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 August 9, 2014 by Ricochet
In a move that seems perfectly symbolic of the sort of politics his government represents, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced this week that the five members of the government commission charged with reviewing government programs and recommending where to make cuts will be paid the tidy sum of $1.03 million for about eight months of work. Commission President and ex-Liberal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard will take home $265,000 for explaining to average Quebecers where they must make sacrifices.
The message being sent here is unmistakable: Tough choices, sacrifice and austerity are for the common people, not Quebec’s elites.
Though his government has been in power only a short time, this is not the first time it has sent such a message. The government’s first budget contained cuts to school boards that are likely to seriously affect the services provided by already underfunded public schools, while leaving the subsidies wealthy families receive to send their children to private schools untouched. Apparently it is for the children of Little Burgundy to shoulder the burden of repairing Quebec’s public finances, not the privileged children who live up the hill in Westmount.
In fact this message is nothing new. From the PQ’s “deficit zero” politics of the late nineties to the Charest government’s attempts to “re-engineer the state” in the 2000s, Quebec’s political leaders have for years been saying that average Quebecers need to make do with less, that government spending is “out of control” and that we as a society are “living beyond our means.”
In 2010, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand called for a “cultural revolution” of austerity. This revolution led directly to the longest student strike in Canadian history and the defeat of Bachand’s government. Now back from exile, and sporting a new leader, the Liberals are set for round 2.
However, a cursory examination of Quebec’s recent spending trends shows a very different picture. With the exception of a spike in stimulus spending following the 2008 economic downturn, Quebec’s expenditures as a percentage of GDP have been trending downward since the early nineties. Even at the height of stimulus spending in 2009-2010 Quebec was spending significantly less as a percentage of GDP than it was in the early nineties. This is hardly a picture of out-of-control spending.
So if spending is not the cause of our current economic predicament, what is? The answer lies on the other side of the balance sheet, in revenues rather than expenditures.
On June 13th the Gazette published a letter entitled “Education won’t be able to escape budget belt-tightening” by Jim Wilson. The letter was an attack on my recent op-ed about the injustice of the Liberal government’s austerity measures for education. As Mr Wilson is a well known commentator on Quebec’s English school system whose writing has been often published on this blog, I feel it is important to publicly respond.
The whole reason I submit articles to the Gazette is to stir up public debate. Though I strongly disagree with the positions Mr Wilson takes in his letter, I am more than happy to debate these issues with him. I hope this exchange of ideas will be interesting and informative for readers.
As Mr Wilson’s letter raises a number of points and poses a number of questions, I will deal with them one paragraph at a time.
Robert Green makes one point that I fully support: that public funds should not be used to support private schools. However, he fails in his principal arguments that the budget means that “the neediest students are asked to make serious sacrifices” and that cutting the private-school subsidies would do much to remedy the overall financial situation.
Actually my principal argument was not about remedying the province’s overall financial situation so much as it was about the injustice of imposing austerity on the public education system while leaving generous subsidies for the rich to attend private schools untouched. I’m surprised that someone who claims to oppose public subsidies for private schools doesn’t share my outrage over this blatant injustice.
A secondary point of my op-ed was to show that there is no good reason to exempt private school subsidies from sharing in the burden of austerity. The private schools claim these subsidies save the system money. However, this is a highly questionable claim due to the other forms of government support private schools receive (listed in my article) in addition to the 60% tuition subsidy. While the FAE’s claim that there are significant savings to achieve by integrating private school students into the public system may also be somewhat questionable, even if this reintegration is cost neutral it is still extremely worthwhile as it will eliminate the significant social costs associated with an education system that is segregated along class lines.
The following article was written by Perspectives II High School teacher John Commins following his participation in the Comité Elargi (2003-2007) that was responsible for vetting the most recent changes to Quebec’s History curriculum.
First thanks for this opportunity and the thematic of the ENJEUX. My assumption is that the vast majority of you who will read this article are members of the French origin majority community, so I will be writing to you. I will try to describe what its like to teach history to English speaking kids in Quebec specifically and broadly what it is like being an English speaker who enjoys teaching Quebec history. Be aware that this work is my own; it comes from my personal journey and perspective. Keep reading and I guarantee this article will have a happy ending.
First lets talk about language, yes we have to this is Quebec! In Quebec I am referred to as an Anglophone. I hope that I am among the last generation that will be referred to as Anglophone. When English speakers are together they rarely if ever identify themselves as Anglophone, it is usually when the interlocutory is part of the French origin majority community that that designation is made. It is more striking amongst allophones, “ I am a what….. an allophone?”
When identity is searched for amongst English speakers it’s usually ethnic. Irish, Greek, Italian, Jewish, Portuguese, sometimes Montrealer, Quebecer or Canadian and very rarely….English. This is the nature of the English speaking community in 2012. The English speaking community of Montreal is as diverse as any in urban Canada. When I am at my school the staffroom is comprised of teachers of Greek, Italian, German, Eastern European, Sri Lankan and Irish backgrounds, except for our Principal, Jacques Monfette, he is from Shawinigan and is French origin.
The turn to linguistic designations to describe what I would argue are concerns that are ethnic in nature, provides us with non-racial language that is becoming less and less productive. Lets be honest using linguistic terms to discuss ethnicity has become a way to avoid talking about ethnicity, and specifically the French origin community’s ethnic insecurities. After all at the end of the day I am also a francophone, and proud of it. I am also hoping the children of Law 101, after completing twelve years of scholarity in French would be considered francophone, if not what do these linguistic designations mean, do they only change with assimilation? If that is the case why won’t people say it?
When the PQ was elected in 1976, it was a necessary electro-shock for the English speaking community, including my 15-year-old self. It was a rupture with the past that would require English speakers to start recognizing that not speaking French was not only counter productive, but bordering on insulting. To be a full partner in the Quebec state, speaking French was now key, to be a full citizen of the Quebec state speaking French was necessary. The idea of what language you spoke at home was not, that’s been a more recent and troubling change amongst a small fringe in the nationalist community. Along with the new reference to Quebec’s “ historic” English speaking community, which is obviously an attempt to marginalize the English speaking community. With 94% of Quebecers now able to speak French, French is our common language.
There is an English speaking community in Quebec it has existed here for 250 years, it is a community that will continue to exist, a community tied to institutions like Concordia, and to neighborhoods like N.D.G.. It has always has been a community in transition and I believe a community that can make a positive contribution to this state, culturally, socially, politically, especially our kids. Now who am I?
By CATHERINE SOLYOM | Published April 2, 2014 by The Montreal Gazette
Education Minister Marie Malavoy, who had famously remarked that the 2006 history course “drowned (or evaded) the whole issue of sovereignty,” tried to put anxieties to rest.
“Anglophones can’t be excluded, they are part of the national narrative,” said Malavoy, who is not running for re-election. “It’s an inclusive approach.”
Not everyone is convinced. Robert Green, who teaches history at Westmount High, welcomed some aspects of the
Photograph by: John Mahoney, The Gazette
new course, particularly the return to the chronological approach to the two-year course, divided at the 1840 mark (the creation of one Canada). The “dysfunctional” thematic approach in Grade 10 – which included discussion of three kinds of liberalism – was despised by teachers and students alike, he said.
But the new course will probably exacerbate the biases already found in the curriculum, Green said. For example, the role of the Irish during the Patriotes rebellion in 1837 is hardly mentioned, and discussion of the Second World War centres on how francophones didn’t want to participate. There’s almost nothing on the Holocaust.
Then there’s the depiction of First Nations, during the Oka crisis, for example, with no mention of how both federal and provincial governments negotiated in bad faith with the Mohawks, or of the racist riots on the LaSalle side of the Mercier Bridge.
“Yes, it’s disturbing, but it needs to be talked about,” Green said.
Since the group of teachers and students from Westmount High released our video “A Lesson in Values for Madame Marois” the response has been overwhelming. In the first 72 hours the video was posted it was viewed nearly 27,000 times. The teachers involved and Westmount’s principal have been flooded with messages from former Westmount students saying how proud the video made them to be graduates of Westmount High.
Perhaps most satisfying was seeing how the release of this video put the Parti Quebecois into damage control mode. Many of the newscasts on the video featured a very uncomfortable looking Pauline Marois having to state that her Party was not against cultural diversity, religious freedom or freedom of expression. How she squares this with Bill 60 which clearly infringes on these fundamental freedoms is beyond me, but I was glad she had to answer this question nonetheless.
The other element of the PQ’s damage control strategy has been to have Gilles Duceppe write two columns (here and here) in the Peladeau-owned Journal de Montreal questioning the professional integrity of the teachers involved in this video and suggesting that it was inappropriate for Westmount High to take a political position on this issue.
Apparently Mr Duceppe had not watched the video to the end where it clearly states that this video was not produced by Westmount High but by a group of concerned teachers and students from Westmount High.
Nor did Mr Duceppe bother to investigate how the students in the video came to be involved. Had he done so, he would have learned that this was not an activity done in class, but something done outside of class time with a group of students participating voluntarily with the explicit written consent of their parents.
But more importantly, I find it very interesting that in neither of his two columns on the matter does Mr Duceppe address the substance of the video’s message. I would like to know exactly which political statement Mr Duceppe feels was inappropriate for students in the video to read. Was it students reading a direct quote from the Quebec Charter of Rights & Freedoms? Was it students reading from the UN Declaration on Human Rights? Was it students reading from the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child?
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.
Sparks flew on Wednesday as the province’s largest English language school board refused to back down on threats to use “all possible recourses” to fight the charter of secular values.Despite a harsh scolding from Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville, who accused the English Montreal School Board of being “completely irresponsible” in the language it uses opposing the bill, the board was unyielding.
“Do you exclude or not civil disobedience?” Drainville snapped repeatedly at the three female board representatives appearing before the committee studying Bill 60.
“I think you went too far in suggesting you won’t respect the law. I want to give you the occasion to tell us once the law is adopted you will respect it as all good citizens respect laws of a society.”
Although the board’s brief makes no direct use of the words, it does say it will use “all possible resources at our disposal so that this legislation can never apply.”
Drainville started the day telling reporters that appears to mean the English Montreal School Board would resort to civil disobedience.
Non seulement la charte de la laïcité porte-t-elle atteinte à plusieurs droits fondamentaux, mais elle brime également le droit à l’égalité en créant une discrimination importante à l’emploi, conclut un nouvel avis juridique commandé par la Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE). Et cette discrimination touche directement les femmes, car ce sont elles qu’on exclut du marché du travail.
« Force est de constater que le [projet de loi 60] ne démontre aucune intention réelle de l’État de poursuivre un objectif de promotion du droit des femmes en emploi ou dans la société », lit-on dans l’avis rendu public mardi et préparé par les avocats Josée Lavallée et Pierre Brun, de la firme Melançon, Marceau, Grenier et Sciortino. Comme il s’agit d’interdire, par exemple, le port du voile dans les institutions de l’État et qu’il continuera d’être permis dans la rue et dans les espaces privés, il est donc « clair que le but et l’objectif du gouvernement sont d’assurer la neutralité, la laïcité de l’état et non l’égalité des femmes ».
Les commissions scolaires sont des organismes parapublics qui ont l’obligation de mettre en place des programmes d’accès à l’égalité en emploi, question de ne pas défavoriser les minorités comme les handicapés, les femmes, les minorités visibles. En interdisant le port de signes religieux comme le propose l’article 5 du projet de loi, l’État engendre une discrimination fondée sur la religion et entre en contradiction avec ses propres programmes censés viser l’égalité, soutient le président de la FAE, Sylvain Mallette. « Le gouvernement dit qu’il veut l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes, mais ce n’est pas ça. Car il vient dire à ces personnes qui appartiennent à une minorité, dont les femmes qui portent un voile, qu’elles ne peuvent pas maintenir un lien d’emploi ou accéder à un emploi, explique-t-il. Le droit au travail est donc remis en question, car le gouvernement va à l’encontre du droit à l’égalité. Et les femmes sont victimes doublement. Elles sont déjà une minorité et, en plus, on les discriminerait pour le port d’un voile. »
Le projet de loi 60 qui est actuellement à l’étude à l’Assemblée nationale soulève les passions à travers le Québec. Le débat a plusieurs facettes, mais l’aspect juridique de celui-ci tourne autour de la constitutionnalité de l’interdiction du port de signes religieux ostentatoires. Je ne suis pas avocat, je fais donc confiance au Barreau du Québec quand il dit que cette interdiction serait contraire aux chartes des droits et libertés.
Par contre, comme syndicaliste, je vois surtout les problèmes concrets d’application du projet de loi 60 et le débat juridique que les syndicats n’auront pas le choix de mener à cause de leur devoir, prévu au Code du travail, de défendre les droits de chacun de leurs membres.
Aussi, je semble être le seul à voir, dans ce projet de loi 60, une loi spéciale qui remet en question la liberté des travailleurs du secteur public de s’associer pour négocier des conditions de travail. Les syndicats du secteur public ont négocié des conventions collectives en 2011. Ces contrats de travail, signés par les syndicats et le gouvernement, sont valides jusqu’au 31 mars 2015.
(Québec) Marie Malavoy souhaite redonner au métier d’enseignant ses lettres de noblesse. Parmi les options envisagées pour y parvenir, la ministre de l’Éducation songe à l’idée d’organiser un sommet consacré à la profession qui, selon elle, n’est pas suffisamment valorisée dans la province.
D’entrée de jeu, Mme Malavoy compare la situation des profs au Québec à ceux de la Finlande qui ont «vraiment une très belle reconnaissance sociale». «Chez nous, force est de constater que c’est un métier qui, souvent, n’est pas suffisamment reconnu», a déploré la ministre lors d’une entrevue accordée au Soleil en marge du lancement d’un livre à la mémoire d’Hélène Pedneault.
Elle dit avoir «depuis déjà un moment» mis sur pied un chantier sur la question afin de trouver des avenues pour mieux valoriser la profession enseignante. Plusieurs idées sont sur la table, dont celle de la tenue d’un sommet.
As the school boards became secular in 1998 — under Marois’s leadership as education minister — and with immigration on the rise, there was a concerted effort to open the doors of the schools to students and teachers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
A School for the Future: Policy Statement on Educational Integration and Intercultural Education, signed by Marois in 1998, promotes ZERO EXCLUSION (their emphasis) and the recognition that diversity in terms of family background, religious or cultural identity is “itself one of our shared values.”
It also highlights the need for — and the challenge of — increasing diversity in the teaching profession:
“The credibility of pretensions to openness and ethno-cultural and religious diversity relies heavily on the visibility of this diversity within the school staff,” the policy statement reads. “But, in many school boards and most educational institutions, the staff remains ethno-culturally homogeneous … it seems appropriate to ask school boards and colleges to make sure that their hiring system includes no rules or practices that could have a discriminatory effect. …”
Fast-forward to 2013 and another PQ government — with Marois as premier — is leading the charge to ban religious headgear and other accessories, this time for teachers.