[caption id="attachment_16669" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Striking teachers walking past Douglas Research Institute[/caption] On Monday morning November 16, at 8:40, a couple of dozen striking teachers and one reporter left LaSalle Community Comprehensive High School on 9th Avenue in LaSalle and began walking downtown.
We’re going to walk to where the common front is meeting at the Metropolis near Place des Arts,” said Paul Wasacz, who teaches a semi-skilled program at the high school. “We did it a few years ago during our 2005 contract talks and found that it’s a good way to get together, a good way to stay united.”Walking is also a good way to get noticed. As we walked north on 9th Avenue and east on Champlain, cars and trucks continually honked. The noise got even heavier as we passed striking workers at the Douglas Research Institute and Beurling Academy.
We’re noticing more support these days,” said one of the teachers.Eight teachers from Beurling Academy joined the group and four others from Pearson Adult Career Centre (PACC) joined in at a mini-break at Atwater Market. The group then continued along Atwater and east on Sainte Catherine before reaching Metropolis at 11:30 a.m. As we walked in the sun, one after another of the teachers explained their concerns about large classes and diminishing special need services. The broad strokes of teacher rights and obligations are outlined within a 73-page agreement between the Lester B. Pearson school board and the Pearson Teacher’s Union. The details, however, are much more restrictive. According to the teachers, government bureaucrats and union number crunchers force them to report where they are and what they’re doing every second of every day. None of the teachers who spoke were complaining, and all of the stories included heartwarming incidents serving students. To someone who hasn’t been in a classroom in years, however, their stories emphasized an unbelievable rigidity in schools these days. From 8:29 in the morning until 3:29 in the afternoon, teachers and students follow a regimented routine. Classes last only 50 minutes in Beurling and 53 minutes in LaSalle Comprehensive and the curriculum is designed to take up every one of those minutes. Schedules rotate around six days, with five periods and lunch covering each day. Teachers have to fill in reports justifying lessons in each period. The timetable allows for no extra discussions with students, no marking time and no bathroom breaks. There’s no free time to speak with one another, no time to encourage one another, no time to use the washroom or take a walk. This rigidity affects every classroom. For example, a physical education teacher described the difficulty ensuring that students use only three minutes to get changed so that they can move for more than half an hour. A science teacher described the challenges ensuring that every student gets a hands-on chance to conduct an experiment in a class of 38 students. Imagine a room in which nine groups of four or five students gather around hot plates, trying to determine how heat affects the amount of sugar dissolving in water. A drama teacher spoke about the challenges keeping students on task when so many of them constantly check their latest social media messages. An art teacher described his frustration trying to answer all students’ questions while still ensuring that everyone has a chance to draw or paint before having to pack away their materials. Other issues they’re facing are challenging too. One teacher described relatively small classes of only 23 and 28 students. Each of them had 14 students with “individualized education plans” or IEPs. IEPs enable teachers to understand special needs of a student, which can range from a hearing disorder that requires seating in a specific location to autism.
My classes seem small when you don’t look at the details of who I’m working with,” said the teacher. “It’s those details that the government proposes taking away.”
When Laval independent councillor Pierre Anthian questioned why bureaucrats deemed his research expense claims invalid, he raised two important issues about how Quebec democracy functions.
Other Laval politicians seem to think that Anthian has shared his expense claims with journalists. He has not. Nor has he made them public on a website or anywhere else.
That raises an important third question. Why not?
Should any politicians’ expense claims remain private?
I don’t think so. Every time I do a story about expense claims and budgets, I’m reminded of three years working as a public servant for the State of Florida during the 1980s. Florida has a very strong public access law called the Sunshine Law.
In Florida, politicians and bureaucrats always recognize that the public is the final arbiter of their choices. Meetings are public. Expenses are public. All disputes are resolved publicly.
As described on the website of Florida’s Attorney General,
This law provides that any records made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business are available for inspection [by the public], unless specifically exempted by the Florida Legislature. Over the years, the definition of what constitutes “public records” has come to include not just traditional written documents such as papers, maps and books, but also tapes, photographs, film, sound recordings and records stored in computers.
When I worked in Florida’s Canadian office, the Sunshine Law required me to justify every project planned next to a precise budget on an annual basis.
When politicians wanted to cut the budget, they slashed specific projects.
My salary was private, but it was combined with the salary of other civil servants so that politicians could see how much the Toronto office cost to run. Any member of the public could look at those lists and understand how much their local library, pools, arenas or school cost to run.
If a politician came to Canada, all the details of their trips were public. How much did they spend on meals? Who did they meet with and where was the meeting held?
If Quebec offered even a quarter of that clarity in its budget, the Charbonneau Commission might not have been needed. Politicians wouldn’t be able to divide the expenditures of a single function into two or three different budget lines to hide the full cost.
Cash hidden in socks might still happen, but the public might be able to guess from whom the cash came.
Quebec needs to operate under a similar philosophy. We need a Sunshine Law.
Until that happens, politicians in Laval and everywhere else will have to wonder whether they’re being treated fairly.
Anthian’s case has all the Laval politicians questioning each other about their expenses. They are asking each other whether they made claims for certain items and whether those claims are valid. The rules are so complicated that Laval politicians say they’ve had multiple training sessions to understand how to apply them.
Yet they still make claims that have been refused.
On one hand, it’s reassuring to read that politicians other than Anthian have had their expense claims refused. On the other, it’s worrying to learn that bureaucrats are the final arbiters about which politicians get reimbursed and how much they receive.
Laval bureaucrats have not yet explained their decision to deny Anthian’s claims in detail. They simply cite the rules they are using to judge all expenses, which are briefly outlined in a 14-page research guide. That guide says things like “all research expenses clamed must respond to a real and useful need.”
Clearly, much is left to interpretation.
Anthian now believes that the only way he’ll get a fair hearing will be in front of a judge in a court of law. He’s speaking with lawyers to see whether he has a case, but the costs of such an action may prevent him from following that route.
In the meantime, he continues to ask questions about political expenses and privacy. Why does the mayor of Laval need one car, let alone two? Why are citizens paying for politicians’ meals during a fundraiser? Why do budgetary discussions have to be made in private by the executive committee instead of publicly during city council?
Why doesn’t Quebec have a Sunshine Law?
Potential voters in the Marguerite-Bourgeoys (LaSalle), Marquette (Dorval and Lachine) and Verdun ridings began seeing campaign posters from four parties before the election was called.
In Verdun, the posters all show well-known candidates. Liberal Party posters in Marquette and Verdun show well-known incumbents who were cabinet ministers when the election was called. In Marguerite-Bourgeoys, however, all the posters show relative newcomers to the political scene.
All three Montreal ridings were held by cabinet ministers when the election was called, so residents will continue to be served by their offices until September 4. Clément Gignac, the incumbent in Marguerite-Bourgeoys, was Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife and also held responsibility for the Northern Plan. François Ouimet, the incumbent in Marquette, was second vice-president of the National Assembly. Henri-François Gautrin, the incumbent in Verdun, was Deputy Government House Leader.
All three ministers are running for Jean Charest’s Liberals in this election, but only two will contest their current ridings. Last Wednesday, Charest announced that Gignac, who won 72% of the popular vote in a 2009 by-election, will run in the Taschereau riding in Quebec City. That left the riding clear for Robert Poëti, an ex-SQ officer and media commentator, to be nominated on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Parti Québecois announced a star candidate in Verdun on July 28, prior to the election call. Thierry St. Cyr used to represent the borough federally, as a Member of Parliament for Jeanne-Le-Ber. He won against Liza Frulla in 2004 by a margin of only 72 votes, but had an easier ride in 2006 and 2008. He has been selling real estate since Tyrone Benskin took the riding from him in the last federal election, but announced his campaign for the PQ last week with the words “Ca commence dans Verdun.” On his blog, St. Cyr writes that more than five years representing constituents in Ottawa strengthened his conviction that Quebec no longer belongs within Canada. His campaign office is already open on Wellington Street, several blocks east of Gautrin’s.
The Coalition Avenir de Québec and Québec Solidaire also have star candidates in Verdun. André Besner, who has had a long time career with the Business Development Bank of Canada, will run for the CAQ. Chantal Michaud will run again for Québec Solidaire. The local activist worked in the public sector for thirty years before becoming involved locally and helped establish the Carrefour-jeunesse emploi de Verdun. In 2008, she 5% of the vote, while Gautrin got just less than 48%.
In Marguerite-Bourgeoys, Jessica Riggi is running for the PQ, Michel Delisle is running for the CAQ and Yebo Romarick Okou is running for Québec Solidaire.
In Marquette, Étienne Gougoux is running for the PQ, Victor Tan is running for the CAQ and Claudelle Cyr is running for Québec Solidaire.
An additional 16 parties have the right to nominate candidates in each riding. Nominations close on August 18.
(Note: This is the first in my Decision 2012 round-up articles for the Suburban. It was printed in page one of the city edition today. Kevin Woodhouse also covered the Marquette riding in his article for the West Island version of the paper.)
Refer to The Suburban, www.thesuburban.com.