Quebec shelves controversial new history course

Quebec's education minister is refusing to sign off on a contentious new high school history program that has been harshly criticized by the province's minority communities.

First Nations groups, representatives of province's anglophone community among critics of plan

Quebec Education Minister Sébastien Proulx is seeking to assure the curriculum's critics that he is listening to their concerns. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx's decision to shelve a proposed reform of Quebec's high school history curriculum is being welcomed by critics who worried it shut out minorities. 

A spokesperson for Proulx told CBC News that Quebec's Education Department will delay the implementation of the new curriculum, pending the results of a pilot project.

"Many consultations have taken place, and improvements are constantly being made," Marie-Ève Dion said in an email.

"The goal of the new program is to be as representative and inclusive as possible."

Government troops scatter the insurgents and torch the church at the Battle of Saint-Eustache in 1837. The province's new two-year history course focuses heavily on conflict, one history teacher says. ( Library and Archives Canada )

The curriculum had initially been scheduled to be rolled out in the new school year, but that timeline will now likely be pushed back. 

An early draft of the proposed curriculum proved controversial to many observers, who pointed out it made little room for the experiences of Aboriginal people, anglophones and immigrants. 

Critics of that early draft hope the delay is a sign the government is taking the time to address their concerns.   

It was a deeply conservative, nationalist take on Quebec's past.- EMSB history teacher John Commins

"It's good news for all students in Quebec," said John Commins, a longtime history teacher in the English Montreal School Board who had reviewed the proposed new curriculum. 

"This course didn't speak to every component of Quebec society."

When drafts of the new history curriculum were circulated by the CBC earlier this year, Aboriginal activists pointed out there was little mention of residential schools. That's despite a key recommendation from Canada's Truth and Reconciliation commission that the experience of generations of Aboriginal Canadians be integrated into every province's curriculum.

There was also scant mention of the Irish, Italians, Greeks – or any of the other immigrant groups who make up Quebec society. 

"It was deeply conservative, nationalist take on Quebec's past," said Commins. "I'm hoping there can be other influences brought to bear on the program."

'Step in right direction'

The Quebec Community Groups' Network — an umbrella organization for English-language minority groups across the province — had expressed concerns that English-speaking Quebecers were only mentioned twice in the curriculum.

They, too, welcomed Proulx's decision to ice the proposed reforms, calling it "a step in the right direction."

The new curriculum was the initiative of the previous Parti Québécois government. It was meant to replace the 2006 edition of the provincial curriculum which was criticized for attempting to cram too much history into a single year of instruction. 

The new curriculum proposes to break up the required history course over Secondary III and IV.