Montreal’s Public School Crisis

École Baril in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, one of the CSDM's many condemned schools.

École Baril in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, one of the CSDM’s many condemned schools.

This is really disturbing.

A recent Radio-Canada report has shed some light on what might be the greatest case of long-term negligence in our province’s history of neglecting civic infrastructure.

82 public schools administered by the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) are in advanced states of decay and degeneration, such that repairs at this time would indeed cost more than simply demolishing the schools outright and building anew.

Of the 226 schools run by the CSDM, another 134 are listed as in a ‘worrisome’ state while only 10 are deemed to have met minimum standards for air quality and general upkeep.

These schools suffer from a wide variety of problems. Mould contamination is the major issue as long-term exposure to mould can cause a host of medical problems. Then there’s asbestos which was used in a lot of public construction as a fire retardant back in the 1950s and 1960s. If I recall correctly there was a big push several years ago to try and clean it all up, but given this province’s predilection for half-assing infrastructure repair, who knows how well that job was done or how effective it was. Then there’s a host of other problems – defective masonry, busted pipes, leaking roofs etc. etc.

The official line is that ‘previous governments’ didn’t set aside enough money for school maintenance and that’s why they’re in as a poor shape as they currently are. This is a convenient enough argument since it’s what we already believe to have caused all the problems related to our bridges and highway overpasses etc. It’s not entirely true, but who cares if it works politically.

Besides which, assigning blame won’t fix the more immediate problem.

The head of the CSDM has indicated that, in addition to the $50 million annual maintenance budget, they got $43 million more this past year specifically to improve air quality in sixteen schools, but also stated that this amount isn’t sufficient and that she’ll ask the current government to double the CSDM’s maintenance budget to $100 million annually. The CSDM apparently has a maintenance budget deficit of approximately $1.5 billion.

Consider that the cost of building an arguably undersized school in Nun’s Island has been pegged at $10.5 million – building 82 additional schools (or however many more is required to handle a growing student population) could easily cost somewhere in the area of a billion dollars.

Now where exactly is that money going to come from?

As a society we feel ourselves over-taxed as is, and we seem to be getting less and less value for our tax dollars, as graft, corruption and broad inefficiencies have handicapped government’s ability to maintain an all too often purposely vague minimum standard for diverse services. Over a century ago populist reform movements established public education as a means towards social improvement. Over time, public education evolved to remove social and class barriers by establishing a more level playing field wherein the general population gained access to a quality education that could in turn provide access to good employment. But more recently political movements have developed that urge governments to cut taxes, often blindly, and this in turn has lead to less money to support the public education system.

Today, some ask whether it’s worth the cost at all, since it seems to be so problematic.

Of course, it’s illogical to expect a broad civic initiative to thrive if it’s poorly financed and ill-maintained from the outset.

The more we cut spending on education, healthcare, social services etc, the more they all suffer.

And remember, the CSDM is the school board with the highest drop out rate on-island. Is it any wonder? Their schools are in piss-poor shape, the board is obviously underfunded and the schools are over-crowded. In some cases, children can’t attend the schools purposely built to serve their own neighbourhood, and instead have to be bussed across town. And all this adds up to a far greater strain on what limited financial resources we have, delivering less and less because we’re paying for poor management, lack of vision, and a culture of civic infrastructural and institutional defunding, popularized by so-called ‘fiscal conservatives’.

Poorer schools and higher drop-out rates in turn means more crime, less social cohesion and a potentially larger permanent underclass of marginally employed people living on the fringes of society.

In other words – everybody loses.

But as we all know it isn’t exactly politically expedient to demand higher taxation, and the PQ sure as shit isn’t about to propose raising taxes, even if it were for something as noble (and you’d think politically worthwhile) as building a hundred new schools in the Montreal region alone.

Perhaps we could partially solve the growing public education crisis in Montreal by seeking to streamline operations and find some ways of making public education a bit more efficient.

For example, the last time I counted there are seven school boards operating on the island of Montreal and in Laval. Seven. Seven school boards serving a combined population of roughly 2.5 million people.

New York City has a single Department of Education for its 1.1 million students.

Why on Earth do we need seven separate school boards for a student population of less than 300,000 in our city?

I understand where it comes from – Montreal’s public schools were once divided along religious and linguistic lines. Today they’re divided along linguistic and somewhat arbitrary geographic lines. French schools are filled to the brim while English schools close due to lack of students. And no one proposes the space gets shared because the respective boards and their unions are all twisted up in provincial politics.

And as always it’s the children and the people who suffer.

It’s insane that an English school be closed in a neighbourhood where the French school is over-crowded.

The obvious local solution to our growing public education crisis is that the city be granted a degree of control in the matter. It would be advantageous to operate a single local school board simply because it would allow a complete and thorough rationalization of space usage, leading in turn to a better distribution of students generally speaking throughout the island. Moreover, it would permit either a redistribution of linguistic education services to adjust to demographic changes in the last fifty years, or the possibility of integrating French and English language services into a single school should a situation warrant such a development.

Some hardcore Québec nationalists have in the past argued against integration of French and English services into a single building out of fear that ‘English would rule on the playground’ and thus the primacy of the French language would be threatened. I can tell you that’s bunk. Before the changeover to linguistic school boards my anglo-protestant high school rented space on its first floor to a franco-catholic primary school. We were kept separate and that was that – the only interaction was an inter-board ‘big brother/big sister’ type program wherein high school students would practice their French and help tutor the elementary kids downstairs. Hardly assimilation.

Not only that, but streamlining janitorial, food and landscaping services, in addition to book and supply orders, would definitely save us a considerable sum of money. There’s no need for this to be worked out by so many different school boards operating in and immediately around a single city. It’s wasteful, moronic.

Consider this as well – a single board could provide for a larger unified pension plan. We should look upon the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as our inspiration and seek to get all local teachers into the same retirement pool. The more contributors to a single pool, the stronger the pool gets.

The current system seems to be hopelessly outdated, the residue of an era in which Two Solitudes was a social convention. Are we not more evolved today? The status quo handicaps us, and strength comes through unity.

By maintaining a needlessly divisive system as we currently have it, all the pieces are doomed to fail. We should have learned this lesson long ago – segregation in public schooling doesn’t work.

De-segregating Montreal’s public schools may be the only way to prevent major service disruptions at the CSDM.

This is Getting Ridiculous – Israel is no Friend of Canada

Hat’s off to the Beaverton for nailing it with this headline:

“Israeli Prime Minister Stephen Harper returns after long visit in Canada”

…and to the Gazette’s Terry Mosher, for much the same reason (*Note the comments and replace the Star of David over the PM’s mouth with a Fleur-de-lys over Pauline Marois’ mouth. Would that be as shocking? Would that be Quebec bashing? How would these illustrious minds of the modern age have responded to such a caricature I ask you? With equal apparent offence? I should think not…)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, the Prime Minister and avowed ‘friend of Israel’ has been touring the country like an invited rock star, along with an entourage including businesspeople, MPs, cabinet ministers and religious leaders, a group of about 200 in total. The entire trip is being paid for out of Canada’s general taxation revenue, meaning poor saps like you or I are subsidizing this ‘love fest’ in the Levant.

Now you’re probably thinking, well, this is what Prime Ministers do, they go to other countries and sign lucrative trade deals, don’t they?

But there’s no trade deal being signed, and we don’t buy much from the Israelis in the first place because they don’t build much of anything we could use.

So why is Harper dropping a significant amount of coin for a ‘Tories-only’ trip to the Holy Land?

Is it to improve relations between the two countries? Hardly. Only Tories were allowed on this trip, no representatives from any other major political party in Canada was allowed to go. And as to the private business types who were allowed, well, they’re all major Tory financial supporters. If anything this entire affair seems to be little more than a carefully crafted media circus dreamed up in advance of the 2015 election.

Don’t believe me? Then watch the above video, wherein you can hear Tory MP Mark Adler whining like a little child that he won’t get an opportunity to get in on a photo-op near Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, something the MP describes as the ‘million dollar shot’.

This is the kind of trash we’ve elected to parliament. What an unfortunate joke.

It’s painfully clear the Tories embarked on this trip for purely political purposes. Fellating the State of Israel is good for the Tories not only because it secures the apparently strategic old-fogey Conservative Zionist vote, but further seeks to remind the Canadian people that Harper’s talking points re: Israel sound to be just about the same as the American President’s or the British Prime Minister’s. And this in turn makes Harper look like he’s a ‘player’ on the world stage.

Mulroney would do the same thing back in the 1980s, ensuring that at every big NATO meeting he had his mug photographed next to Reagan and Thatcher almost as if he needed to prove he was one of the big boys of his day.

Politics is ultimately all about image; some things never change.

Then there’s Israel.

I understand why Tories blindly support Israel. It’s not because all Tories are committed Zionists, far from it (in fact, the old Reform Party, from which the current incarnation of the Tories emerged, used to have a bit of problem signing up Holocaust deniers and other assorted racist scum to run in federal elections, but hey, who the fuck remembers what happened twenty years ago?); Tories support Israel because the Yanks and the Brits do, and Tories have never had the confidence to pursue a Canadian-made foreign policy.

Nay, Tories have never had the balls to try and develop our own foreign policy. The Tory mentality is that whatever is locally produced must be deficient. This is why Deifenbaker cancelled the Avro Arrow, why Mulroney sold us out on free trade – Tories live to cut the legs out from under you and the whole of this nation. For the Conservative Party of Canada, this country only exists as long as other, bigger, more powerful countries count us as one of their friends.

Given this spectacle, it seems as though the PM earnestly believes Israel is indeed bigger and powerful than us.

And this in turn leads to Harper bromancing Benjamin Netanyahu. Why on Earth would Canada care what Israel thinks of us? Why do we need to court Israeli public opinion? Israel isn’t even in the same league as a nation as great as Canada, so why do we give a flying Philadelphia fuck what their current government thinks of us? Why does Stephen Harper need to make a big show of how Israel is our ally?

As friends go, Israel is a really shitty friend.

For one it’s highly likely, though unconfirmed, that Mossad assassinated one of this country’s greatest engineers and ballistics experts in 1990. Yes, Gerald Bull was a maverick who worked for some of the worst military dictatorships of the late 20th century and certainly shouldn’t have been developing super weapons like Project Babylon or improved SCUD missiles for the Iraqis (who were, to one degree or another, the West’s ally in the Gulf and bulwark against the theocracy which had overtaken Iran throughout the 1980s. It should also be pointed out that Israel sold Iran weapons during the Iran-Iraq War). But to kill a man who had done nothing to threaten Israel because some people thought he might? What the hell happened to the rule of law? Either way, if Mossad was concerned about Dr. Bull’s activities, they should have worked out an agreement with us first – he could’ve been designing artillery pieces for our own military from the comfort of the Kingston pen. Israel had no right to assassinate him and have never officially apologized for their actions.

Then there’s the issue of Mossad agents using Canadian passports to freely travel the world assassinating other people the State of Israel finds disagreeable. Yes, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda apparently do the exact same thing – but isn’t this the point? I expect our enemies would do such things, but I’d also expect our friends to respect us more than that. Let’s not forget – a Canadian passport has always been a symbol of our nation’s international respect. Mossad’s use of our passports to assist in their efforts to go kill people doesn’t do us any good at all – it just means that the Canadian passport is worth scrutinizing even closer and is no longer the international symbol of openness and humanism it once was.

As Toronto Star columnist Tony Burman wrote recently, it’s time for Canada and Israel to stop living in a fantasy land. Israel’s lack of self-awareness, self-criticality and near total disregard of how the state appears from an outsider’s perspective would make the Parti Québécois blush. In fact, I’ve often been surprised Likud and the Parti Québécois aren’t closer, what with the common hatred of local minority groups and the insistence that only the majority’s religion is inoffensive, and that international laws and conventions don’t apply blah blah blah.

Peas in a pod…

This buddy-buddy relationship with Israel truly does nothing for us, though it does remind relatively intelligent people elsewhere that, when we’re governed by the more conservative elements of our society, we suddenly become very myopic in terms of foreign policy.

How can a nation such as Canada support one theocracy with secret, unmonitored, uncontrolled nuclear weapons (Israel) while supporting sanctions and eliminating diplomatic relations with another theocracy for their unconfirmed, apparent desire to produce a nuclear weapon (Iran)?

Shouldn’t the message be the same for all theocracies with nukes (i.e. get rid of your nukes, stand-down your military and then we can talk)? What difference does it make if Israel is a quasi-representative democracy, they have nuclear weapons and their deterrence strategy is to launch simultaneous nuclear strikes on any and all enemies if ‘overwhelmed’ by outside aggression, something which they came very close to doing during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The Samson Option could include the use of as many as 400 nuclear weapons, many of which are of the thermonuclear variety with a one-megaton yield (fifty times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). They can be launched by ballistic missiles with an 11,000 kilometre range, from cruise-missile armed submarines, from jet fighters or even delivered via suitcases.

The very existence of Israel’s massive nuclear stockpile is in itself a destabilizing factor in the entirety of the Middle East. The way we turn a blind eye towards Israel’s countless foreign invasions (Suez Canal, 1956; all of its neighbours, 1967, all of its neighbours for a second time in 1973, Lebanon in 1982, Lebanon again in 2006, and all this aside from regular military action on Palestinian territory), and the intolerance and racism of the Likud Party and it’s allies is astonishing. What does this say about our own government?

For a truly disturbing mini-doc on contemporary anti-African racism in Israel, see the video posted below.

Harper wasted an opportunity to excoriate the current Israeli government for its human rights abuses, weapons of mass destruction and the not-so-subtle anti-African sentiment that has resulted in more than one instance of sitting members of the Knesset demanding African immigrants be rounded up and put in concentration camps; a law recently passed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party will see undocumented African immigrants held for up to a year without trial. Instead of criticizing these laws, Harper said that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism.

I should remind the Prime Minister, and anyone else dumb enough to buy that nonsense, that these are two very different things, but neither apply to this article nor any of a torrent of articles recently published about this trip or about Israel broadly speaking. Harper is so loathe to criticize Israel the Tories had the Department of National Defence quietly removed any online traces of a report that a Canadian peacekeeper on a UN deployment was killed by an Israeli artillery strike in 2006. What’s particularly damning is that the IDF was either obscenely careless or bombed the UN outpost deliberately, as it was clearly marked on maps and familiar to IDF personnel operating in the region.

What’s particularly mortifying is that the Prime Minister has confused hatred of a religious group and hatred of nation, but has also posited hatred of a nation/religious group as what underlies criticism of Israel and it’s policies.

Again, I can’t help but draw the parallel to Québec. Criticize the PQ or the charter of values? That’s Quebec-bashing. Criticize the PLQ, CAQ, QS, ON etc. and that’s just politics.

Why is Stephen Harper telling me criticizing Israel’s current government is equal to hating Jews? Is he as dumb as those who endorse him, like world-class idiot Sarah Palin?

It isn’t and never was. Nor is criticizing the PQ and attack on all Québécois. Nor is criticizing the origins of the First World War an attack on any of the soldiers who fought in it.

But this is modern politics, and as long as people would rather react first and think second, Stephen Harper can make statements like this, and embark on taxpayer-financed trips such as this, without any repercussions. Similarly, Rob Ford can smoke crack right back into the mayor’s office and Pauline Marois may very well win a majority government by institutionalizing racism.

Disturbing, repugnant, ridiculous. But back to the issue at hand…

What kind of friend is Israel? And why must we support them at their worst? It’s obscene that the Prime Minister can score political points in Canada by sycophantically and uncritically praising the current conservative Israeli government, and by extension support the vilest elements of contemporary Israeli society who conveniently ignore the lessons of the Holocaust and marginalize minorities in their own apparently liberal democratic nation. That members of Likud would use the same rhetoric in attacking Arabs or Africans today as fascists used against Jews throughout Europe and North America in the early 20th century is appalling to say the very least

Stephen Harper does not speak for Canada. Any pretence he might have to this effect should come to an end well before the next regularly scheduled election. The Conservative Party of Canada is leading this nation down a road I’m quite uncomfortable with, and this campaign stop in the ‘Holy Land’ is just another fantastic reminder why the Tories are wholly unfit to govern.

Feeding Poor Children: Not a Tory Priority

This man doesn't care about your starving child.

This man doesn’t care about your starving child.

Straight from the horse ass’ mouth, Tory industry minister James Moore says it’s not his responsibility to feed his neighbour’s child, this in reference to the fact that child poverty is an area of provincial jurisdiction, not federal.

The minister, who represents Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam (a part of Metro Vancouver) in parliament, reminded us that the Tories are doing an excellent job keeping ‘kids’ bellies full’ by cutting taxes and apparently creating jobs, even though unemployment rose last month in British Columbia, and that province further has one of the higher rates of childhood poverty. One in seven Canadian children live in poverty, and despite a unanimous motion passed in the House of Commons in 1989 to eliminate childhood poverty in Canada by the year 2000, nothing was done (other than, somewhat absurdly, renewing the motion nine years after the initially-projected date of completion). Minister Moore argued that the Fed can’t be responsible for making sure kids get a breakfast, and that he wouldn’t support an ‘intrusion’ of the federal government into realms of provincial control.

Moore was emphatic: “We’ve never been wealthier as a country than we are right now. Never been wealthier.”

Bullshit.

1. Today the average Canadian is burdened with the highest individual and household debt rates in our nation’s recorded history.

2. Our real estate market is the most overvalued in the world and an entire generation of Canadians lack sufficient means to own their own home.

3. Our currency is projected to lose about a dime’s worth of value in the next year.

4. Wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of our local ‘top one percent’.

5. By some estimates we have one of the world’s most over-educated workforces with far too few jobs requiring that level of skill, which in turn results in stagnant salaries for people with increasingly expensive tertiary educations and an influx of highly-skilled workers into job categories normally filled by people with lesser skill levels. The cascading effect has arguably pushed about 2.5 million Canadians into a near-permanent underclass of unemployed people.

6. Our economy is less well-balanced than it once was, as manufacturing has declined significantly our wealth is now almost exclusively generated by environmentally and economically unsustainable primary resource extraction.

7. The middle class has had its economic foundation as well as the social safety net steadily dismantled over the course of the last thirty years, though the process has picked up of late. First went the industrial jobs, then many of the white collar jobs too. Jobs that brought pride to the worker and bought a home, a car, a retirement, vacations and educations were replaced by service-sector jobs that lack in both pay and benefits. Our economy isn’t driven by production anymore, but rather by consumption. Across the country a plethora of communities have lost the means of production and have seen big-box stores, casinos and call centres becomes the primary local economic drivers. Now, the middle class faces new challenges, namely in terms of retirement planning, since the Tories are insistent the Canada Pension Plan not be extended.

Wealthy?

No, we’re not wealthy.

Not when three-quarters of Canadians can’t make any RRSP contributions in a given year. We can’t possibly be a wealthy country if the Tories believe, as they insist is gospel, that 50,000 jobs will be lost if individual contributions to the Canada Pension Plan are increased.

Real wealth doesn’t work that way; wealth is derived from saving money, even if it is mandatory. Yet Canadians are making less than they were a generation ago. Costs keep rising and salaries haven’t kept pace with the value of what we produce. This is fully untenable.

And while I concur that minister Moore is correct in his assertion that combating child poverty is tactically the responsibility of the provincial governments, it is of strategic federal concern.

The federal government provides regulations and guidelines for food inspection, education standards and hospital operations, so why not extend this to guaranteeing no child goes hungry as well, and providing provinces with the means to address this particularly onerous and shameful problem?

The federal government has a responsibility to all Canadians, and childhood poverty is of concern to all. And yet all this government does is hack away at the social fabric, the safety net and the people’s ability to maintain a proud and powerful middle class.

Ending childhood poverty is exactly the kind of major problem only the federal government has the means to properly, and expeditiously, address. There’s nothing stopping the Fed from leading the provinces in a combined effort to eradicate this problem, aside from a complete and total lack of will.

And there you have it, the Tory MO.

It’s not in their interest to bring this country together. It’s not in their interest to make the state work for the people, because all this does is remove new realms of profit for the ruthlessly expedient among our business class. It’s not in the Tories’ interest to make Canada Post work, nor to keep the CPP well-funded, because their strength and their power comes from dismantling and privatizing as much of this as is possible.

If we continue down this path, what next? Will we privatize our prisons? Will we privatize healthcare? Will we privatize the army too?

In any event I’m off point. I read this article and felt sick to my stomach – this is the kind of sleaze we’ve allowed into government. He has been trained only to repeat the talking points about cutting taxes and the apparent link to the creation of jobs, even though time and time again it has proven such is almost never the case. Lowering taxes on the already wealthy only makes them wealthier, it never enriches the people nor the state.

So when this industry minister tells you just how wealthy we are, remember always that the we he is referring to isn’t you, or I for that matter. He is referring to those who are already wealthy, to the small clique of elites who’ve parked their support behind the most regressive and stubborn political elements in our country and far too many of our allies. This is a man who knows nothing of his people, has no vision for their collective future, and has no qualms whatsoever about his disinterest in dealing with childhood poverty.

In a normally functioning democracy, such callous disregard for the lives of Canadian children would require an enhanced RCMP personal security detail for the minister. It is a profoundly sad irony this is the same party that argues anyone supporting the legalization of marijuana is, in effect, looking to personally sell drugs to minors (and a more specious argument I’ve never heard in my entire life. What’s worse, it betrays the general lack of knowledge Tories have about how economy works – do they honestly think children have much money for drugs?)

How to Beat Bill 60

Excellent retro shot of the Jewish General Hospital before it began it's multi-phase expansion - I'm guessing 1984

Excellent retro shot of the Jewish General Hospital before it began it’s multi-phase expansion – I’m guessing 1984

Defy it.

With extreme prejudice…

A tip of the hat is owed to Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, head of the prestigious Montreal Jewish General Hospital, for firing the opening salvo in the people’s defiance of Bill 60, the proposed charter on state secularism in Québec.

Among other things the bill stipulates all public-sector employees would be banned from ‘ostentatious displays of religion’ including wearing a yarmulke, hijab or turban while on the job. The ubiquitous displays of Catholicism in every conceivable aspect of daily life in Québec gets to stay as these are deemed to be of ‘historical and cultural value’, though apparently, the historical and cultural value of our ethno-cultural minorities constitute some kind of threat to middle-class, mainstream Québécois society. This means the large glow-in-the-dark cross atop Mount Royal, inasmuch as the crucifix behind the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly, will not be removed, but some Sikh surgeon will have to remove his turban if he wants to keep his job.

I’m an atheist, a socialist and a progressive. But I’m also a libertarian, though not in any contemporary American sense. I believe an individual ought to be free from religious persecution, insofar as their religious practice neither harms themselves, their relations or their community, nor places an inconvenience on the society at large. This thought is not my own – from my understanding this is the law of the land. Freedom from religious persecution is in the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

The Canadian Charter of Values.

I’m with Tom Mulcair on this one, the proposed Bill-60 is nothing but politically-motivated, state-sponsored discrimination.

I believe an argument can be made in which it is in the state’s interest to propose a dress code in the public service, especially in the domains of health and education. Certain religious garments, such as the niqab or burqa, would present an inconvenience to the public interest – the face is covered, and it’s as simple as that. These kinds of face coverings present an unnecessary communication barrier; it’s completely impractical throughout the entirety of the public service.

But let’s put this aside for a moment and ask ourselves a question – is it even worth formalizing such an objection of these particular garments? How many Muslim Québécoises who wear these particular garments are actually applying to the provincial civil service each year? Do we have to make fundamental alterations to our province’s legal and political foundations or can this simply be an edit to some kind of internal HR manual?

It reminds me of Herouxville passing laws against women being stoned to death or burned with acid. It was an amazingly insane instance of unencumbered small-town ‘multi-culturalism panic’.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not already covered by the Criminal Code? Do we not have laws against murder and assault? And do we not already have a secular judiciary, one that is blind to religious consideration so as to liberate the state from such an incumbrance?

pauline-marois

This kind of panicky, irrational fear was unfortunately poorly articulated by none other than Québec uber-vedette Celine Dion. As Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies points out, her concerns that she thinks justifies the charter’s implementation are ludicrous – no one’s taking down any goddam Christmas trees. Ms. Dion’s comments are a perfect representation of the kind of misguided thinking that has become troublingly prevalent amongst an a swath of the Québécois middle-class (though it’s by no means a Québec phenomenon; you could make the argument that Québec is following France’s example too closely, and that both share similarities with a host of xenophobic laws passed throughout the United States in the past decade).

The bill is hypocritical to the core and is, in essence, a method by which the PQ can sew its values into the provincial political fabric at a moment when a referendum is out of the question and the grip on power tenuous at best. The PQ knows it has an election somewhere on the horizon and as long as its economic record remains what it is – which is shitty – the Québec Liberals have a real shot at regaining power at some point in the next six months. Since the Marois government can’t do much else it is going into a perpetual campaign mode, and Bill 60 is their attempt to shore up their political base. They’ve spun it every which way – it’s pro-women, it’s modernizing – but it’s also, fundamentally, unfair and its unnecessary, punitive implications are too large to ignore.

The grim reality is that if this bill goes into law, a great many people, almost all of whom live and work in the Greater Montreal region, are suddenly going to find themselves in a position in which they have to choose between their jobs and their faith; religious minorities will be officially persecuted in the province of Québec. And who will bare the brunt of this new legislation? Why women of course; thousands of working moms who live in Montreal. Here’s a fantastic argument by Anne-France Goldwater as to why this so-called charter of values is a blatant attack on working first-generation Québécoises, a state-sponsored attempt to deny recent-immigrants access to the lucrative pool of civil service and public sector jobs.

In Québec’s political context Montreal is a prize and power base for one party and a liability, an inconvenience for another. Multiculturalism works in Montreal, and I would argue it evolves into a special kind of interculturalism all on its own, without government interference. But this flies in the face of the PQ stands for, and their vision of Québec. The PQ views itself as Québec incarnate, in much the same way that Tea Party Republicans view themselves as ‘real Americans’, and both are using the same fundamental tactic to achieve diverse goals – they define terms and tone first. The PQ has been doing this for years; Bill 101 established that there was a threat to the French language and culture in Québec and the bill was the response to it. Today it’s a fundamental component of our laws and most accept that this is the case, regardless that current statistical and demographic information is telling us the complete opposite.

This is Bill 101 2.0

Much like its linguistic forebear, Bill 60 places economic and socio-political limitations on minority populations. It is a ghettoization measure, and may result, much like the ‘Anglo Exodus’ of a generation ago, in a minority exodus of a kind.

So how do we, the free-thinking, address such Draconian laws?

We must defy them.

Director General of the hospital, Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg put it best “Since the bill is inherently prejudicial, there is no point in taking advantage of any clause that would grant us temporary, short-term relief” when referring to five-year implementation delays specifically designed for institutions such as the Jewish.

He went on to say that if the bill ever becomes law, the hospital will simply ignore it outright.

Right on.

A few things since I’ve been gone…

Boxes - Taylor C. Noakes, Spring 2013

So I should start off by saying that yes, there has been a flu bug going around, and I caught it and have been bed-bound since Friday night. The most walking around I’ve done since then was to walk from my GP’s office to the Queen Elizabeth Health Centre, a walk which I’d normally thoroughly enjoy, though today it damn near almost killed me.

Turns out I caught some kind of a bronchial infection along with the flu, and thus have been coughing like a TB case. The unintended consequence was that I’ve stopped smoking, and can now smell much, much better than I have in many, many years.

As to the Queen E, it’s an excellent facility. Though it used to be a nearly full service community hospital, it got the ax (along with the Reddy Memorial – today’s YMCA hostel near Cabot Square – and another hospital that escapes me at the moment) back in the 1990s when the government was dealing with major budget cuts to health and education (sound familiar?) Today it’s rundown and in dire need of some reno work, but basically serves as an enhanced CLSC with a wide variety of diagnostic and community health services offered. I wish them luck. I can imagine Westmount-adjacent former hospitals named after an old Brit are in the crosshairs of some PQ gov’t hack.

That said, there was one lady in the radiology dept. who clearly did not like her job and wanted you to know it. The kind of person who doesn’t say hi or even make eye contact with people, but who sternly says ‘read the sign’ before you have a chance to say hello yourself. This same person is also the kind of individual who casually ignores a person standing in front of her for five minutes. Was it not obvious I had a simple question to ask?

Perhaps she was having a bad day, but I don’t really give a shit. There are days when we all hate our jobs – it doesn’t give anyone the right to be a grade-A prick.

And for the record, this woman was a WASP.

Every single other person I encountered, from the lady at the info desk to the guys in the canteen, the various radiologists and X-ray technicians – all were delightful, warm, open, sincerely nice, comforting people. Many of them would be described as ‘visible minorities’. The Indian guy in the lab coat brought me the funnies after I had jokingly enquired about the quality of magazines in the waiting room. By contrast, the other white person I encountered got nervous when he heard me coughing, strolled over and tossed me a face mask without saying a word. Rude. I’m not contagious; least he could have done is asked if I was okay.

Fucking white people – always bringing me down.

And on that note – the one group of blancs I despise the most, PQ sympathizers and separatists, are going above and beyond to make immigrants feel as unwelcome as possible these days.

I hate the PQ with every fibre of my being, and here’s why:

At the top it’s all philosophical, academic, serene discussions and musings about the complexities of cultural integration and Québec’s future in North America. But at the bottom, the foundation that props up the PQ elite is composed of some of the most backwards buck-toothed hillbilly scum this province has ever produced. They are the 49% of adult Québécois who lack basic literacy skills. These are the people who take it upon themselves to fight the PQ’s battles ‘on the front lines’.

Whether it’s STM employees: example 1, example 2, example 3

Or just your average schmuck riding the bus…

Or some schmuck at the mall…

Or the thousands of primary and secondary teachers in the CSDM system who teach in immigrant-heavy public schools on the island of Montreal, and who half-ass it because they know they can get away with it. Just about every single immigrant I’ve ever known or ever met who attended a French language public school has at least one story of a teacher who did nothing to hide their absolute disdain for the people he or she was teaching. This point was echoed rather masterfully by local comedic super star Sugar Sammy, who recounted how his high school history teacher was little more than a PQ propaganda machine, and promptly gave up on his students the day after the 95 Referendum.

It’s not just sad, it’s tragic this is what we’ve allowed our province to become.

The news today is that violence against Muslim women in this province has risen considerably since the institutionalized racism charter was first proposed.

The violence, as always, is being committed by the little people down at the bottom. The PQ can claim they only intend for reasonable discussion, and can appeal to the public for calm, but they know goddam well this happens every time. Their rhetoric primes people, stupid, stupid people, for hate, and they win elections because of it.

As an aside, the pharmacist who helped me out with my prescription wore a hijab. She spoke both English and French fluently and was friendly, helpful, warm – exactly the kind of person you want to deal with when you feel like you’re on death’s door. She didn’t try to convert me, we didn’t discuss religion and she seemed pretty damn well integrated into our society from my vantage point (and brief exchange of words).

As a pur-laine Québécois (which I am and have the documents to prove) I can tell you first hand I didn’t feel socio-culturally threatened in the least.

I felt cared for.

I have never felt cared for by the PQ.

The sooner we erase this clown college from our collective memory the better. The single greatest threat to Québec is the Parti Québécois. Whatever good that may have come from the premiership of René Lévesque (and I would argue strongly that he did good things for our province and our people), has now been completely undone by the ruthlessly regressive, fundamentally racist party that now idolizes him as patron saint.

Frankly, if mon oncle René were alive to see this, he’d disavow the party entirely.

End of rant…

Pensées sur la rentrée

Clouds over Saint Henri - Summer 2013

Clouds over Saint Henri – Summer 2013

It’s official, Montréal’s exceptionally large student population is now safely locked away in their classrooms and lecture halls, allowing old people to once again return to our city’s streets, public spaces and transit systems, confident in their knowledge they won’t be subjected to anything too shocking from the young folk for many dreary months.

Fall announced itself over the long weekend in an odd manner: Saturday was humid with low, thick clouds, breaking in the afternoon. Sunday was a reminder of some of the really beautiful (yet unfortunately few) sunny summer days where all manner of colour explode all around you. And Monday, well, by Monday the party was over – fall was back with a vengeance. It was an odd day of alternating mugginess and fresh river breezes, clouds rolling all day with small breaks to show the azure skies behind. By dinner time the rains that held off all day soaked the city through and through, and then the clouds broke again, before returning with thunderclaps and lightning dancing across the night sky. And today the smell of poplar leaves lingering in my nostrils… autumn; the dynamic flourish of life before death.

What a town to live in. Today I got giddy thinking about walking through the forest on the mountain five or six weeks from now on a sunny day when the leaves look like an artist’s impression of fire in stained glass. Orange, yellow, red and green on a blue background.

What a pallet!

In any event, no more chromatic deviations, on to the task at hand.

Our schools kinda suck.

Granted in absolute terms we’re doing just fine, but on a national and provincial level our public schools have a lot of problems we’re not addressing. The drop-out rate in the public French sector is embarrassingly high. Some schools sit half empty while other burst at the seams, and in some cases these schools are within a block of each another. Street gang infiltration is a surprising and serious problem inasmuch as the casual disrespect shown towards inner-city students by the local police force (who all too often assume any group of three or more non-white adolescents constitutes a street gang). And if all that wasn’t enough some of these schools are stuffed full of asbestos or have had water infiltration for so many years toxic mould is sprouting in the air ducts.

The people deserve better. The kids deserve better. We shouldn’t have to pay a fortune to send our kids to private schools, the public sector must provide. After all, it’s one of the things our taxes pay for, and we pay a lot in taxes. There’s absolutely no legitimate reason our schools and public schooling system should fail the way it does, causing social problems, furthering the class rift, costing what it does without producing the results we want. The denigration of the public education system further impoverishes the middle class and drives suburban flight. There’s no pride in having to pay for your child’s education – it’s a failure of the state we live in.

I’m astounded we don’t demand better.

Perhaps we inadvertently lost sight of things, but a cursory examination of the local public education system offers some glaring examples of how and why local public schooling seems to be on the decline.

The fundamental problem is the near total lack of efficiency. Multiple boards, multiple unions, unnecessary duplication, inefficient space usage, poor maintenance, no standardization, – the list goes on and on.

Segregation, in my opinion, is the source of what ails and may ultimately severely damage our local public education system. The PQ’s decision to eliminate religious school boards in the late 1990s was a move in the right direction and a move towards greater efficiency and a positive reinforcement of state secularism. Montréal should take this a step further and unite all the school boards operating on-island into a single city-administered department of education. Ending segregation may save us a lot of money.

Imagine an end to linguistic segregation in Montréal public schools – I can’t think of a better way to integrate immigrants into our society than by demonstrating our own ability to integrate the minorités-majoritaires. Think about it. We send the kids of the people we want to integrate into our society to the overcrowded and underfunded French public sector, which in this city is losing Franco-Québécois enrolment to the private sector, while Anglophone schools with French Immersion and International Baccalaureate programs sit half empty. It’s insane; if there was just one board student distribution would be more even – no empty schools, no over-crowding. Integrating the school boards cut could busing budgets since students would simply go to the school nearest their home, rather than being shipped halfway across the city. Everything would be streamlined – from text book selection to resource allocation to cafeteria services, providing the potential for major savings as new areas of efficiency are exploited.

One island, one school department, but ultimately two languages.

This is the fundamental compromise – this new arrangement would require the integration of English and French school boards, their teachers and respective staff. It would mean all Montreal children would be taught the same regardless of what language they speak at home, and thus, the language of instruction and internal communication for this new island-wide education department must be officially French.

But not absolutely French. A good compromise cuts both ways.

If the English boards were to accept a French education department for the whole island, the French boards would have to accept a degree of bilingualism in public education for all Montreal children. I’d argue 30% of class time ought to be in English and 70% in French from kindergarten all the way to grade 11. This mix will, in my opinion, would thoroughly guarantee the survival of the French language and culture in Montréal while simultaneously providing a foundation of English-language instruction necessary for life in Canada. I’m pretty sure the end result would be a greater appreciation of both languages by all Montrealers, regardless of mother tongue or cultural background.

There are many reasons we should head in this direction – we’ll save money, get more bang for our collective buck, better ensure social cohesion and create the winning conditions for a local public education renaissance. We have all the social and economic reasons to pursue this, and yet, we’re incredibly cynical.

I’ve been told this could/would/should never happen.

That disappoints me.

I think Montrealers ought to have a greater say in how our children are educated, and ending segregation in our public schools, regardless of whatever the current provincial government may say, is the right way forward for our city.