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At the time of writing these lines, the very predictable and unilateral rupture of negotiations by the Charest government has just been announced. The faint glimmer of hope brought on by a few days of discussions has vanished. Student negotiators had accepted the government’s financial frame. In the name of social peace, they had also considered financing university-funding increases in part by accepting a loss in personal fiscal advantages for students.
However, the government refuses any ending whereby the student associations will not submit completely. The compromise is judged insufficient and Michèle Courchesne must slam the door. Later, Jean Charest repeats that any “solution” to the crisis will need to maintain its initial problematic premise! Arrogance and contempt once more, and since day one. Clearly, the students will not give in.
Because they’ve already won!
Let’s not kid ourselves. Short to mid term, the student’s victory is likely to have concrete impact on the initially announced hike – at least in part. But their victory is already much wider than that. Student activism has opened a Pandora’s box kept closed for far too long. Impacts on Jean Charest’s neo-liberal strategy are dramatically real, namely with an electoral strategy that is now completely derailed. Charest the bully, who saw himself winning rapid elections on the backs of kids who would be put in their place, is now stuck, and at risk of losing big time. Liberal strategists are pulling their hair thinking of upcoming elections, and talking of pushing them forward as late as possible.
But what the student movement has accomplished is bigger even, and will make history. For one, the connections between the incredible popular demonstrations of March 22nd (tuition hike), April 22nd (the common good and the environment), and May 22nd (civil disobedience) speak for themselves. We have clearly migrated from an issue that was in theory specific to the student class to the deeper questioning of a system that is exclusively economic (fighting deficits as sole game plan), corrupted, that favours exclusion and has been put forward as the only existing solution by our governments for what seems like eons.
Our youth is saying “No,” and with them, thousands of others are becoming aware of the drowsiness that’s expected of us. The hordes of people, the neighbourhood movements, spontaneous and unifying, coming onto the streets each night to bang on pots and pans are calling not only for elections or for Jean Charest’s resignation. They are clearly calling for a new social contract, a “new deal” to be based on respect and most of all on our rights to a decent life, a healthy environment and a democracy by all and for all.
And to the sound of pots banging, it is all of Quebec that is being refreshed! And with it, the world… Indeed, for millions everywhere, from Denver to Paris, from Cairo to Ramallah, this “Maple Spring” is seen as part of a wider world movement, spanning from Arab revolutions to Greek and Spanish protests, to the Occupy movement’s reaction to austerity. The international solidarity mushrooming everywhere is undeniable, and whatever Monique Gagnon-Tremblay may say, it isn’t futile.
The attention we are receiving from everywhere is creating an extraordinary opportunity. Yesterday, pots and pans were heard in Toronto, Vancouver, Kitchener, Calgary and more. Pan-Canadian student movements are seeking to launch their own debate on access to education. Environmental groups and movements were fascinated by Montreal’s April 22nd turnout and want to keep that ball rolling. Everything is pointing to an opportunity to re-open an old dream and to reach out to progressives all over Canada to build a movement that may focus on the Canadian government as well.
78 and 38: same fight
Sadly though, as history is writing itself in Quebec, Stephen Harper’s government is preparing to have a scam of historical proportions passed with its C-38 bill, directly attacking refugees, workers, welfare beneficiaries, as well as environmental regulations – all under the lid of a “budget” law. With the objective to favour tar sands oil exports and with one swift tip of the wand, Stephen Harper could modify 753 clauses contained in 70 federal laws.
Manon Cornelier recently wrote: “If he succeeds, and if this provokes only tiny ripples outside Parliament, he will deduce that intimidation tactics have worked – again – and that his guarantee of success is to do it again.”
What is occurring in Quebec indicates that we have the political maturity to meet this challenge. What is occurring in Ottawa implies that we have the duty to do so for future generations.
The time has come to move past the old grievances of our two solitudes. Progressives all over Canada are watching this rebel province, sensing a dynamic force at work.
This is a historic rendezvous.
Michel Lambert is the Executive Director of Alternatives.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable, an important resource for anyone following Quebec’s Maple Spring.