Comparing Quebec’s Provincial Teachers Federations – Part One

By Robert Green

Teachers in Quebec contribute a significant portion of each pay cheque to their provincial association. For teachers in Quebec’s English school system, that association is the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT). Teachers in Quebec’s French school system are divided between two federations. The biggest and oldest of these is the CSQ-affiliated Fédération des syndicates de l’enseignment (FSE). Due to a number of concerns over such things as Quebec’s infamous pedagogical reform and the 2005 collective agreement, nine teachers unions, largely representing teachers on and around the Island of Montreal, voted in 2006 to disaffiliate from the FSE and form la Fédération autonome de l’enseignment (FAE).

A cursory comparison of the work being done by these unions to advance and defend the interests of teachers raises serious questions about whether teachers in Quebec’s English school system are being adequately represented by QPAT.

Part one of this article will look at what the three Federations are doing to keep their members informed. Part two, which will appear next week, will focus on the finances and ongoing campaigns of the three federations.

Latest news?

One of the important roles played by teachers unions in Quebec and indeed across Canada is to keep their members informed of political developments affecting the interests of teachers and other public sector workers.

To that end both the FSE and FAE have regularly updated sections of their websites dedicated to the latest news. The FSE has both an ‘Actualité’ section, a press review called ‘À la une’ and a ‘quoi de neuf?’ section. The FAE has a ‘Nouvelles’ section with an impressive array of articles on a wide range of issues affecting teachers. In both cases, the websites contain commentary on the most recent issues. For example, within days of Francois Legault’s recent proposal to impose a professional association on Quebec’s teachers, both sites provided readers with news and analysis on this important question. Similarly, both sites provided analysis of the provincial budget and the Minister’s recently announced anti-bullying campaign.

QPAT’s ‘Latest News’ section on the other hand contains all of six posts, the most recent being nearly a year old, from May 2011.

A newsletter worth reading?

In addition to their websites, another way that teachers unions can inform their members is by publishing a regular newsletter. Comparing the newsletters of the various Quebec teachers’ federations also reveals a great deal about these organizations.

The FSE’s regular bulletin “Dépêche” is relatively brief but focused on a single issue of importance to teachers. Recent issues have focused on such things as; the common myths concerning the teaching profession, strategies for the academic success of boys, and the provisions of the new collective agreement concerning students with special needs.

The FSE has already published five issues of Dépêche since the beginning of the school year.

Compared to Dépêche the FAE newsletter “L’Autonome” is far broader in scope and seems aimed at both informing members and encouraging their participation in the union. It includes news and analysis of not only issues specifically related to teaching but also issues more broadly related to social justice in Quebec. For example, the February 2012 issue of L’Autonome is broadly focused on the theme ‘women and power’. It contains profiles of female activists within the FAE and a number of other articles highlighting the important role played by women in Quebec’s labour and social justice movements. Its December 2011 issue has a similarly broad focus on ‘youth and union activism’. The aim of this issue is clearly to help young people understand the importance of participating in the labour movement. The Octobre 2011 issue entitled “Mon école, je l’aime publique!” contains a number of articles on the recent attacks on public education in Quebec. It also contains an article “Les objectifs measurable <>” linking these attacks to the No Child Left Behind agenda that is currently working to dismantle public education in the US.

L’Autonome is published on a bimonthly basis for a total of 5 issues per school year.

QPAT’s newsletter ‘Liaison’ on the other hand shows none of the same emphasis on encouraging the participation of its members. It is not as though Liaison is void of critical analysis, but this analysis is never presented in such a way as to empower or mobilize teachers. For example, the Octobre 2011 issue of Liaison begins with a discussion of some of the disturbing international trends in education (e.g. using standardized tests and performance indicators to evaluate and financially reward teachers) without providing readers any idea of where these trends fit in the context of Quebec’s political landscape. No mention of the Liberal government’s Bill 88 which introduced performance indicators into Quebec schools and no mention Francois Legault’s musings about merit pay and the elimination of teacher job security. It is as if QPAT wants its members to understand these problems in theory without seeing their concrete manifestations in Quebec. For more on this issue see the previous blog post “Is QPAT hiding the implication of Bill 88 from its members?”.

Aside from the odd bit of decontextualized political analysis and information on things such as pay scales, the content of Liaison can best be described as fluff: profiles of new teachers, feel-good stories about overseas projects, and recycled material from the Canadian Teachers Federation or the CSQ. Even in terms of the aesthetics of its cover, compared to the other newsletters Liaison looks more like something produced by a corporation than a grassroots organization.

QPAT only produces 2 or 3 issues of Liaison per year.

Check back next week for part two of this article which will look at the finances and ongoing campaigns of these three federations.


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