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Ministers of Education in the credentialist era

Quebec's new Minister of Education, Pierre Moreau, has held many previous senior offices for the provincial Liberals. Anglos may be pleased that he has had much greater contact with anglo constituents than his predecessor. Whether he will have any real effect, positive or negative, on public education is more open to question. Compared to other cabinet positions, Education has been something of a revolving door. In the last half century, it has had about two dozen Liberal or PQ appointees to the post. It is recognized as a difficult position, but while it has usually been occupied by senior party figures or fast rising stars, they have mostly been professional politicians, largely in the hands of the two groups that really control all the matters of substance, the permanent bureaucrats, and the leaders of teachers' and support staff unions. There have only been three Ministers who, for good or ill, put a marked personal stamp on the office. Paul Gérin-Lajoie, a Rhodes Scholar with an Oxford law doctorate, was a major founding architect of the MEQ, part of the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s Lesage Liberals. Jacques-Yvan Morin, another legal scholar, was René Lévesque's choice for the first four years of his government. And Claude Ryan, former editor of Le Devoir, former Leader of the Liberal Party, an austere and learned workoholic, was an unusually effective Minister from 1985 to 1990. I served on the Legislature Education Committee throughout the first half of the 1990s, observing Ryan's capacity in the first year I was there. He probably would have happily remained there another five years, but Bourassa switched him to a triple portfolio of Public Security, Municipal Affairs, and Native Affairs, to deal with the 1990 native insurrection at Oka. The three Liberals who followed Ryan over the next four… Read More

Last Days of a Sorcerer’s Apprentice

As a sceptical 1950s student hangover, I was still around university campuses and undergraduate life during the upheavals of 1965-75, but saw them very differently from most students around me. I was most interested in surprising ideas and developments that did not fit the instant mythology being created. A major cause of these surprises was that, when university departments, flush with cash in those days, sought to raise their prestige by inviting a "Distinguished Visiting Professor" from afar to join them for a year or two, they sometimes got different distinctions from the ones they expected. In 1966-68, I was at Sir George Williams University. My Queen's mathematics degree already in hand, I was taking two years to qualify in honours history. before moving on to graduate studies at McGill. During those two years, the Sir George history and economics departments had jointly obtained Rudolf Schlesinger as a visiting professor. Schlesinger was the retiring head of "Soviet Studies" at the University of Glasgow, and the editor of two academic journals, one on the USSR, one on "world co-existence." He was also a walking piece of history. Coming to Britain as an Austrian emigre in the late 1930s, he had been an important Communist Party activist for two previous decades, in Berlin, Prague, and Moscow. Despite having been expelled from the USSR CP in 1936 in a purge, he had remained a lifelong Marxist-Leninist. The then largely youthful and leftist history department revered him as a scholarly Marxist, who would add the weight of his historical experience. In some ways, he did as expected. He was certainly not one of the countless eventually disillusioned Marxists of his generation, symbolized by Arthur Koestler's 1940 novel, Darkness at Noon. For him, Communism was still not the god that failed. “Koestler? A mere courier!”… Read More

No tears for Germany

At the close of the 2100s, when the 16 centuries of conflict between Christian and Islamic civilizations in Europe culminates in the latter’s ultimate victory, one wonders how the commentators of the time will sum it up. I doubt that I’ll be alive then, but like most of you I’ll doubtless have lived through much of the coming transformation: a product of slow suicide for Europe, comprised in a forfeiture of its own values along with the societal ethic of low birthrates. For a religion that has gone toe to toe with the more confident systems of Hinduism and Confucianism, Christian Europe will be easy pickings. What’s more, the seeds have been sown by the Europeans themselves, as institutions of integration like the European Union will continue to perform the role of a catalyst for defeat, rather than a celebrated fortification of continental peace. But while those commentators may look back with sorrow at the loss of great European cultures, I hope that they won’t shed too many tears for Germany. It is, after all, largely Germany’s fault that things have already gotten so bad. The economic stability of the continent has been jeopardized by the fantastical EU and Eurozone projects, always cheered along by Germany as a means of furthering its national ambitions without having to acknowledge them as such. And as much of the rest of the continent — certainly the poor and irrecoverably-indebted parts — now have to play by Germany’s rules for monetary policy, they now have to play by its directives on migrants as well, which have initiated a full-blown crisis with no seeable end. If some of its fellow Union countries are less able to cope with the present surge of immigrants and refugees — not only from Syria, of course, but also Central… Read More

Patriarchal songs

When reading Tom Kott's article "Quebec's paternalistic married-name prohibition" about the Prime Minister's wife having to legally keep her maiden name in Quebec, I couldn't help but think of songs about marriage, whose basic purpose is what Samuel Johnson called "identification of progeny". For example, next year will mark the hundredth anniversary of the wedding song "[The bells are ringing] For me and my gal," made even more popular when Judy Garland and then Dean Martin sang them in movies. Those words may be out of date now that countless wives follow the dictates of feminism by keeping their father's surname. It's telling their husbands, "I'm not your girl, I'm Daddy's girl." I am sure that the Prime Minister's father-in-law Jean Grégoire is a fine gentleman who had the usual mixed feelings about seeing his daughter be married. He knew he would be losing a portion of the joyfulness that comes especially to the man fortunate enough to have daughters. I often think that the happiest moment of my own life was sitting in an easy chair reading a newspaper when I stopped and listened to my wife and daughters chatting about everyday things. Sooner or later a father accepts that his girls will grow up to become women. A phone call once in a while and Christmas and grandchildren's birthday celebrations have to suffice. He accepts that they can't remain girls for the rest of their lives, so their keeping his surname does nothing for him; indeed is faintly ridiculous. To recap: a woman's maiden name is not "her own" but her father's, over which she never had any choice. Unless she is the victim of forced marriage, a woman freely accepts her husband's name. That's the appeal of another song about marriage that begins I'll be with you… Read More

Quebec’s paternalistic married-name prohibition

Some Canadians might view the PMO directive that Justin Trudeau’s wife be always referred to by her hyphenated surname as a gesture to gender equality. Despite her union to Canada’s most powerful man, Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau has challenged a paternalistic social construct by opting to keep her maiden name. Because it was 2015, right? However, what Canada’s “first couple” is actually doing is giving Quebec’s Civil Code the middle finger — and good on them for it. Since 1981, it has been illegal for women in Quebec to change their surname when they marry. Since Trudeau and Grégoire married in 2005 in Montreal, she has had no right to share names with her husband — or their children, for that matter. And so it goes for all mothers in Quebec. Legally changing one’s name in the province is notoriously hard. For many children with absent fathers, a name different from their mother’s can create an uncomfortable distance from their primary caretaker. (This is not trivial matter — single moms head 13 per cent of Canadian families.) Some families choose to hyphenate their child’s name, which may cause confusion when those children grow up and have children with other hyphenated individuals. What will Jean Tremblay-Laurier-Audet-Roy do when he has to name a child with Marie Simard-Bergeron-Belanger-Lavoie? Quebec’s odd decision to devalue tradition, marriage, and the family followed the passage of the Quebec Charter of Rights in 1976, which claimed to emphasize equality between men and women. It also protected the fundamental freedoms of conscience, religion, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and importantly, freedom of association. Despite these promises of freedom, the province decided that couples were not allowed to cement their lifelong commitment to each other by associating themselves with a common name. Quebec isn’t unique in the world — France and Greece… Read More

The futile effort to end bullying

Last summer, researchers at Simon Fraser University published a study about bullying, which supports the view that most schoolyard tormenters are acting upon a genetic predisposition. According to media coverage at the time, anti-bullying organizations dismissed the findings as a “step backwards”, chiefly on the (rather unscientific) ground it might be interpreted as a justification for such behaviour, or an excuse not to remedy it. Whether that is true or not, the study’s findings accord perfectly well with my memory of what bullies in school were like, in marked contrast to the common “personal insecurities” explanation. I don’t know much about genetics, so I’ll leave that debate to the scientists. But it was always obvious to me that the archetypal bullies, who according to the study comprise 80 to 90 percent of teenagers who behave this way toward their peers, had particular personality types, rather than some unifying social problem which, if solved, would make bullying a thing of the past. There was no apparent correlation between how they acted and other circumstances. I knew bullies who were good students and bad students, from broken homes and nuclear families, who did “popular” things and who did not, who had many friends and who kept to themselves, who were bright and who were dumb, and so forth. What set them apart was always their intimidating effect upon their targets, which needless to say they enjoyed and did anything they could to perpetuate. When I see a group of teenagers even now, I can still discern in little time the ones who are apt to bully others, as a matter of instinct, and obviously I know nothing about their own backgrounds or circumstances. Of course, the usual line about how bullies have personal issues, which motivates their abuse and rage toward others,… Read More
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