Quebec’s education minister is a hypocrite

François Blais says that parents shouldn’t bring children to protests, even when the issue is kids’ education.

school chain

Most politicians are pretty poorly placed to lecture parents about exploiting children for political purposes, yet that didn’t stop Quebec education minister François Blais from blubbering Tuesday that he thought it was poor parenting to include children in the human-chain protests that took place at 270 schools across the province.

The event was organized by Je protège mon école publique, an initiative launched last spring by parents who wanted to show support for schools struggling to maintain services in the face of austerity measures taken by the Couillard Liberal government. After an estimated 20,000 parents, children and teachers expressed solidarity Tuesday in the fight to protect public investment in the education system, Blais tried to shift the spotlight away from what his government is doing by attacking the parenting of the protesters.

“The role that children played in some places upset me. Children should not be involved in politics. What disappoints me is using children to promote slogans that they don’t understand, to repeat half-truths that they can’t understand,” Blais told reporters.

Blais was talking about kids holding up signs that said things like “I love my school,” “No to cutbacks” and “Pour une école publique de qualité,” not placards debating the merits of Keynesian economics vs. austerity during recessionary periods marked by record-low interest rates. But I digress.

Let’s get back to the education minister who thinks parents shouldn’t be encouraging their kids to get involved in issues that directly affect them because they are too young to understand the intricacies of public policy.

First of all, making children aware of how the world works is pretty much #1 in the Parental Handbook. Teaching them to be aware of their surroundings, to protect themselves and to voice their concerns are certainly on the Top 10 list of Parenting 101.

What’s not on the list is telling children that the reason for the protest outside of their school is “none of your business, now hurry inside because the minister is afraid people will think it has something to do with your education.”


Were the parents using their children to help get a political message across?  Of course they were. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s something we see every day when the political issue involves the welfare of those same children, whether it’s safety in the playground or access to affordable daycare. Children are the very reason for the protests, and demanding they be invisible is much more political and exploitative than having them hold picket signs saying “J’aime mon école.”


Blais (centre) with kids


It’s not hard to find photos of Blais himself surrounded by school kids, including pictures taken in May when he announced a $25,000 grant from his ministry for improvements to an elementary school’s playground in his own riding of Charlesbourg. The official press release for the occasion makes no mention of keeping the kids indoors to avoid appearing like the minister was exploiting them for electoral purposes — and one has to wonder whether Blais had permission from the parents of “Léa, Kelly-Ann, Liam, Ismaël and Khadija” to use their kids to promote his political career.

Blais even had the balls to make his comments while visiting a new school in Lévis, photographed and filmed in front of the deliberately chosen backdrop of hundreds of kids excited about their first day in the $12-million primary school.


So the minister of education doesn’t want children to be seen or heard in any context that is critical of government policies, even under the direct supervision of their parents, but he’s fine with using them in his own photo-ops for the latest school opening.

This isn’t surprising coming from the man who told the administrators of the Université du Québec à Montréal last spring that they should make an example of student protesters by expelling a few every day until the rest get the message.

The arrogance doesn’t bode well for the next few months as Blais will not only face a resurgence of the student protest movement, but a simultaneous mass mobilisation of teachers and education professionals fighting to protect their working conditions as their contracts are renegotiated. Combined with the growing solidarity movement represented by groups like Je protège mon école publique, the pressure on the education minister will easily eclipse the Printemps Érable student protests of 2012. That movement not only took down the minister, Line Beauchamp, but eventually cost the Liberals the government.

To weather the storm, Quebec needs an education minister skilled in the art of diplomacy and compromise, not one who antagonizes and infantilizes his critics. ■
Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.