October 2005, she was Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, with special emphasis on Canada-U.S. relations.