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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Another Québec Crisis

Once again in Qu
ébec we see frightened politicians resorting to the use of draconian laws to curtail citizens' rights. The Québec government has just passed a law after a 24 hour debate that will for all intent and purpose is against the guarantees of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am sure they know this but they are counting on the slowness of any challenge as their opportunity to quash the protest of Québec students which have been going on for 15 weeks. The last time we saw this kind of panicked action was Québec politicians convincing the Federal government (or was it the other way around) to invoke the War Measures Act suspending our rights and turning the military loose on citizens.

What started out as students protesting the rise in University tuition has become a crisis in our democracy.

Early days to optimistic demonstration that Education was a Right in Québec and should not be made a privilege with higher tuition fees.

The protests have now begun a period of civil disobedience over a law that denies students rights, of freedom of speech and assembly.

Fifteen weeks ago the Québec government decided that there should be a dramatic increase in the level of tuition for University students. The initial response to the 80% increase in tuition was; No! this is too much and unfair. But from the beginning it was more than just the money.

It was an attempt at a cultural change for Québec. Those of us in the rest of Canada do not appreciate the culture of Québec that involved a greater involvement of government in the lives of people. Québec has a difference ethos that the rest of Canada. It has won this battle. Even the Conservatives recognized Québec as a Nation within our Nation. Québec has it own pension plan, more Unions than other parts of Canada, restrictions on workers coming from other provinces, extensive support of the arts, protections of the French language, etc. With regard to education , education is seen as a right and not a privilege. These means that education is free, or at least that was the ideal. Education is paid for by the government through taxes (Quebec willingly pays the highest taxes in Canada to support their cultural goals, particularly free public education.) It is free through the community college level and it has the lowest tuition for University in Canada (there are those who believe that even University education should be free) For Québecois education is a social and not just a personal good. Society as a collective benefits greatly by making it available to all. In the rest of Canada, higher education is seen as more of an individual good, a privilege for those who can afford it (or go in debt for it) so that they may attain a better job and a higher standard of living, economically and socially.

So with the dramatic increase in University tuition proposed, it was seen as an assault on the very nature of Québec's social project. The ideal of free ( or very low cost) University education was being abandoned. Increasing tuition would make Quebec University funding just like the rest of Canada. The 80% increase over 5 to 7 years would still leave Quebec tuition below the rest of Canada, and in contrast to the cost of American Universities it would be only about 10 to 20 percent less.

Criticisms from outside of Quebec focused on the money amount and saw the pampered Québec students as being unreasonable. If the protests has last only a week or so, I might have agreed but for daily demonstrations over 15 weeks with 10's of thousands of students in the streets daily, it is obvious that this is not just over money.

I am not sure the Liberal government has appreciated this; trying to limit the negotiations to being over money. I would suggest the Liberal government in Québec is in fact a conservative government with the values of federal politics, not fully in line with the ethos of Quebec. It has been lead for years by Jean Charest who was a Federal Progressive Conservative politician before he moved to provincial politics leading the Provincial Liberals when he failed to become the leader of the federal Conservatives. In the years he has lead the Liberal party, the party has been the defender of federalism in Québec. Québec has now moved beyond this. The youth are no longer angry at the rest of Canada as their parents were. They are comfortable with the relationship with the rest of Canada. We saw with the defeat of the separatist party, the Bloc Québécois and the support of the New Democrats in the last federal election. Similarly, the rest of Canada has become comfortable with Québec's special political and social status in Canada. (at least of the time being).

Québec University students have risen up to defend the uniqueness of Québec in the face of the rise in tuition which treats education just like in the rest of Canada. Their protest is: we are not just like the rest of Canada and will not be treated as such. In fact, some of the Québec students, don't understand why more students in the rest of Canada do not support them and try to be more like them and fight tuition increases and struggle for the day when University education will be easily available to all those who qualify academically alone.

There has been a year long student struggle for equality in education and lower tuition in Chile. The comparisons are interesting for they are both a struggle for the culture of the respective societies.

To understand Québec one must learn it's history. Until the Quiet Revolution in the 1960's Quebec was dominated by the English and a small group of the French elite. The vast majority of French speaking
Québécois were, loggers, minors, farmers, labourer etc. They were a large underclass who were dominated by the English and in most businesses and institutions seldom could rise to the managerial level. One author referred to French Canadians as "white niggers". The Catholic Church as part of the French elite dominated the lives of "les habitants ". It kept the mass of French Canadians in their place.

The last Québec government to maintain this system was that of the Union Nationale of Duplessis. It was defeated by the Liberal government of Jean Lesage. In a few short years, great changes came to Quebec. As a result of the Parent Commission five volume Report Québec's education system was radically changed. A Province wide system was set up with control being taken away from many small local boards (no doubt dominated by the clergy). The classical colleges were closed. Community Colleges were developed and education was free up to this level with an expectation that eventually it would be free to university as well. Education was to be the institution to transform Québec; and it did. Quebec is in many was the most progressive region of Canada. Once it has the highest birthrate and now it has the lowest. It has the most common law "marriage" arrangement in Canada, it has very inexpensive, $7 a day, public child care. Montreal is the most accepting of the homosexual community in Canada. The language law has protected the French language and made French the language of business in Quebec. The Arts in Québec flourish is spite of the relative small population, isolated by language and culture, (more likely because of it. Education was the key to the transformation of Québec.

I am not sure what will be the result of the Québec governments draconian legislation. In the end, they may suppress dissent by students, and be able to impose tuition increases. I do know that there will be court cases testing aspects of this law and they will be found unconstitutional.

In the meantime, students seem determined to resist this law. The numbers of protesters may actually increase as even students who did not protest the tuition increases will protest the loss of their rights. Other social and labour groups will recognize the threat and join the protests.

I would like to think that Canadians, all over Canada would travel to Québec and join the student challenges to this law. Tuesday there is to be a large protest in the streets. I can only dream that millions of Canadians from all across the country will be there the stand up for the rights of Québec students at the same time standing up for the rights of us all under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


At 5:22 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

Will our governments ever learn that the students of today are the future... and if they keep on making it almost impossible for none but the rich to get an education then you can see who will be ruling us and, there we go again ... the 1% in control !!

At 11:37 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even with tuition increases Quebec will still have the lowest university fees in Canada. Yet they also have the lowest university attendance in Canada. Higher fees would appear to make university actually more valuable to those wanting it. Their lower fees are being supported by the taxes of other Canadians living in ohter provinces because of our equalization payment system. This needs to change. Some are comparing Quebec's idealism to the very unrealistic expectations of Greece. Two-thirds of Quebec students have not been on the streets but trying to attend classes where they have been bullied, threatened and prevented from attending. Yet a weak government initially allowed the protesters to break the law with no penalty. This emboldened them and the students continued to flaunt the law. The government made them an offer and the students tore it up. The Minister of Education quit. Now the government has overreacted with a draconian law. I don't know how it will end. Anarchy is on the streets of Montreal at night. The situation is much more complex than your blog indicates and the original goal is now lost in the chaos. Peace, order and good government are only achievable with the cooperation of citizens.

At 9:29 a.m., Blogger Navigator said...

What message does it send if the Quebec government declares martial law, as is being bandied about in the media today, and effectively cracks down on demonstrators? What message does it send if the Quebec government caves in to violent demonstrations and abandons its commitment to raising tuition fees? How do legitimate protestors distinguish themselves from goons who are simply interested in anarchy, breaking windows and setting fires? How should the police deal with that particular problem? Or do you simply not see that as a problem?

These are questions you should be asking yourself if you intend to write blog posts on this subject, instead of being just a cheerleader for pampered Quebec students.

If you don't like what a government does, you vote it out of office. That is called "the democratic process". It may be time for the Charest government to go (there is an election next year, I believe), but public sympathy will ultimately swing behind it if the violence and disruption continue in the streets of Montreal and may just be enough to ensure Charest another term in office if he can effectively stop it -- completely defeating the purpose of the demonstrators.

I doubt very much you are going to get your wish with young people flooding into Quebec to join this thing. Many people outside of Quebec are aware that this French socialist paradise of which you are so enamoured is financially supported by the taxpayers of Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C., (and formerly by Ontario, until it elected a Liberal government) all of whom do not enjoy the level of benefits Quebecers take for granted. The idea behind equalization payments was to draw a national bottom line on social benefits, not elevate a single province to be the king of the hill in entitlements.

The reason why Quebec grabs nearly half of the available equalization payments is because its economy is crap, and has been for quite some time. You should ask yourself why that should be the case where higher education is often touted as the great stimulus to the economy and Quebec has the lowest financial barriers to such education.

I saw in the newspaper this morning that a U.of T. law graduate paid off his student loan in one go -- $144,000. The son of one of my best friends just graduated last year from McGill University law school -- his tuition was $150 a year. Incidentally, on graduation, he promptly moved to New York City where he got a very well-paid job in a prestigious and powerful NY law firm. So much for the value of cheap education in the province of Quebec.

Next you will be suggesting that we should all protest at Queen's Park to roll back the 2% tax surcharge on incomes above $200,000 as being unfair to the wealthy.

At 10:38 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

You've picked up some right-wingers there Philip. Don't you love it when they get all pi$$y?

It's not about the fees anymore, ladies and gentlemen. It's about undemocratic legislation. These are now peaceful protests by people of all ages. They are protesting the legislation, not so much the tuition hikes.


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