Quebec’s school system may be victim of “new democracy”

This article focuses on the P.Q. Government’s plans to restructure the provinces education system. It was published in the Calgary Herald, March 25, 1982.

The Quebec government will soon introduce legislation that would abolish locally-elected, confessional school boards and redesign Quebec’s education system around unified regional councils that would bring schools more directly under the control of the province’s Ministry of Education. The move has alarmed some Quebeckers, and in this article, William Brooks, a Montreal school commissioner, looks at the issue in the context of what he sees as; the growing centralist tendencies of the Quebec government. He believes “all Canadians should be aware of what we are facing in Quebec.”

Quebec’s scheme to realign and centralize the province’s education structures must be viewed in the context of the larger dilemma that is engulfing Quebec democracy.

The problem stems from a profound public absentmindedness about the historic role of government in our society. We once assumed that “… that government is best which governs least.”

Our constitutional democracy was based on a healthy mistrust of government and aimed to limit the conditions under which the coercion of individual citizens was possible.” Good government” simply meant a viable frame work for peace order and personal freedom.

These principles are gradually disappearing as our government continues to empty the content of the words we came to know them by.

The most obvious example of this is a fundamental change in the meaning of the term “law.” To our liberal, constitutional forefathers the term law had a very precise and narrow meaning. Passing laws meant institutionalizing common sense. Law tended to forbid anti-social behaviour in general terms.

Government confined itself to making large proscription rather than detailed prescriptions for society. The law of the land was more likely to say what “thou shalt not do” rather than what “thou shalt do.”

By the same token, individual justice under the law used to mean preserving a society in which the rules applied equally to all. But recent Quebec governments have de-emphasized the principles of individual justice in favour of something called “social” or “collective” justice. The implication is that the government possesses the blueprint for a just society and must impose certain restrictions in order to realise its grand design.

As a result of this perceived new purpose, out provincial legislature is undergoing a profound change. It is constantly confusing its legitimate power to make general laws with its compulsion to regulate the behaviour of the electorate.

In other words, it is no longer making a distinction between laws that which provide general guidelines for society and specific directives which increasingly restrain freedom and regulate our lives. We are witnessing the development of a kind of totalitarian parliament which seems to feel that almost everything should be under its jurisdiction.

Ironically enough, Quebec’s first began to succumb to arbitrary government from charitable motives. We wanted to make people more equal. The initial acceptance of corrective legislation to assist people who were acclaimed to be less fortunate than ourselves was not recognized as discrimination. It was regarded as a form of “affirmative action.”

By the time our present Quebec government was elected, it was clearly assumed that, in order to make people more equal, it would be necessary to treat them unequally.

But by compromising the principle of equal treatment under the law, even for the best of motives, we inevitably opened the door to arbitrary government and unbounded regulation.

Contending that it alone possesses a formula or “social justice,” the Parti Quebecois government is grinding out volumes of regulatory legislation and, since no absolute definition of “social justice” exists, it serves as a universal rational for all varieties of such regulation from language laws to the state regulation of our education systems.

But Quebecers are learning very quickly that then high-minded concept of social justice is an elusive ideal. It has never been fully realized in any society and, more importantly, it is probably furthest from becoming a reality in most of the socialist regimes that have been created in its name.

To allow government to pursue and act in the name of such unattainable goals is a dangerous course of action. It means giving the state carte blanche to meddle in our lives in ever increasing measures.

History and experience teaches us that the only methods governments have of pursuing Utopian objectives such as absolute “equality of result” or so-called “social justice” are those of tyranny and coercion.

The Parti Quebecois has assumed the right to pass redemptive legislation in the name of such goals and the demand for it by particular groups is becoming insatiable. The government has become the plaything of all the separate interest groups it must satisfy in order to secure sufficient support to remain in office. It must favour an array of special interests from labour unions to nationalist movements at public expense for the purpose of political necessity.

Consequently, present Quebec legislators are developing a system of legalized corruption for more onerous than anything that took place under former regimes. The late Maurice Duplessis may be remembered for building roads and bridges in loyal counties, but this was tangible evidence of progress when compared with the millions of tax dollars that have been poured into the Quebec government’s complicated feats of social engineering such as Law 101, the charter of the French language in Quebec.

But, even with the slickest form of double-talk, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time and many Quebeckers are beginning to see the Parti Quebecois’ “new democracy” for what it really is; a well-paved road to political and personal subservience.

Pierre Trudeau once reminded Canadians that the state has no business in our bedrooms. Perhaps it is time for Canadians to remind our politicians that the state may be equally unwelcome in our classrooms and our boardrooms.