Just in time for the 100th day of Quebec's student strike comes a birthday present of epic proportions for the indefatigable students.
A QMI/Leger Marketing poll released early Tuesday morning by the Journal de Montreal bore the banner headline "Le gouvernment va trop loin" (The government has gone too far).
On the central question of whether respondents supported the government or the students in the ongoing conflict over increases to tuition fees, the poll found a stunning 18 point shift from the government to the students, compared to a poll taken ten days earlier. Although this shift still leaves the students trailing the government by 8 points, the momentum is clearly on their side.
On the question of whether the controversial, and likely unconstitutional, special law known as Loi 78 went "too far," 53 per cent agreed that it did, while 32 per cent judged it to be fair and balanced and 8 per cent thought it didn't go far enough.
Seventy-three per cent thought the extraordinary law, which critics have compared to the War Measures Act and the dark days of the Duplessis era, would fail to achieve Charest's stated goal of "restoring social peace." Three out of four respondents also supported the immediate resumption of negotiations between students and government, a firm repudiation of the Charest government's refusal to negotiate.
Disastrous as these numbers are for Charest, this may only be the beginning. The more the population analyzes the law, the more they will question it, according to Christian Bourque, Executive Vice President with Leger Marketing. He attributes the collapse in support for the government to Loi 78, noting "it's the only thing which has changed since the last poll".
For those of us on the ground here in Quebec, it seemed evident as soon as Loi 78 was introduced that Charest had overplayed his hand. In a province which has lived through the quiet revolution and the War Measures Act it seemed unlikely that we would fail to notice or care if our fundamental freedoms were curtailed.
The bill suspended the semester of striking institutions, to be resumed in late summer. It outlawed protests within fifty meters of an educational institution (rendering the downtown core a no-go zone), and protests whose details, including precise route, had not been communicated to police eight hours in advance. It also gave police the right to cancel a duly advertised demonstration, and imposed heavy fines for student organizations, organizers and simple citizens judged to have disobeyed the law. It is written so broadly that anyone communicating the details of an "illegal" protest, on twitter for example, could be severely fined.
Perhaps the most concerning, and under-reported, provision of the law would allow the government to cancel the payment of dues to a student association or federation at a rate of one semester for each day or part thereof they were judged in violation of the law. Coupled with the reverse onus provision, which would force associations to prove members or supporters breaking the law were not acting on behalf of the association, this would allow Charest to effectively eliminate troublesome student associations and federations for a decade or longer. Would that we could all dispatch our enemies so easily!
Probably knowing the law would never survive a court challenge on constitutional grounds, the Liberals set it to expire in one year, before any challenge would likely be heard.
Over the weekend since Loi 78 was passed by the National Assembly it has been denounced by everyone from the Quebec Bar Association to pro-hike student groups. The Arcade Fire wore the emblematic red square symbol of the student strike during an appearance on Saturday Night Live, as did Xavier Dolan and his entourage at Cannes. Michael Moore waded in, pledging his support on twitter, and local boy turned Hollywood comedian Jon Lajoie publicly defied the law by releasing a "Song for Students" which ends with a call for viewers to join the mass demonstration organized for today to celebrate the 100th day of the strike.
But it wasn't just celebrities who took a dim view of the law. As demonstrations unfolded over the weekend it seemed that every bystander was suddenly cheering, every idled car honking in support and whole terraces full of people standing to applaud as the students went by. The last, and only, time I witnessed such a sudden shift in public opinion as this poll shows was during last May's orange wave.
Then too there was a palpable shift on the streets of Montreal. A sudden unanimity.
For my money Charest has already lost, at this point he's fighting history, and history always wins. Pauvre Jean, your summer of hell is only just starting...
A monster demonstration against Loi 78 and in celebration of the 100th day of the student strike has been called for TODAY (May 22) at 2PM at Place des Arts Metro.
If you are unable to attend, Concordia University Television (CUTV) have been revolutionizing how we interact with social movements by livestreaming the daily protests over the internet. Tune in! But remember, electronic copies are never as good as the real thing!
You can also follow me on twitter for live updates from the demo: @EthanCoxMTL