Tom Mulcair: Quebec education needs more than a 'dashboard'

Transparency is welcome, but let’s address a long-standing inequality: the funding of private schools with government money.

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Health and education are, by far, the biggest items in Quebec’s provincial budget. With spending at that level, it’s difficult to understand why our emergency wards are still overflowing and our schools are falling apart, but they are.

There is a glimmer of hope in both files as worthwhile initiatives are being put in place to provide better management and more information to a concerned public.

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Christian Dubé, who I think is outstanding as health minister, is carrying out the hiring process to recruit the top guns who will run his newly minted health agency, Santé Québec.

That superstructure, overseeing all health institutions in the province, is a good theoretical model that has proven itself in some nettlesome cases in the past.

There’s still reason for concern, though. Santé Québec will be based in Quebec City, too far from the heart of the biggest challenges, which are in greater Montreal.

I worked in Quebec City for many years and know the demographics of the civil service. You’re not likely to have anyone working in this new agency with an understanding of, or sensitivity to, the historical connection between many health institutions and the communities that built them. That will be a major problem.

One of the management tools Dubé has put in place is as simple as it is unusual in our civil service: He’s providing information — not trying to hide it.

Dubé created a “dashboard” that provides up-to-date information and statistics on Quebec’s ailing health system. It’s not pretty but it’s essential.

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Dubé knows that you can’t manage what you can’t count.

Education Minister Bernard Drainville doesn’t have anywhere near Dubé’s experience or skill set, but he’s showing himself to be a fast learner.

Drainville has had a rough time of it since he was first introduced as a star candidate for Legault during the 2022 election campaign.

As if the thousands of missing teachers at the start of the school year weren’t enough, Drainville outdid himself by trying to croon a popular song after the death of beloved Quebec singer Karl Tremblay of Les Cowboys Fringants. Let’s just say it didn’t go well.

Before Christmas, rumours were rife that Drainville was going to get the boot from an exasperated Legault.

Someone, somehow, seems to have got to Drainville and he was full of good sense and sharp as a tack as he returned to work after the holidays. He was well prepared and didn’t trip up during the tough negotiations with teachers. He’s been doing well since, and his own announcement, on Monday, was further proof.

Drainville simply copied the Dubé method for transparently putting out key information on a public platform. Yes, there will be the occasional flashing red light as not everyone wants to be evaluated or compared.

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Publishing performance indicators will start with the service centres (formerly the French-language school boards) but Drainville is already talking about extending it to schools. I believe that is a good idea as long as he also provides comparative information on the local socioeconomic situation.

If Drainville is serious about improving things, there’s a long-standing inequality in the Quebec education sector that must also be addressed.

In Quebec, we have private schools that receive 60 per cent of their funding from the government. I have nothing against private schools, but a private school is …private. There should be no government money.

Quebec elites have always controlled the legislation and the purse strings. Pauline Marois has been the only Quebec education minister that I know of to have sent their kids only to public school.

Wealthier families, including politicians, keep a privileged system in place that gives their kids better schools, higher grades and better prospects.

Why do we keep sending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars a year to private schools instead of providing much needed extra help to the public school system?

Tom Mulcair, a former leader of the federal NDP, served as minister of the environment in the Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest.

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