Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville is facing fierce criticism for comments he made about the relative worth of teachers' work in a video interview Monday with the editorial team at Le Devoir.
Political columnist Michel David asked Drainville about negotiations with the province's teachers, who have been offered a nine per cent increase over five years.
David asked why teachers shouldn't be paid as much as they are in Ontario or elsewhere in Canada, given that the Coalition Avenir Québec government has tabled a bill to grant MNAs a 30 per cent raise, which would make them the highest-paid members of any provincial legislature in the country.
In a response that has now been widely shared online, Drainville frowned and asked David, "Are you really comparing the job of being a teacher to the job of being an MNA? You're telling me that they're comparable?"
Drainville prefaced those remarks by saying he agrees that teachers deserve to be better paid, but then accused David of making a comparison that is "shaky" and even "a tad demagogic."
He went on to say he hopes "teachers are paid the best possible amount because they — especially women — play an important role in our society," but pointed out they already received a 14 to 18 per cent raise in their last collective agreement.
Opposition, teachers' unions pounce
Opposition politicians and unions have assailed Drainville for questioning whether a teacher and an MNA could be compared, saying the education minister's comments betray his contempt for teachers, and his attitude shows how Quebec power brokers view the profession.
"What contempt! What arrogance!" Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, wrote in a Twitter thread. He said his partner is an elementary school teacher.
"There is not much in life that angers me more than this haughty and condescending attitude of political leaders. How can we have such a high opinion of ourselves and so little regard for the people we are supposed to serve?"
The Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE), the federation of unions representing 50,000 teachers across the province, posted a graphic on Twitter with a photo of Drainville that said, "What Drainville thinks and says about teachers."
Minister clarifies: all workers deserve 'same respect'
Drainville has also taken to the social media platform, saying he wanted to add context to his remarks.
He said he didn't mean to insinuate that the work of a teacher is less important than that of an MNA.
"All professions and trades deserve the same respect, whether you are a teacher, a nurse, a machinist, a plumber, etc.," Drainville wrote.
But the social media storm continues.
Marwah Rizqy, the Quebec Liberal Party's education critic, also reviled Drainville's remarks, reposting on Twitter an excerpt from Le Devoir interview's interview. "Five seconds of contempt," she labelled it.
"I was a teacher at university, and despite this experience, I was burnt out after a week as a teacher in a fifth-grade class. After several months of work as a substitute, I can say that a teacher can be an excellent MNA, but the opposite is less true! #Contempt," Rizqy posted.
Parti Québécois education spokesperson Pascal Bérubé called the minister's remarks "disappointing." On Twitter, he said he held an undergraduate degree in education and that his father had been a teacher, "to tell you the respect I have for this profession."
In the interview with Le Devoir, Drainville defended aspects of his proposed school reform — including granting the Education Ministry power to pick the people to run school service centres, including English-language school boards, instead of leaving those hiring decisions to the centres' members or school board commissioners. Drainville also want to give the ministry more power over teacher training.