I just got back from the biggest demonstration I've ever been on, maybe the biggest in Canadian history. Some of the signs said "Printemps Erable" (maple spring, a play on words in French), and it sure felt like it. In a massive show of solidarity, Quebec students not only said "no" to fare hikes but "no" to a neo-liberal agenda that says the poor, students and workers have to pay for the crisis of capitalism. Estimates are between 200,000 and 300,000 marchers.
"I'm not sympathetic," someone posted on my Twitter feed. "They have the lowest tuition fees in Canada." Exactly, and the reason is two-fold. First, every time the Quebec government has tried to raise tuition fees, Quebec students have gone on strike to stop the hikes. Secondly, Quebec society still believes that taxes should pay for accessible education, health care and a social security net.
I have never seen anything like the energy of this march. It was inspiring. Students have been building to this day of action for a month or more with university after university, faculty after faculty, going out on strike. This week, there were demonstrations almost every day. A couple of days ago, they shut down two bridges into Montreal. On Sunday, there was a family march where parents could support their children.
But this was amazing! In February 2003, 150,000 Quebecois came into the streets to protest the war in Iraq. It was a major reason Jean Chretien didn't support the U.S. invasion. It is hard to see how the Charest government can ignore this level of mobilization. It was clear from the streets that most people supported them too.
It is incredible that there has been almost no coverage of this extraordinary uprising of young people in Quebec in English Canada. If there is an Arab Spring in Canada, this is it.