Pandemic management | Minister Roberte accepts serving as “lightning rod”

Education Minister Jean-François Robberge assures that he has never thought of resigning, although in recent years he has served as a “lightning rod” to the discontent of many. Resolutely electorally, he predicts that thanks to the changes of the CAQ government, the school network will have its best years ahead of it.

Posted at 5:00 am

Marie-Eve Morasse

Marie-Eve Morasse
The press

In conversation with The press In his Montreal office on Tuesday, Secretary Roberge returned to the criticisms that have characterized his management of the pandemic, but also much of his mandate.

“I was able to take a step back and say: it cannot be otherwise 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 principals,” he recalls.

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

“The pandemic has been harder for people in schools than for the minister. I don’t think I’m pathetic,” says Jean-François Roberge. In the midst of a health crisis, when schools closed without notice, it was “a bit unavoidable” to act as a lightning rod, he adds.

Echoing the words of teachers who have been complaining about the “heaviness” of their job for several years, the former teacher finally admits that hearing people repeatedly ask for his resignation, “it makes the job a little harder”.

It was, the minister said, indirectly because of the pandemic, but also the fact of the political opposition in Quebec that “instrumentalized” it by “scaring people”.

The minister proud of his palmares

Why did he stay in office, unlike some of his predecessors who sometimes flew into education? Prime Minister François Legault knew where his minister was going, according to Jean-François Robberge.

We had a plan, a vision that I carried into education. It didn’t always seem because the pandemic has taken up a lot of space, but the truth is that we have delivered lasting transformations, things that will survive the next two years and improve everyday life in schools. †

Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Education

A little later in an interview, the minister will release a list of 20 CAQ government actions in education that he says will give teachers the “best years of their careers”.

“Even if you’re not going to write it all down, I feel like reading it,” the minister said.

These include the opening of special classes and preschools for 4 years, the two compulsory breaks per day in primary schools, the new Culture and Citizenship course in Quebec, the transformation of school boards into school service centers.

“Parents have won by being direct where decisions are made in the board of directors [des centres de services scolaires]† This is true decentralization. Those who talk about centralization are spin-offs of people who wanted to defend the status quo,” said Minister Roberge in this regard.

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

Unqualified teachers have never been more numerous in schools in a decade, but the former teacher assures he would return to a classroom without hesitation.

We must be careful of the speech of the one and the other. The echo from the field is much more moderate than the echo from the spokespersons.

Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Education

Yes, there are still schools to renovate, staff to be found. “I am not claiming that it is a paradise,” says the minister, who again makes a prediction. “We’ll be through the deficit in five years. †

Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t speculate about his political future. If he is re-elected in his riding of Chambly, if the CAQ is brought back to power he will go where the Prime Minister wills.

In the meantime, “I think we delivered,” says Jean-François Robberge.

A “very short honeymoon”


Jean-François Robberge, Minister of Education, at a press conference in August 2020

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

“He would be more useful by teaching than by remaining Minister of Education. The school year had just started and MNA Christine Labrie, of Québec Solidaire, already demanded the resignation of Jean-François Roberge, as the two other opposition parties in Québec had done in the previous months.

Minister Roberte remained well in the saddle. To find someone who has long headed the Ministry of Education, we have to go back to Claude Ryan, who held this position in the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa from 1985 to 1990.

The arrival of Jean-François Robberge 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’d know the environment, he’d listen, he’d be humiliated by his past,” she explains, adding that “the honeymoon was very short.”

Arrival of COVID-19

The expectations of the Minister of Education were high, notes Jean Bernatchez, professor of educational sciences at the University of Quebec in Rimouski (UQAR).

If teaching is not a “sine qua non” to head this ministry, “Jean-François Roberge seemed to know the world of education well,” continues Mr. Bernatchez.

However, the advent of COVID-19 has previously left a minister “disconnected” from what goes on in schools, Catherine Beauvais-St-Pierre says.

“There were times when I would say to myself as I listened to him, ‘I can’t believe he has already taught,'” she says, explaining, for example, that hygiene measures were simply impossible to apply in schools.

Jean Bernatchez also speaks of “flawed crisis management” on the part of the minister, who especially at the beginning of the pandemic informed the teachers that they were on vacation for two weeks. At the height of the crisis, when all schools were closed, this ruling will be difficult to reverse.

“There was a lot of frustration in the network,” said Bernatchez, who nevertheless hesitates to blame the minister. “I deduced that it was the scapegoat,” adds the professor, who believes that if the minister remains in office, it is also because he was present from the “early hours of the CAQ”.

A “centralization” in education

The CAQ had promised to abolish school elections and did so in the spring of 2020. In that regard, Jean-François Robberge is a minister “who keeps his word,” says the president of the Quebec Federation of School Directors. ), Nicolas Prévost, who also cites the reform of the Student Ombudsman as an example.


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

“What he announced, he achieved,” notes Jean Bernatchez. But with the arrival of the CAQ and the abolition of school boards, education has become centralized, the professor adds.

With the new governance model, there is no longer anyone in public space to speak out about educational issues. School service centers are accountable to the minister and have a duty of loyalty that school administrators did not have.

Jean Bernatchez, Professor of Educational Sciences at UQAR

Catherine Beauvais-St-Pierre struggles to find a good shot that the minister would have done in four years. Yes, the teachers managed to “catch up” on their salaries during the latest collective agreement negotiations, but the Alliance president believes that “it was inevitable in a context of scarcity”.

To defend the teachers and the specific reality of the schools of Montreal, “a chance that we had the three spokespersons” of the opposition in Quebec, M comfortsme Beauvais-St-Pierre. The Liberal Marwah Rizqy, PQ Véronique Hivon and Solidarity Christine Labrie formed a political trio that often fought a united front against the minister.

Among school directors we see that stability at the head of the ministry ‘does good for education’.

“Every time a minister arrives, he has to turn 180 degrees with his values, his projects and education. We go there according to the wind and new approaches. In the case of Mr. Roberge, we have known where he is going for four years now,” says Nicolas Prévost.

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

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