Montreal’s segregated schools; a problem hiding in plain sight.

Dejected Parents – Credit to John Kenney at The Gazette

Another year and another round of school closings – what a stable future we’re leaving our children…

There exists in Montréal a damning, apparently hidden problem concerning our public education system – it’s name is segregation and it is a multi-headed hydra of social pathologies.

Just to remind you, it’s 2012. We’re now twelve years into the 21st century. The Titanic sunk a hundred years ago. The Québec government eliminated publicly-funded confessional school boards in 1998, fourteen years ago. Unfortunately, rather than defining school boards along purely geographic lines, the PQ government of the day instead decided to maintain linguistic segregation in public schooling. So we achieved secular education for the public while further entrenching an unnecessary division within our society. Linguistic and class seperations continue to persist in Montreal public schools, and it is leading to over-crowding, high drop-out rates, poor performance, school closings and the gradual erosion of a key component in maintaining stable urban neighbourhoods. Not the victory I was hoping for.

There are at least five public school boards serving the communities of Montreal Island, three French and two English. They are divided by language and geography. Unfortunately, for this and other reasons, the urban Francophone board (Commission Scolaire de Montréal) is over-populated and has some of the highest drop-out rates. The urban Anglophone board is depopulating rapidly as a result of gentrification and the proliferation of private schools in the urban core, and has a similarly high drop-out rate. The three remaining boards are more suburban and have comparatively lower drop out rates than their urban counterparts and are thus more stable though new schools need to be built to ease over-crowding in some sectors. All of these problems are inter-related and could be fixed simply by uniting all boards into a single bilingual public education board for the whole island. It would allow more neighbourhood schools to remain open while stream-lining procedures, materials, infrastructure development, maintenance and specialty educations resources. A bigger common revenue pot with fewer operational redundancies in other words, and best of all we’d finally do away with the last vestiges of Victorian-era public education policy. Why on Earth would we ever wish to educate children in two separate languages and not both is profoundly stupid.

I think on the whole there’s been a general move away from public urban education institutions by the rich and middle class in favour of private, in some cases religious, alternatives, and thus the urban public schools tend to uniquely serve the poor and working classes. The linguistic divisions in turn lead to school closures and increased bussing costs. A recent example; just days ago the EMSB announced three elementary schools would close and amalgamate with other schools. Another example; Westmount High School, a school which serves the communities of St-Henri, Pointe-St-Charles, Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Shaughnessy Village and Little Burgundy. For a school located in Westmount, it has surprisingly few Westmount residents in attendance. This is because most of the children who live in Westmount attend private schools. Are there no schools closer to the communities they serve? And what about James Lyng High School, consistently (publicly) rated as one of the poorest, most violent and lowest-scoring public schools in Montreal. Has anyone ever wondered whether it’s location under the Turcot Interchange and near-total lack of a green-space might be having an effect on the students? Can you imagine how hard it must be to concentrate there? If there was a single, secular, bilingual public education option, more students would live within walking distance of their schools, classroom sizes could be reduced and facilities could be redesigned strategically. Moreover, we could create stronger links between children living int he same neighbourhood, inasmuch as we could develop stronger ties to the parents and community on the whole. Some education experts believe the best way to educate at the early level is to do so close to home with as much parental involvement as possible. In the urban context this would further mean children from diverse backgrounds would be educated together, regardless of mother-tongue, parental-income or ethnicity. A unified board could present itself as the legitimate pedagogical representative of the citizens and would further have the resources necessary to persuade middle and upper-class citizens to enroll their children in a fundamentally progressive and egalitarian schooling system. A unified board would be far better suited to petition the provincial and federal governments for additional funding, not to mention serve to unify diverse teachers union, allowing for more effective collective bargaining and a larger pension fund.

It’s time we got honest with ourselves – segregated education is no longer working and it lies at the heart of a public education crisis in our city. School closings rip communities apart and are traumatic for the children involved. If we could get beyond our shortsightedness and see what the future will require of our children, then we know, fundamentally, that the only way forward is through a massive re-investment in innovative public education. Linguistic segregation is perpetuating an under-educated urban working class and we should no longer tolerate it.

Words almost failed me (some disturbing trends)

Lise St-Denis – Credit to Adrian Wyld

First: Lise St-Denis crosses the floor to join the Federal Liberals, indicating she came to her decision after realizing that her constituents voted for Jack Layton, and Jack Layton’s dead. Her constituents, suffice it to say, feel differently.

It brings up an interesting problem in Canadian politics. An individual MP is free to defect to another party whenever they like, and in turn face the possibility of loosing their seat at the next federal election. But they don’t need to run again in a by-election, and this to many Canadians is seen as unfair. Of course, when it’s playing in your favour, you’re not likely to complain too loudly, and therein lies the rub so to speak. It can be advantageous to everyone, yet comes at the cost of uniting opposition against the practice in the first place. Tricky indeed. Ms. St-Denis is putting a lot of faith in the Grits at an odd time, given the NDP leadership campaign is in full swing and, for that reason, the Grits are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis current media coverage. Unless they plan on maintaining their relevance by poaching candidates from other parties, I’d suggest Mr. Rae and Ms. St-Denis look to their constituents and their past and come up with some new ideas, and quick too. The NDP will be flooding Canadian media with new ideas for the next three months.

What I don’t get is how any elected representative could ever think this is a good idea. Yes, in a sense, Canadians are supposed to vote for the individual within their riding whom they believe best represents their individual goals and aspirations, regardless of the candidate’s party affiliations. But that doesn’t mean party affiliation is completely meaningless either, as the party represents the unified wishes of like-minded Canadians. This requires the development of a pre-existing trust between party and candidate, a trust that is supposed to be carried on by the elected candidate when they go to work in Ottawa with the other elected officials of the party. Now Ms. St-Denis is working for a party whose platform her constituents did not approve of. I suppose it doesn’t matter – she doesn’t live in her riding anyways.

Second: Joel Gauthier resigns from the AMT amidst growing criticism after the Train de l’Est project balloons to more than twice initial planned costs (about $715 million at last count). The train won’t be ready to go until Autumn, of 2013. The public statement from the AMT is simply that he resigned his position. Whether this is corporate parlance actually meaning he was forced out and/or paid to leave remains to be seen, though I feel my suspicions would persist regardless of any apparent explanations. Imagine yourself in his shoes, at the top of the AMT. What would it take to get you to resign such a position?

Do you still get a healthy severance package if you resign?

And what gives him the right to resign? He’s not elected, yet he’s apparently in charge of a regional transit authority built with provincial tax revenue. Given his resignation, how wil he be held accountable for his negligence? Or is the resignation the penalty? Seems inadequate given just how badly this project is going. Keep in mind the exorbitant yet total cost of the Métro extension into Laval cost about the same yet serves considerably more people.

With regular delays, inadequate services at individual stations and a general lack of rest facilities throughout the system, not to mention cost overruns and consistent delays with regards to infrastructure development, one wonders if the citizens wouldn’t be better off if the head of the AMT wasn’t also an elected member of the city council? At least that way the people would have the final say.

Third: the English Montreal School Board has decided to close three schools, and more school closings will likely take place in the coming year. As you can imagine it affects schools in working and middle-class neighbourhoods where there simply aren’t enough ‘English’ students to justify continued operations. Some parents are considering relocating while others will now have to pay for additional transit costs. Most disconcerting is the effect this has on children, which no one ever seems to consider. There are major problems with the way we teach children in our society without adding the complexities of long-distance travel, relocation and the likely disruptions to many friendships. These may seem trivial concerns to individuals or corporations, but school closings invariably have a destructive effect on communities and our society as a whole.

I can only repeat an earlier statement: we can’t keep doing this, and our kids would be better off if they were multi-lingual to begin with, so why not start right now? A single metropolitan city with a unified, multi-lingual, secular and cosmopolitan public school board. Anything less is inefficient by design and will only serve to further erode the public’s trust in public education.

We must end segregation in Montreal’s public schooling system, forever. Eliminating the socio-cultural segregation which plagues our public schooling system would do us all a favour by allowing a more immersive learning environment where our children will be pushed as hard as you might expect in the private sector. We could streamline operations and eliminate redundancies, not to mention pool resources and offer better salaires. And best of all, we won’t have to keep closing schools and we’ll further eliminate a continuing source of school-based gang violence.

The common thread of these three cases is the corporate structure and individualistic mentality of the decision makers of our public institutions. Whether its the head of a regional transit agency, an elected representative or the members of a school board, all seem to be acting with self-preservation in mind. There is no altruism nor any legitimate effort to take responsibilities for their actions. It’s no different than the revolving door of Chancellors who have passed through Concordia’s administrative division and walked back out with multi-million dollar severance packages. They were clearly only in it for the money. Apparently everyone is these days.

And that’s how you gut a society of its inherent socialistic tendencies – remove the elected altruists and appoint money-counters, for if we’re lucky they may throw a few dollars our way.

Sometimes I wonder how many good ideas and brilliant minds have slipped out of reach or otherwise would never consider a job working for the people out of distaste for just how self-serving politics has become these days. This kind of behaviour seems to be the norm, and the people are far too exasperated to really do anything about it.

A shame really.

I have no idea what to write about

I have no idea what to write about and I’m too tired to get creative. I feel uninspired and though I’m cognizant there’s news to report on, I feel like I’ve been there before, covered it etc (mind you, I’m certainly not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination, so I guess I shouldn’t mind not getting the scoop, as it were).

Suggestions? Let me know loyal readers. What’s going on that’s not nearly getting enough attention these days?

If none, I’m going to bed.

Quality Local Content: Abdul Butt Visits the ‘NHL Français’ Demo

Local satirist and vlogger Abdul Butt went down to cover the Movement Québec français demonstration last Saturday night in front of the Bell Centre. As one might expect, he uncovers that the group is composed of old people fighting a linguistic battle from over forty years ago. Plus there was some chanting that seemed to indicate the crowd was interested in the NHL conducting more of its affairs in French, and further that it would be nice if the Habs hired more Québecois players, something made rather difficult by the way players are selected, salary caps, individual free agency, the NHL draft etc. I took this as another sign those demonstrating were out of touch with reality. It’s almost as if they have no knowledge professional ice hockey has become an internationally lucrative entertainment industry spanning a good chunk of the Northern Hemisphere and that Québec is not the sole provider of hockey talent.

I’ve seen a common sentiment repeated often in various comment forums online; could you imagine if a bunch of English-speaking Canadians in Calgary showed up in front of the Saddledome to protest the number of Russians or Francophones in the NHL, and that individual teams would perform better if they were unilingual, perhaps even monocultural?

I typically hate these kinds of comparisons, because they are all too often used inappropriately or out of context to such a degree that the comparison is absurd to begin with. The French language must be preserved and promoted, inasmuch as French, Aboriginal and Commonwealth culture should be preserved and promoted as elements of our shared cultural experience. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Habs or the NHL.

And if you find the analogy above distasteful, perhaps racist, then you’re probably right. And therefore, Québecois have to put their collective foot down, and tell these old fools they’re no longer welcome in our integrationist, cosmopolitan city. We don’t need to tolerate intolerance.

I’d probably have been upset if I had been there, so big time kudos to Mr. Butt for seeing this for what it ultimately was and poking a lot of fun at it. For what it’s worth, it seems as though some of these old fogeys got a kick just by getting out of the house. At least one seems to have caught on that their complaint maybe isn’t as serious as they were initially hoping.

Final point – true to form, several people interviewed didn’t seem offended in the least with Mr. Butt’s slightly exaggerated Anglophone accent, and were keen enough to speak in English too. We’ve come a long way from the drive-by arguments and insults of the 1980s and 1990s.


My New Year is off to a phenomenal start.

Above is yet another great recent viral video coming out of my favourite goddam city. It features a municipal worker diligently clearing snow from a Villeray sidewalk. Except there’s no snow. Clearly our city’s efforts cut back on waste are getting off on the right foot.

Maisonneuve Magazine has popped the lid off a scandal we all assumed was going on, but dared not speak of. Perhaps people are fed-up, but it seems as though the snow-clearance operations of our already corrupt construction industry has been involved in significant bid-rigging for some time. Moreover, contractors and companies that don’t play ball face significant penalties, including intimidation, physical violence, fire-bombings and deliberate acts of sabotage. Click here for more; it’s an excellent if somewhat depressing read.

Another fantastic local viral video I’ve seen recently features local twit Jonathan Montalvo drunkenly trying to convince a gaggle of kids outside a bar how rich his dad is. He’s apparently getting into the club promotion scene, has t-shirts being printed and the like (he’s also got an agent, in case you’re interested in having this snot parade in front of your establishment accosting patrons and telling them how much better he is than them, a surefire way to attract the very finest locals). Unfortunately Mr. Popularity must have gotten cold feet of late, since just about video of the incident has been pulled from YouTube. I always find it adorable when memes get bashful.

Is this all it takes to secure $1,500 club appearance fees? Act like a gigantic dick?

Sometimes I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

And the shame parade continues. I know I’m not ordinarily pessimistic, and on the whole I think I’m still optimistic in general for the New Year. I can’t expect to ever live a year without dealing with some kind of malaise, so it may as well coincide with this so-called seasonal affective disorder we’ve conveniently dreamed up to account for being miserable. How quaint – the disorder’s acronym is sad.

Above is footage from a massive fist-fight and dish/bottle/table/chair tossing mele at the New Dynasty Restaurant in Old Chinatown on New Year’s Eve. After watching this video a few times I can only say it’s doesn’t look to be so cut and dry Black vs. Chinese, and the SPVM has no idea what provoked the incident; no one’s talking, so it was probably some really dumb-as-shit argument between a small number of people that degenerated into a free-for-all. People don’t talk much when they’re ashamed of themselves – not much intervening going on as you can see.

Yesterday a 34 year-old man, homeless, possibly mentally-ill and apparently incapable of speaking French was shot and killed by the SPVM as he had apparently failed to stop and identify himself at the officer’s request. What his initial offense was is unclear, but the man, identified as Farshad Mohammadi did attack one of the intervening constables with a ‘sharp-edged weapon’ leaving superficial wounds on one officer. Mohammadi was fatally shot at the station but died later in hospital. I’m not saying the constable acted irresponsibly, but I wonder what drew their suspicions and why the SPVM isn’t encouraged to use ‘non-lethal’ suppression devices first and foremost. Unfortunately, the incident is being investigated by the Sureté du Québec, as is our foolish custom.

And then, to wrap up our little shit storm, tonight’s boneheaded protest of the hiring of Randy Cunneyworth. The Movement Québec francais demonstration in front of the Bell Centre drew a crowd of 300 out-to-lunch locals who would like the NHL, somehow, to accord the Canadiens more Francophone, Québecois players, and further to insist the Canadiens fire Cunneyworth, replace him with x and further eliminate English language music and announcements. If there’s one place government doesn’t need to stick its nose, it has to be the internationally successful modern game of ice-hockey and it’s hands-down finest professional team. The Canadiens may be in a bad slump, but it has nothing to do with Cunneyworth’s linguistic short-comings. Language and culture has absolutely nothing to do with how the Canadiens play, nor how the modern game of hockey is played at the professional level. Yet the demonstrators would like you to believe that a predominantly Québecois team would in fact do better. How, or why that would be the case, was not an issue the demonstrators were capable of illustrating.

There is a broader issue here – we need a winning sports team to keep our morale up, and we’ve been lucky, the Habs have had some exciting seasons recently. Moreover, the Bell Centre is consistently sold-out for Habs games, even live broadcasts of games played elsewhere. So while it sucks that our playoff chances are extremely slim, we need to get real here, it has nothing to do with Randy Cunneyworth’s inability to speak French.

It would have been nice to see those three-hundred people show up at Place du Peuple and support something worthwhile, by the way. Just another indicator what remains of the Indépendentiste movement is old and out of sync with the real problems of our world.

A discouraging start to the year. Here’s to better days ahead.

Resurrect the Arrow: A made-in Canada solution to the F-35 problem.

The photo above is of two examples of the CF-105 Arrow, also known as the Avro Arrow, a supersonic jet fighter designed, built and tested here in Canada in the mid-late 1950s. It was a milestone in Canadian aviation and a great success for our high-technology industrial sector. The project was abruptly terminated in the late-1950s by the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker, who saw the project as emblematic of Liberal ‘big-government’ spending. Moreover, with the advent of long-range ballistic missiles and the launching of Sputnik (and subsequent Space Race) at the end of the 1950s, there was a widespread belief that ground and space based missiles would determine the strategic balance of the future. Thus the Arrow, the Iroquois engine and Velvet Glove missile system programs were all scrapped (literally, the aircraft were cut to pieces, engines smashed, blueprints burned in bonfires).

Avro Canada Ltd would go belly-up by 1962 as they had thrown almost all their efforts behind the project. Efforts to sell the Arrow or elements of the design to foreign nations were in fact prevented by Diefenbaker’s government (a Tory gov’t preventing free-market capitalism and over-regulating our high-tech and defence sector industries, funny) and many of the chief engineers would find work throughout the United States and Europe working for other major defence consortiums. Among others, former Avro employees would help design fighter aircraft in the UK, France and the United States, in addition to designing the Apollo Command and Service module. Indeed, as you can see from this Wikipedia entry Avro was involved in myriad state of the art technologies and were global aviation leaders.

A long time has passed since the Arrow program was cancelled. In its wake Avro would be sold to Hawker Siddeley (a British corporation), Canada acquired inferior American-built interceptors two years later (which employed nuclear weapons, not a popular move in Canada) and later, Canadair would take over construction and testing of Canadian-built versions of American-designed fighter models, including the Hornets we use today. It has been more than fifty years since we were so bold to dare develop our high-technologies sector by direct government investment and support as we once tried with the Arrow program.

And today, an opportunity has presented itself, one we seem to be very interested in squandering outright.

I don’t need to tell you about the multiple inter-related controversies surrounding the Harper government’s intention to procure 65 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (check this out for all you need to know), but I will mention this; the plan currently involves leasing engines and weapons, providing service and maintenance contracts to non-military (perhaps non-Canadian) contractors and is already significantly over-budget given how few aircraft we’re to receive. Trudeau’s defence department ordered 138 Hornets between 1982 and 1988, and most of these aircraft subsequently underwent a total overhaul, update and modernization program about five years ago, leaving us with approximately one-hundred serviceable and still lethal aircraft. Furthermore, Canada has always used twin-engine, long-range fighters to defend our territorial sovereignty. The F-18 provided additional benefits, given that it was aircraft-carrier capable (meaning Canadian pilots could deploy from American carriers in time of war) and could fulfill multiple roles, such as interception, strike, close-support, reconnaissance etc.

The F-35 is an inferior aircraft to the F-18 in many ways, and what’s most maddening is that the F-35, at best, could only be a tactical alternative to F-18 (ergo, we deploy F-35s to bomb Libya and leave the F-18s to defend our airspace). Back during the Cold War this is typically how we operated, using two-types of multi-role aircraft, one for tactical missions and the other being used for more strategic defence roles. While the F-18s will need to be replaced by the end of the decade, replacing them with an unproven, still largely experimental and expensive fighter is obscenely irresponsible. Now while Canada has been involved in the F-35 project for some time, we have no legal responsibility to procure them, and it just so happens a more modern version of our current aircraft (The Super Hornet) is available, proven and could even be built here (given Canadair/Bombardier’s previous involvement in aircraft construction). That, or we could be bold and build precisely what we need in large enough numbers we can then re-coup production and R&D costs by selling surplus aircraft to friendly foreign nations.

What I don’t understand, however, is why a Conservative and apparent patriot like Stephen Harper isn’t chomping at the bit to realize a new Arrow. Frankly, you’d think this is stuff his wet dreams are made of.

What a hero he’d be for Canadian industry! What a great Canadian, correcting a terrible mistake from his party’s past. If only his head was in the game. What’s generally accepted is that the Arrow was the ideal fighter for Canada, and Canada is still just as involved protecting its airspace and conducting, and so we still require an aircraft with similar capabilities.

The recent discovery of a set of two Arrow ejection seats in the UK has re-ignited the persistent rumour that an intact Arrow may have been smuggled out of Canada and flown to the UK, possibly with Hawker Siddeley’s acquisition of Avro Ltd. In the years since the project’s cancellation, bits and pieces of Avro’s projects have turned up across Canada, including the Avro Car, the Avro jet-powered truck and many pieces belonging to the Arrow and Orenda Iroqouis engine projects. Enthusiasts have been trying to generate enough funds to re-assemble a working Arrow with the engines for years now, but without significant capital it is unlikely said enthusiasts will go much further than scaled-down wooden mock-ups. Stage props really.

Even if we don’t build new versions of the Arrow, at least give us the chance to build something for ourselves, to demonstrate our expertise and innovation. Our nation needs to be given goals, and the citizens must feel a tangible pride for what their nation accomplishes. Failure to involve yourself in the affairs of the People in this manner is negligent. So again I ask is it wise to allow our nation to procure the F-35? And would we rather deal with the consequences of that purchase, or create our own solution?

At the end of the day, you can’t assume you’ll get much vision from free-market enterprise. Someone must instigate a nation’s dreams.