This was an eventful week for Quebec’s History program. Thursday the Gazette published two excellent articles by Marian Scott about the reactions to the Education Minister’s flip-flop on his previous commitment to put the controversial new History curriculum on hold, and the decision of the English School Boards to implement this curriculum:
Robert Green speaks with CBC’s Sue Smith about the Couillard government backtracking on its commitment to postpone the implementation of its controversial reform of the province’s History curriculum. Stream the interview below or click here to download the mp3.
By Robert Green | Published by Montreal Gazette June 1, 2016
Earlier this year, Quebecers learned of a reform to the province’s history curriculum that provoked a great deal of concern. Not only was the role of Quebec’s anglophone community reduced to that of a comic book villain intent on impeding progress, indeed the contributions of all of Quebec’s minority groups seemed to be systematically excluded. There was nothing about the anglophones who participated in the 1837 rebellions or organized some of Quebec’s first labour strikes; nothing about the struggles against discrimination faced by Jewish and Italian immigrants; nothing about the contributions of more recent immigrants, like the Vietnamese or Haitian communities.
However, perhaps the most significant omission had to do with the First Nations. This reform was being developed at the very moment the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made its recommendations. Specifically the TRC recommended that all levels of government “Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.” Quebec had a real opportunity to be the first province to implement the recommendation. Instead, by ignoring the TRC and refusing to engage in any meaningful consultation with First Nations communities, Quebec instead chose to reinforce the colonial pattern of relations that has existed for hundreds of years.
By Tina Wayland | Published November 27, 2014 by The Montreal Gazette
The school is in serious need of repair.
And all I kept thinking during the tour was how well-maintained and modern the English Montreal School Building is; how much money was spent during the recent school-board elections; and how our schools — the places where we craft the minds of our future citizens and leaders — are largely neglected, mistreated and ignored.
The upside of our visit? The two Grade 6 boys who gave us the tour were smart, polite, informed, and engaged young men who’ve obviously learned a whole lot from the dedicated, overworked and underpaid teachers at the school. These teachers do so much with so little, as opposed to our elected officials who manage to do so little with so much.
In the United States they call it voter suppression. Here we call it voter irregularity. By whatever name it taints the entire electoral process.
On Nov. 4, the Montreal Gazette reported on its front page that hundreds of people were disenfranchised on election day as they tried to vote in the English Montreal School Board election. The reporter passed it off as bureaucratic ineptitude on the part of the school board. Now there is evidence that a campaign of voter suppression may have been at work.
The first shocker was discovering that Pierre-Yves Bezazz, the man running the election for the school board, was actually in the pay of the school board. It’s hard to exaggerate how wrong that is. Picture entering the playing field for a final match and finding that the referee is wearing the team sweater of your opponent. The result? Every time we cried foul, Mr. Bazzaz would respond “denied!”
The voter suppression started with the infamous voters list. Voters discovered that if there name was not on the list, they had to run a gauntlet to get registered: download a form from the internet and then trek across town to register the form with the office of Mr. Bezazz at school board headquarters. We petitioned Mr. Bezazz to make it easier to get on the list and to at least extend the deadline for getting on the list, as was done in a previous election.
EMSB chair candidate says voting in Ahuntsic/Montreal North ward was rigged
Published Nov 3, 2014 by CBC News
Anne Lagacé Dowson, who was defeated in her run for chair of the English Montreal School Board, is calling for a formal investigation in one ward and a recount in another after Sunday’s school board election.
Lagacé Dowson says the vote in Ward 7 (Ahuntsic/Montreal North) was rigged.
Sylvia Lo Bianco, the candidate seeking re-election in that ward under the banner of Team Angela Mancini, won by a margin of about 800 votes. Lo Bianco’s sister ran the polling station.
“The sister of the candidate gave the green light to all kinds of people who walked up and who showed ID and were able to vote — despite a clear directive from the director general of elections, which we respected,” said Lagacé Dowson.
Lagaçé Dowson has asked the province’s education ministry to launch a formal investigation.
I attended the school board candidates meeting in NDG this week. One of the candidates running on the Team Angela Mancini slate is former President of the Montreal Teachers Association (MTA) Ruth Rosenfield. Considering that she uses her union background as being a qualification to be a commissioner, I questioned her record of financial transparency as a union president.
I made following remarks at the public meeting. Firstly, that Ms Rosenfield used the union contingency funds to pay herself in one year $40,000 in overtime. Secondly, that she arranged for the same contingency fund to provide a member of the executive with an interest free loan. Ms. Rosenfield made no effort to deny these charges. Thirdly, despite some members demanding clarification of union spending, pointing out that documents provided [by the union] were incomplete, and amongst other things formally demanding to be given access to view the itemized Amex bills paid by the MTA dating back five years. Rosenfield’s view is that once the financial review is accepted at the annual general meeting, the books are closed and members are no longer entitled to access any information on previous years.
In a perverse manner, Rosenfield’s actions mirrors those of the school board, school taxes increase as enrollment falls , so as the number of teachers decreased, their dues increased to provide for higher MTA staff salaries and benefits. However, would this similarity of practices be considered as a good reason to elect her?
Former President of The Pearson Teachers Union
Ed’s Note: Those wishing to learn more about Team Angela Mancini candidate Ruth Rosenfield’s record as union President might want to consult the following articles:
Rival candidates in the English Montreal School Board election have denounced voting list irregularities as advance polling is set to begin on Sunday.
The revised voter list for the Nov. 2 election contains dozens of omissions of Montrealers who found themselves on the French voter list and who filed the appropriate forms at EMSB headquarters during the revision period to be transferred to the English list, Anne Lagacé Dowson, who is running for chairperson of the board, said at a news conference on Wednesday. She is leading a slate of school board commissioner candidates.
A voter must be on the English list to be eligible to cast a ballot in an English-language school board election in Quebec.
About 3,400 names were transferred to the English list to vote in the election of EMSB commissioners and chairperson, Team Lagacé Dowson said, but dozens more people who handed in their transfer forms have not been included on the list, it said.
The rulings said Feldman breached ethical rules by tarnishing “the reputation of other EMSB’s (sic) commissioners” and making statements that harmed “the reputation of the director general.”
In an earlier ruling, Feldman was reprimanded for calling fellow commissioners “dinosaurs” and “secrecy-obsessed characters”.
Dowson said the accusations against Feldman were “bogus ethics complaints (…) made mainly by members of (Mancini’s) group and allies.”
“None of the complaints (against Feldman) actually deal with ethics in a substantive way, in particular, conflicts of interest, nepotism or abuse of power by a member of the school board, all of which have been problems on the board in recent years,” she said in the statement.
The night before the first day of school, Erin Flynn had all but given up hope. The recent Bishop’s University graduate had still not signed a teaching contract and accepted she may not find relevant employment in the education sector for the upcoming year.
In what Flynn chalks up to chance, she was interviewed the following day for a position at Châteauguay Valley Regional High School and wound up in a classroom with her new students 20 minutes after the interview ended. She is an exception among her peers who crossed the stage after four years of exams, stress and internships, only to continue working summer jobs. Her contract is 80 per cent of a full-time workload, the subjects are not what she specializes in and she provides instruction in both English and French; yet she was fortunate to have found work at all.
“I lucked out,” said Flynn. “The majority of my peers did not find teaching jobs.”
This is not uncommon for new teachers and students completing degrees in education in Quebec — especially those who apply to the province’s struggling English system. The sector’s troubles go beyond a sluggish job market — English school boards face a decline in enrolment, extensive budget cuts, limitations on admission due to Bill 101, forced closures and merging of schools and a plunge in retirements.
A report from the Ministry of Education for the 2012-13 school year shows a drop in both the number of children eligible to attend English schools and the number of students who choose to exercise this right. More than 13,000 students who have the right to English instruction opted for French instead. Across the province, parents are sending their children to French schools more than ever before and as a result the English system is scrambling.
Don Macpherson doesn’t miss much. As the dean of Quebec political journalists, and a parent too, Macpherson sees the warning signs embedded in a report by the Quebec education ministry that was dropped into the silence of the summer.
The report is a devastating report card for our English-language school boards in Quebec. It demonstrates that they have failed to stay in touch with the new realities of language in Quebec. As the report mentions, a virtual cascade of parents who have the legal right to English-language schooling for their children are instead choosing schools in the French-language system.
More and more parents who could send their kids to English-language schools have decided that they do not have confidence in these schools. They are voting with their feet. They have decided that English-language schools are not equipping their kids with what it takes to thrive in the New Quebec.
Parents now realize that to be able to make a living in Quebec, and put down roots in this province, their children need to be able to speak the language of the majority — and speak it well.
Along with just about every teacher in the province, I was left speechless by Liberal Education Minister Yves Bolduc’s statement last week that “no child is going to die from (budget cuts) or stop reading because there are already books” in school libraries.
That such words would be uttered by a minister of education is just baffling. Either Bolduc is unaware of the very serious impact of denying Quebec’s schools the resources they need to get kids excited about reading, or he simply doesn’t care about the quality of education in Quebec’s public schools.
That this statement happened to also have been made by a man who saw no problem double-dipping into Quebec’s public coffers for over $200,000 in personal gain is downright infuriating.
Thus far, the government’s attempts at damage control have done little to restore confidence. While Bolduc has apologized for his statement and both he and Premier Philippe Couillard have affirmed that it’s important for school libraries to be able to purchase new books, neither has provided an alternative that won’t affect the province’s most needy students in other ways. Both have made vague suggestions that school boards should choose to cut elsewhere.
This of course raises the question of where exactly school boards should cut.
There is a conversation about the Parti Québécois government’s proposed charter of Quebec values that I keep having. I’ve had this conversation with both anglophones and francophones, sovereignists and federalists, and politicos and people who hardly follow politics at all.
The conversation is about how this is a political issue unlike any other in recent memory.
People are deeply disturbed by Bill 60.
There is something particularly vile about a government that would so forcefully act to further exclude and alienate groups that are already marginalized in Quebec society. The English Montreal School Board’s parliamentary brief that describes Bill 60 as giving “a government endorsement to bullying” captures well the sentiments of many who oppose the charter.
While most opponents of the charter are extremely clear about the various reasons why they oppose this legislation, they are far less so about how we as citizens should react. There are a range of reactions being proposed, some of which do not seem to me to be very well thought out.
At the extreme end is the threat to leave Quebec.
I can certainly understand why someone might have this impulse. Rejecting things we don’t agree with is a natural instinct. But the reality is that the more opponents of xenophobic politics leave Quebec, the easier it will be for xenophobes to have their way; marginalized groups will become even more vulnerable.
Another common reaction is to trust that the charter will be defeated through the courts.
While it does seem that the vast majority of constitutional experts believe the charter will not withstand a court challenge, nothing is ever sure. We also have to acknowledge that the legal route presents certain risks. If the charter is not struck down in its entirety, such a ruling could provide it another level of political legitimacy. The spectre of a confrontation with the federal Supreme Court, with all of the political implications that entails, also looms. There is therefore a real possibility that even if the PQ loses in the courts it will gain politically, thus entrenching its turn toward the politics of xenophobia.
The option which is not being discussed enough is the citizens of Quebec themselves taking action.