06/10/2015 05:15 EDT | Updated 06/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Former MP Marlene Jennings joins fight to save English school board elections

Former MP Marlene Jennings is joining with Quebec's English community organizations in an effort to save school board elections.

The move comes after Quebec Education Minister François Blais announced in April that he plans to abolish school board elections because of low voter turnout.

"Mr. Blais has challenged our community institutions to come up with options. And that's what we're going to do," said Jennings, who will be part of a panel to study ways to reform school board elections.

English community groups say that abolishing elections would violate the constitutional right of anglophones to control their schools.

"Schools are the hub of communities. The vitality of the English-speaking community in Quebec is, of course, of concern to all anglophones," said Brian Rock, president of the Federation of Quebec Home and School Associations.

Low voter turnout

During the last elections in November, voter turnout for English boards in Montreal was up to 21 per cent, but turnout for the French boards dropped to an average of 5 per cent across the province.

That prompted the education minister to confirm that the government would abolish school board elections and merge some boards.

At the time, the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) had said it would take the matter to court — but now said it would prefer to come to an agreement with the government.

The association has formed a panel that will study ways to reform school board elections.

Options could include twinning school board elections with municipal elections — right now, each board runs its own election — or shifting to an electoral college system, as is used in some U.S. jurisdictions.

Jennings said, whatever the system, the government should make it easier for people to vote.

"I had a heck of a time getting on the voter list to be able to exercise my right," she said.