What we owe the striking Quebec students

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $5 per month!

It's membership time. Cultivate Canada's media. Support rabble.ca. Become a member.

Speaking of debts, as most governments now do in order to explain why they can't create anything and need to cut back on whatever is already there, here's what I think we owe to those striking Quebec students.

We owe them for taking a shot at saving our national honour in the eyes of the world. We've lost brownie points on the environment, our even-handedness in areas like the Mideast, our commitment to peacekeeping -- but their campaign for equal, publicly funded access to higher education hits a note closer to that other, previous Canada. I should add I don't begrudge the Harper government its shifts; it's what they said they'd do. But they don't reflect the attitudes still held by more than 60 per cent of the population -- at least according to how they vote.

We owe them for striking a blow on behalf of public discourse. I'm thinking here of the term entitlements, which has replaced rights in the discussion. When did health, housing, a dignified retirement, etc., stop being human rights and turn into shabby, whiny entitlements? It didn't just happen. There's a linguistic war on, and it isn't French versus English; it's over politically loaded terms.

The students have fought this one on the issue of free -- in the sense of publicly funded -- post-secondary education. If post-secondary seems a bridge too far, think about this: any argument you can make against accessible post-secondary schooling, would apply in exactly the same way to high schools and elementary. In fact, during the last Depression, when high school still wasn't widely available, there were the same arguments you hear now about how we couldn't afford it. It was then, in that economic mess, that the fight was fought. I'm not talking about Quebec; it happened here in Ontario. The students aren't just out to save a few bucks personally; they're fighting for a historic principle.

OK, now having opened the door, as they say in the courtroom shows, I suppose I have to address the cry: There isn't enough money! Along with its twin: The numbers don't lie. Actually, since numbers are animated by people, they do anything people do: they lie, obscure, omit -- so let me just point this out: When something is a widely agreed social priority, the numbers obediently adjust. The money gets found. That happens in every war and natural disaster. In those cases nobody ever says there's no money. They raise taxes, rejig priorities, rearrange financial schedules. Suddenly it's no prob. In other words, this isn't just about economics, it's about politics. There's clearly more to be said on this but that's true with all serious issues.

Here are some more things we're indebted to those students for:

A good democratic moment. It happened when the Charest government offered a weak compromise. The student leaders didn't say yes or no. They sent it to their members, who voted it down. This is the opposite of what happened in the Greek crisis. The prime minister said his people should get to vote on the harsh terms of a bailout; the international bankers vetoed that and sacked him.

A good old-tyme strike. This may be your last chance to see one before they're all sent to the Museum of Civilization -- the way the Harper people are banning them long before they ever start. As in any good strike (and yes, there are bad ones), the outcome hangs on the public's reaction.

We're seeing a fresh start for the public imagination. Do you ever tire of hearing about everything that's now impossible and how we need to get real? It's only in the last few decades that governments became bodies exclusively devoted to eliminating whatever was once built by and for everyone -- like public education. Those days lie within historical memory -- at a time when our society was less wealthy and its people less educated. They're also sometimes just a plane ride away, like Finland, where schooling is free right through university -- and it's a lot like Canada, except without our natural resources! It isn't undoable, it's merely become unthinkable, except for those neat students in the streets of Quebec.

They are our Indignados and we owe them.

This article was first published in the Toronto Star.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.