QUEBEC — The Quebec government moved towards fulfilling a key election promise today as it tabled a bill that would ensure children can attend kindergarten at four years old.
The legislation introduced by Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge would modify the province's Education Act to make pre-kindergarten available for all children, regardless of their neighbourhood's economic status.
The current law only permits such classes to be offered in low-income areas.
Premier Francois Legault campaigned on the issue during the last election campaign, going so far as to promise to resign if he failed to implement it.
But several school boards, mostly in the Montreal area, have expressed concern over the plan and said it will be difficult for them to add classes due to a lack of space and personnel.
The education critic for the opposition Liberals criticized Legault Thursday, saying the premier has no plan and is only tabling the legislation to save his own skin.
The vice-president of one of the province's biggest trade unions also denounced the project, saying the resources would be better spent by investing in the public daycare system and services for young children.
"The (Coalition Avenir Quebec) government, by stubbornly wanting to make kindergarten universal, isn't attacking the real priorities in education," CSQ vice-president Line Camerlain said following a debate in the legislature.
Legault defended the project Thursday afternoon, accusing his detractors of resisting change.
He argued having students in kindergarten at four years old would allow schools to bring in more specialists such as social workers, psychologists, and speech therapists.
"We can certainly share a bigger team when we have a whole elementary school rather than when we have just a daycare," he said. "It seems obvious."
Legault's government has said it will invest between $400 million and $700 million to make sure kindergarten is available to all four-year-olds within five years.
The initiative will be rolled out gradually, and the classes will remain optional.
The Canadian Press