On the eve of the Quebec election, rabble.ca is proud to showcase profiles of nine individuals amongst the hundreds of thousands who have proudly worn the red square of solidarity with the historic Quebec student strike.
Contrary to the wishes of Quebec’s establishment, tomorrow’s vote, regardless of the result, will not mark the end of what has come to be known as the Maple Spring. The impact and the inspiration provided by Quebec’s carrés rouges, which has spread all across Canada and even around the world, will long outlast Jean Charest.
Journalists Jane Gatensby and Nicolas Quiazua compiled these profiles over several weeks this summer. We will feature them throughout today and tomorrow, Labour Day and Election Day in Quebec.
At Touski, a cafe co-op in Montréal’s Centre-Sud neighbourhood, student movement propaganda abounds. Posters with slogans like ‘Plan Mort’ (Dead Plan) and ‘Charest dehors!’ (Charest out!) hang on a wall near the kitchen.
Next to the entrance sits a stack of newsletters from the anti-capitalist group CLAC, which our interviewee, Camille Robert, was reportedly affiliated with before joining the ranks of CLASSE’s spokespeople.
At a picnic table in Touski’s backyard, Robert shares her grievances with the current government.
“Shale gas exploitation, the Plan Nord, there’s worries for the ecosystem and native communities […] the hike in daycare fees, in electricity rates, a new health tax,” the UQAM student lists. “For years, policies that benefit the few have been multiplying.”
As Robert explains, CLASSE’s objective is to stop the coming hike in the spirit of free education. From there, anything is possible. “I think that our role is to highlight many contradictions […] to give a voice to dissent.”
Throughout our conversation, Robert maintains an optimistic tone. “Actually, we’ve mainly felt acceptance,” she answers when asked what she thinks of how the student conflict is often presented as a fight between generations. “Soon after the student movement began, it spread to include members of the general population. That was visible at protests. Our demands touched on those of others […] elderly people, families. There was already a revolt ready to happen, it only took the movement to wake it.”
She admits that her organization’s struggle has had a polarising effect on Quebec society, but sees this as a good thing.
“We so rarely debate ideas […] to me, polarisation and position-taking on issues like this […] can be beneficial. It pushes people to reflect and discuss, and we don’t necessarily see that in an election period.”
According to Robert, the elections will not be enough to fix the social crisis. “We’ve managed to awaken a certain consciousness of direct democracy,” she says. CLASSE, known for its mistrust of representative politics, will not be “[telling] anyone to vote for any particular party, or even to vote at all. We know that some people are critical of the electoral system, they don’t see it as representative.”
This is a few days before still-striking cégeps will take their strike votes, and although Robert makes it clear that she cannot yet offer CLASSE’s position on the matter (this will be decided on at the federation’s next General Assembly), she does express the opinion that “opportunities like this […] there aren’t very many of them in history. It’s important to carry out the decisions we made in our general assemblies to their conclusion.”
The special law, she explains, is one of the biggest obstacles to reconvening the strike.
“Law 12 tries to reduce a vote in a general assembly to a personal boycott, by prohibiting blocking [and] protesting on campus. To us, that’s illegitimate, and that’s why we’ll continue to fight it in the courts […] and call on people to disobey it,” she says.
“The student movement has never before been repressed so severely by police, by the courts, by the legislative system. But for now, we feel that people are very energized […] they’re not going to be discouraged by a police baton.”
Jane Gatensby is a news reporter for The McGill Daily and a contributor to Ceasefire Magazine. Nicolas Quiazua is Editor-in-Chief at Le Délit.
The interview for this profile was conducted in French and translated by Jane Gatensby.
Photo by Nicolas Quiazua.