Pandemic Management | Minister Roberge accepts having served as ‘lightning rod’

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge assures that he has never considered resigning, despite having served as a “lightning rod” for the dissatisfaction of many in recent years. In determined voting mode, he predicts the school network has its prime ahead thanks to the CAQ government’s changes.

Posted at 5:00 am

Marie Eve Morasse

Marie Eve Morasse
The press

In conversation with The press In his Montreal office on Tuesday, Minister Roberge returned to the criticism that has shaped his management of the pandemic, but also much of his mandate.

“I was able to take a step back and say: It can’t be anyone other than the government or the minister who takes the lightning, who takes the heat. As long as it’s not the network, the teachers or the school administration,” he recalls.

The minister assures that “at no time” did he “want to leave the ship”.

“The pandemic has been more difficult for people in schools than it has been for the minister. I don’t feel sorry for myself,” says Jean-François Roberge. In the midst of a health crisis, with schools closing without notice, serving as a lightning rod was “a bit inevitable,” he adds.

Finally, echoing the words of teachers who have complained for years about the “difficulty” of their task, the former teacher admits that hearing people keep asking for his resignation, “it makes the task a little bit harder”.

It was cumbersome, the minister said, due to the pandemic, but also the fact that the political opposition in Quebec had “instrumentalized” it by “making people afraid”.

The minister is proud of his record

Why did he remain in office, unlike several of his predecessors who sometimes flew to education? Prime Minister François Legault knew where his minister was headed, believes Jean-François Roberge.

We had a plan, a vision, which I carried through my training. It hasn’t always seemed like the pandemic has taken up a lot of space, but the truth is that we’ve made lasting changes, things that will survive and make everyday school life better for the next two years. .

Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Education

A little later, in an interview, the minister will publish a list of 20 measures taken by the CAQ government in the field of education, which he believes will ensure teachers the “best years of their careers”.

“Even if you don’t write everything down, I would like to read it to you,” said the minister.

These include the opening of special classes and 4-year kindergartens, the two mandatory breaks a day in elementary schools, the new Quebec culture and citizenship course, the transformation of school boards into school service centers.

“Parents won by being right where decisions are made on the board [des centres de services scolaires]. This is real decentralization. Those who talk about centralization are an offshoot of people who wanted to defend the status quo,” said Minister Roberge in this regard.

“I’m not saying it’s paradise,” says Roberge

Unqualified teachers have been more plentiful in schools in ten years, but the ex-teacher assures he would have no hesitation in returning to a classroom.

We must pay attention to the speech of one and the other. The echo from the field is much more moderate than the echo from the speakers.

Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Education

Yes, there are still schools to renovate, to find staff. “I’m not saying it’s paradise,” says the minister, who makes a different prediction. “In five years we will have overcome the shortage. »

Not surprisingly, he doesn’t speculate about his political future. If he is re-elected in his ride from Chambly, when the CAQ returns to power, he will go where the Prime Minister wants.

“I think we delivered,” says Jean-François Roberge.

A “Very Short Honeymoon”


PHOTO EDOUARD PLANTE-FRÉCHETTE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVE

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge at a press conference in August 2020

Four years: This is the time it takes for a student to earn a bachelor’s degree in education. It will also soon be the number of years current Education Minister Jean-François Roberge will be in office. While students leave classes for the summer holidays, the CAQ MP prepares for a third semester.

“He would be more useful teaching to stay as Minister of Education. The school year had just started and Québec solidaire’s MNA Christine Labrie was already calling for the resignation of Jean-François Roberge, as the other two Québec opposition parties had done in the months before.

Minister Roberge stayed in the saddle well. To find someone who has been at the head of the Department of Education longer, we have to go back to Claude Ryan, who held that position in Robert Bourassa’s Liberal government from 1985 to 1990.

The arrival of Jean-François Roberge in 2018 raised “a lot of hope” in education, recalls Catherine Beauvais-St-Pierre, president of the Alliance of Teachers of Montreal.

“He’s a teacher, we thought he knew the area, that he would listen, that his past would humble him,” she explains, adding that “the honeymoon was very short.”

Arrival of COVID-19

Jean Bernatchez, Professor of Education at the University of Quebec in Rimouski (UQAR), also observes that expectations of the Minister of Education are high.

Even if teaching is not “an absolute requirement” to be at the head of this ministry, “Jean-François Roberge seems to know the world of education well”, continues Mr. Bernatchez.

However, the arrival of COVID-19 has rather produced a minister “disconnected” from what is happening in schools, says Catherine Beauvais-St-Pierre.

“There were times when listening, I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe he’s already taught,'” she says, explaining, for example, that hygiene measures in schools are simply not feasible.

Jean Bernatchez also speaks of “inadequate crisis management” by the minister, who informed the teachers in particular right at the beginning of the pandemic that they had two weeks’ vacation. At the height of the crisis, when all schools were closed, that statement will be difficult to reverse.

“There was a lot of frustration on the network,” said Mr. Bernatchez, who is nonetheless reluctant to blame the minister. “I concluded that it was the scapegoat,” adds the professor, who believes the minister has remained in office, partly because he has been present since the “early hours of the CAQ”.

A “centralization” in education

The CAQ had promised the abolition of school elections and did so in spring 2020 ), Nicolas Prévost, who also cites the reform of the student ombudsman as an example.


PHOTO PHILIPPE BOIVIN, LA PRESSE ARCHIVE

Nicolas Prévost, President of the Quebec Federation of Education Institution Directors

“He has achieved what he announced,” agrees Jean Bernatchez. But the introduction of the CAQ and the abolition of school boards have marked a centralization of education, the professor adds.

With the new governance model, there is no longer anyone in the public sphere who speaks out on educational issues. School service centers are accountable to the Minister and have a duty of loyalty that school board chairmen did not have.

Jean Bernatchez, Professor of Education at UQAR

Catherine Beauvais-St-Pierre is struggling to find a good shot the minister would have made in four years. Yes, teachers managed to “catch up” on salaries in recent collective bargaining, but the coalition’s president believes “that was inevitable in a context of scarcity”.

To defend the teachers and the particular reality of the Montreal schools, “we had the chance to have the three spokesmen” of the Quebec opposition, says Mme Beauvais Saint Pierre. Liberal Marwah Rizqy, PQ Véronique Hivon and supportive Christine Labrie formed a political trio that often led a united front against the minister.

When it comes to school heads, we find that stability at the top of the ministry is “good for education”.

“Every time a minister comes, he comes with his values, his projects, and education has to make a 180 degree turn. We drive there according to the wind and new approaches. In the case of Mr Roberge, we know where he has been going for four years,” says Nicolas Prévost.

UQAR professor Jean Bernatchez recalls that the Ministry of Education has always been “very, very difficult” to run. “I wouldn’t want to be education minister,” he laughs.

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