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Amid the stench of cronyism, Charest strikes a lousy deal with Jewish schools


 

The cynical side of Jean Charest has to be loving this controversy about the presence of French at the Olympics. It’s such an easy play for someone in his position: weigh in just enough to look concerned, but not enough to look like a grouch. Leave the heavy lifting to people like Réjean Tremblay, who was annoyed at the lack of French even before the Olympics started and who has since cranked up the outrage-o-meter to eleventy-billion, and Pauline Marois, who somehow imagines joining a three-day-old pile-on that’s doing perfectly fine without her is good politics.

But make no mistake—Charest needs this controversy more than anyone else, if only for the distraction it provides. The past two weeks have exposed a potentially devastating fact about his government: it is incapable of learning from crises. Nowhere is this more evident than in the special rules the Quebec government recently implemented to make life easier for ultra-religious private Jewish schools that openly flout the province’s education guidelines.

A handful of these schools have been on the government’s radar for years because they spend too much time teaching religion and too little on core subjects like French and math and science. So what does the province do about it? Rather than cut off their funding—yes, ‘private’ schools in Quebec get government funding—and enforce provincial standards, the government is changing its rules to allow the delinquent schools to hold classes on Sundays. It seems the problem of schools failing to live up to their most fundamental responsibility (teaching the curriculum), all while collecting government money, is really one of scheduling. Just three years removed from the hue-and-cry over reasonable accommodations that nearly consumed him, Charest is telling Quebecers his government is both unwilling and incapable of enforcing standards in what’s arguably the province’s most important jurisdiction.

That the Jewish schools struck their sweetheart deal with the help of a lobbyist with long-standing connections to the Quebec Liberals raises another troubling issue: the stench of cronyism surrounding the Charest government is still lingering long after the controversy over construction contracts reached its apogee during last year’s mayoral election in Montreal.

We’re just six weeks into the New Year and already two members of the Liberal caucus have been implicated in ethics controversies. Jean D’Amour, the Liberal MLA for Rivière-du-Loup, pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges he illegally lobbied on behalf of an engineering firm looking to obtain contracts with the municipal government in Rivière-du-Loup. (He was fined $500, but kept his job as MLA.) Meanwhile, the province’s minister of family, Montreal MLA Tony Tomassi, has been accused of using his influence to secure government funding for daycares run by Liberal party donors. According to the PQ, since 2008, 1,600 government-subsidized daycare spots have been allocated to 32 people whose donations to the Liberals since 2003 total $112,000. (Tomassi responded by accusing the PQ of hating Italians.)

Charest is perhaps as resilient a politician as there is in Canada. His three consecutive election victories, despite facing some of the harshest criticism of any premier in recent history, attest to that toughness. But while it’d be premature to assume these are the crises that will undo him, Charest is increasingly being tasked with a most exhausting responsibility—to spend every day defending the patently indefensible.


 

Amid the stench of cronyism, Charest strikes a lousy deal with Jewish schools

  1. Quebec has become such an intolerant society.

    Wow, imagine that – Jewish schools seeking permission to teach school on Sundays in order to meet the requirements of the provincial education curriculum in addition to their specialized curriculum which includes, Egad! religious instruction for little jewish kids.

    Jews learning to be Jews. What an outrage! What an affront!

    Quebec what have you become and what are you becoming?

    • Psst! Jarrid? Read the blog again. You completely missed the mark. It is Gohier who is having a fit BECAUSE Quebec granted permission to jewish schools.

      • No I did catch that PJ but Gohier is a prototypical representative of Quebec's enlightened class. They have a phobia about religion there and don't allow it to be taught in the schools except through a goverment-imposed program.

        These "ultra-religious" Jews as Gohier describes them is the same way they are described in the Devoir article that he links to: "ultra-religieux". Jews that have kept their ancestor's faith are fanatical jews.

        I just assume Gohier's a Quebecer himself. His insularity marks him out as such. But it's Quebec's xenophobic society that's made him that way.

        Sure Charest allowed this unexecptional exception but he'll be criticized for it. Why? Because it's Quebec. I wish they'd become more accepting of diversity including religious diversity in their increasingly secularistic monolith.

        • Okay, I'll bite: How should a school that gladly cashes in government cheques to teach a government curriculum, but refuses to do so once those cheques have cleared be handled?

          • By letting them teach on Sunday so they can have time to teach the provincial curriculum as well as their jewish based subjects seems like an eminently reasonable solution to me.

            It needn't be and shouldn't have to be one size fits all. Vive la différence as the french say.

            In the province where I hail from, I understand that a couple of the jewish school finish the provincial curriculum in the morning and the rest of the day they carry on with their own curriculum. I take it they can do that because the slackness of our provincial curriculum.

          • The difference here that the schools weren't finding ways to teach the curriculum while still maintaining the religious focus of their program (as you say the schools in your province are doing); it's the government that's conceding it can't actually regulate the very schools it funds. I think that's a problematic admission, no matter the circumstances.

          • Firstly, private schools in general provide better education in Quebec than the public schools, and therefore why not send government cheques to private schools? The students' parents pay taxes like everyone else. If they want a better education and the private schools can deliver it, then so be it.

            As for the curriculum, where is the evidence for your assertion that the Jewish schools do not teach the required curriculum? The article states that the required courses will be provided in the summer.

            One thing is for sure, I don't think there has ever been a Jewish school in existence that did not meet the highest standards of a general education. It is part of their culture. If they say they want to teach on Sunday and in the summer time, then what's wrong with that? They're unquestionably serious about it.

          • Surprisingly I find myself siding more with jarrid and s_c_f on this particular issue (!). Sounds like the Charest govt may have reached a…wait for it…reasonable accommodation with the Jewish schools. That's what multiculturalism is supposed to be all about.

            And I also agree that Quebec's unusually secular nature sometimes make it to hostile to religious traditions. It's almost as if all those centuries under the yoke of the Catholic church traumatized the province. Now we've gobe too far in the other direction and risk being intolerant towards believers.

          • I'm not usually one to humour wilful ignorance, but this has been in the news for ages.

            "Where is the evidence for your assertion that the Jewish schools do not teach the required curriculum?" Try Google. Not even the schools in question deny it.

  2. Regulation is changed so that Jewish schools may become legal, in the meantime religious parents (mainly Catholics) can't exempt their children from the new controversial compulsory "Ethics and Religious culture" course even though there is actually a provision in the Law that would allow it (article 222 of the Public schools acts).

    It is true that the Education minister so convinced about the virtues of this new reeducation course said that she would refuse all exemptions and would need to step on some toes to enforce this marvelous major advance in the teaching of multiculturalism.

    More deails on the Pour une Ecole Libre blog.

    http://pouruneecolelibre.blogspot.com/2010/02/sou

  3. I really dislike these types of stories.

  4. Lucien Bouchard, for whom I have immense respect, made this a propos comment at a debate last night:

    "I don't like what I'm hearing from the Parti Québécois," Mr. Bouchard said. "There is a cultural majority in Quebec and that is us. But there are other people around us, about 10 or 11 per cent that have different religions and we need to make the necessary accommodations when it is needed."

    He pointed to a number of unnecessary debates the PQ has fought including multiculturalism, religious symbols and the need to defend secular values, which he said were "exaggerated." Quebec society isn't being threatened by religious fervour, he insisted."

    The man has his two feet on the ground and is a voice of sanity.

    • So it's the PQ's fault.

      I should have known.

  5. "Jews that have kept their ancestor's faith are fanatical jews."

    That any person who doesn't believe in Santa Claus, yes, they do sound like fanatic nuts.

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