Montreal, Ontario (TFC) – Montreal saw thousands of protesters march in the downtown streets to counter the province’s austerity measures. Organizations representing 100,000 students voted in favor of boycotting classes to protest the provincial government’s spending cuts, which target the low and middle income class. These protests have put the government and police on high alert.
Association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante, or ASSE, organized the protest, which began at 1 p.m, on April 1. One of Quebec’s largest student groups says it will continue the protests throughout the spring. ASSE has been the main spark that prompted this year’s student-strike. All of this comes about through the wider context of the Conservatives’ austerity sledgehammer that is being felt across Canada.
Attempts to scare students away from joining this strike saw Education Minister François Blais threaten students with cancelling the entire semester if the strike votes continue. “We know very well in our present financial context, which is extremely difficult and demanding, we can’t imagine that there will be funding for a resumption of classes, next summer or spring,” claimed Blais. Additionally the media coverage was minimal and one sided in most major publications. Only the CBC provided a story with a more empathetic viewpoint, entitled “Quebec student protests: What you need to know.” Other major publications either did not run stories at all, or if they did, the stories were buried in the bowels of their websites or the bleak back pages of their papers.
These protests will be active until the end of the first week of April, then the possibility of protest actions throughout the month and then starting again in the fall.
The larger context of the austerity nails, driven by the neo-liberal agenda in Quebec, are highlighted and outlined by Philippe Couillard in his opening address to Quebec’s national assembly last May. Here, he splattered clear intentions within this framework and emphasized the ‘emergency’ of unbalanced government budgets. Then Couillard maintained that acting “firmly and with decisiveness” toward an economic equation that would equal “more work” and “effort” for the struggling majority, clearly alarmist in tone. This is an all too familiar tenor and rhetoric from government and elites that shift both blame and responsibility to the working class and poor for economic results they are forced to endure and live with, which result from the very government and business elite actions.
From 2000-2008 PQ and Liberal governments denied $9.8 billion in public revenues as a result of economic policy decisions, denied through tax cuts and deductions, largely in favor of the wealthy and corporations. This is shown through documentation by Institut de recherché et d’informations socio economiques (IRIS). In 2010 the Liberal government threw an estimated $1.9 billion in public dollars out, in the form of cuts to corporate taxes, also shown by the IRIS research.
(An IMF report recently chastised Canadian corporations for accumulating idle capital at a faster rate than any other country in the G7.) With an amount of some $625 billion in cash sitting idle, we must wonder if this is “trickle down economics” in action? Paul Martin’s huge tax cuts in 2000-2005 saw revenue thrown out, at approximately $60 billion a year at the federal level.
These protests are not simply angry students with “nothing better to do” or who are perhaps just “bored,” this is a response to overt favoring and pandering to the wealthy minority elite by influenced government officials and representatives. This is reflected in the streets being flooded by student groups, community groups, unions from the health care and education sectors, as well as a growing student consensus and citizen participation. In one day approximately 62,000 university and CEGEP students went on a one-day strike, and other groups voted to continue the strikes. McGill law undergrads and some students from Concordia voted to strike as well.
The 2008 financial crisis saw the world start to question the religion of capitalism and its greed inspired and justified existence, but not in Canada. There is only a continuity of age-old doctrines and an exploitation of the working class. The students and people of Canada are standing against the demonization of unions, community groups, and any voice that attempts to expose the current power structure for what it is. A small wealthy minority who, through fiscal manipulation, ensure greater wealth and prosperity for themselves, while simultaneously maintaining the false narrative of “hard work” and “strong determination” will result in amassed wealth and entrance into “The Club.” This is the lie many are trying to expose, hoping that the echo of the streets will be the pulpit within which Canadian citizens will hear and resonate with that message.