The student movement which reached its 100th day on May 22nd was attended by half a million protesters including students, educators and people from many communities and businesses in and outside of the province was a strong movement that echoed its message in other parts of the world including New York, Vancouver, Calgary and Paris.
If you read none of this piece, I urge you please, to take a look at this link to have a modicum of fair and informed knowledge about what has been transpiring in Montreal for the last 101 days between students and the incumbent government of Premier Jean Charest. The rest of this piece will shed more insight with references and links to news from various media articles.
The student movement is and always has been a peaceful movement, which actually represents a large portion of Québec society and their values, and not only a fringe, radical movement of a few spoiled, self-entitled brats, which is the image the Canadian media is giving the Québec students by repeating the same broken record of an argument, that "Québec students pay the lowest tuition in the country. "
The student strikes are far deeper than what they seem on the surface. In fact a study into their recent history will easily reveal that the student strike is not simply related to increased tuition fees, but to much broader issues affecting all of society. Some of these important leading events were the Salon Plan Nord (where the contrast between the government's planned investment of 30 billion dollars or so for environmentally destructive development and potentially corrupt projects on Inuit land and their 'lack of funds' for education became clearer.)
In the light of Premier Charest's proposed increase of student loan limits but not freezing of the fees (which brought the issue of student debt to light), the education minister, Line Beauchamp, resigned, stating her reason for her action not as the consequence of the riots but that she did not see herself as part of the solution. She was immediately replaced by Michelle Courchesne, who immediately drafted and signed Law 78 which raises the fact that Mr Charest once again hides behind his ministers – rather than facing his responsibilities as the leader of a province and solving issues, but rather attacking the youth with police force that used clubs and pepper spray to subdue them.
History has demonstrated in many instances that power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Montréal has been living riveting examples of this during the last three months through her most promising potential: the students of today; the intellects of her tomorrow. Nations who try killing the spirit of their youth by burdening them with physical, psychological and financial scars, while their leaders spend millions of unaccounted and unnecesssary dollars to exercise their power are bound to fail in the long term. Mr Charest is only a provincial example. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is no less corrupt and unscrupulous when it comes to squandering and increasing the annual federal spending to $276 billion — an increase of nearly 30 per cent, since he came to power in 2006.
Students are the conscience and the pulse of a society. We need to listen to them with open ears and unbiased hearts. They have limited means to express what they believe is right and is important for their future. Our generation cannot be too proud with the legacy we are about to leave them. The least we can do is allow them the right to free education and development of their potentials and intellect so that they will, if we are lucky, find solutions to the problems we have created so irresponsibly in our reckless life times.
Finally, I would like to share the following letter which was sent out by Professor Daniel Weinstock, Director of the University of Montreal, Centre for Research in Ethics, on the day of the march of the half million in Montreal to mark the 100th day of this movement.
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An Open Letter to English-Canadians, who might be feeling that Quebeckers have taken leave of their senses.
An open letter to my English-Canadian friends. Please circulate in your networks as you see fit.
You may have heard that there has been some turmoil in Quebec in recent weeks. There have been demonstrations in the streets of Montreal every night for almost a month now, and a massive demonstration will be happening tomorrow, which I will be attending, along with my wife, Elizabeth Elbourne, and my eldest daughter Emma.
Reading the Anglo-Canadian press, it strikes me that you have been getting a very fragmented and biased picture of what is going on. Given the gulf that has already emerged between Quebec and the rest of Canada in the wake of the 2011 election, it is important that the issues under discussion here at least be represented clearly. You may decide at the end of the day that we are crazy, but at least you should reach that decision on the basis of the facts, rather than of the distortions that have been served up by the G&M and other outlets.
First, the matter of the tuition hikes, which touched off this mess. The rest of the country seems to have reached the conclusion that the students are spoiled, selfish brats, who would still be paying the lowest tuition fees even if the whole of the proposed increase went through.
The first thing to say is that this is an odd conception of selfishness. Students have been sticking with the strikes even knowing that they may suffer deleterious consequences, both financial and academic. They have been marching every night despite the threat of beatings, tear-gas, rubber bullets, and arrests. It is, of course, easier for the right-wing media to dismiss them if they can be portrayed as selfish kids to whom no -one has ever said "no". But there is clearly an issue of principle here.
OK, then. But maybe the principle is the wrong one. Free tuition may just be a pie-in-the sky idea that mature people give up on when they put away childish things. And besides, why should other people pay for the students' "free" tuition? There is no such thing as "free" education. Someone, somewhere, has to pay. And the students, the criticism continues, are simply refusing to pay their "fair share".
Why is that criticism simplistic? Because the students' claim has never been that they should not pay for education. The question is whether they should do so up front, before they have income, or later, as taxpayers in a progressive taxation scheme. Another question has to do with the degree to which Universities should be funded by everyone, or primarily by those who attend them. So the issue of how to fund Universities justly is complicated. We have to figure out at what point in people's lives they should be paying for their education, and we also have to figure out how much of the bill should be footed by those who do not attend, but who benefit from a University-educated work force of doctors, lawyers, etc. The students' answer to this question may not be the best, but then it does not strike me that the government's is all that thought out either.
And at least the students have been trying to make ARGUMENTS and to engage the government and the rest of society in debate, whereas the government's attitude, other than to invoke the in-this-context-meaningless "everyone pays their faire share" argument like a mantra, has been to say "Shut up, and obey".
What strikes the balance in the students' favour in the Quebec context is that the ideal of no up-front financial hurdles to University access is enshrined in some of the most foundational documents of Quebec's Quiet Revolution, in particular the Parent Commission Report, which wrested control of schools from the Church and created the modern Quebec education system, a cornerstone of the kind of society that many Quebeckers see themselves as aspiring to. Now, it could be that that ideal is no longer viable, or that we may no longer want to subscribe to it. But moving away from it, as Charest's measures have done, at least requires a debate, analogous to the debate that would have to be had if the Feds proposed to scrap the Canada Health Act. It is clearly not just an administrative measure. It is political through and through. Indeed it strikes at fundamental questions about the kind of society we want to live in. If this isn't the sort of thing that requires democratic debate, I don't know what is.
So that is why tomorrow I will be taking a walk in downtown Montreal with (hopefully!) hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens. Again, you are all free to disagree, but at least don't let it be because of the completely distorted picture of what is going on here that you have been getting from media outlets, including some from which we might have expected more.
Füsun Atalay ~ Copyright © Will of my Own - 2012
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