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Organize, Imagine, and Act: How a Student Movement Can Become a Revolution
And so it seems that the student strike in Quebec is slowing down and nearing an end, as the college – CEGEPs – in Quebec have voted to return to class, with roughly 10,000 students having voted to continue the strike, a far reduction from the 175,000 students that were on strike in late April and early May. The strike began in February of 2012 in opposition to a planned 75% increase in the cost of tuition. The students mobilized massive numbers, held mass protests, undertook picket lines at schools, expanded the issue into a wider social movement, and were consistently met with state violence in the form of riot police, pepper spray, tear gas, beatings with batons, being shot with rubber bullets, even being trampled by horses and driven into by police cars. The government enacted Bill 78, assaulting the rights to freely assemble and speak, and put a ‘pause’ on the school semester to end picket actions. Now that the school semester is starting back up again, and an election looms in the coming weeks, the students are being led away from the streets and into voting booths. The ‘Maple Spring’ has become the ‘Fall Election’.
Meanwhile, in Chile, where a student movement that began in May and June of 2011, mobilized against a highly privatized education system, is continuing with renewed energy. There had been ups and downs of actions and mobilizations within Chile over the past 15 months, but in mid-August of 2012, the resurgence was seen as students began occupying high schools, blocking streets, and undertaking mass protests. Students who took part in the occupations were threatened with having their scholarships removed. In over a year of protesting, the students have not seen any meaningful changes to their educational system, or even inclinations that those in power were listening to their demands with anything other than disdain and contempt. The students have long been met with state violence, from the oppressive apparatus of a former military dictatorship, fighting an educational system which was established near the end of the military dictatorship. Riot police would meet students with tear gas, water cannons, batons, mass arrests, and other forms of assault. Police have subsequently stormed the high schools and arrested over a hundred students participating in the occupations. This caused the university students to get more involved, and they occupied the Universidad de Chile, which had not been occupied since the beginning of the movement the previous year (often known as the Chilean Winter).
In Chile, as in Quebec, protests and marches and even the right to demonstrate are frequently declared to be illegal. In both Chile and Quebec, when protests erupted into violence (which is more often than not incited by the police themselves), these are called “riots,” and they are used in the media and public discourse to portray the movements as violent, extremist, trouble-makers, vandals, and criminals. This is designed to reduce public support for the protests (which was far more successful in Quebec than Chile), and to subsequently dismiss the demands of the students. There are, in fact, a wider variety of similarities and interesting comparisons between the Chilean Winter and the Maple Spring. Chilean students and academics have even expressed solidarity with the Quebec student movement.
We face an issue here. The student movements don’t seem to be getting anywhere substantial in terms of establishing some sort of meaningful change. This is not to say they have not achieved anything; quite the opposite, in fact. The student movements have been successful at mobilization large numbers of people, organizing protests and indeed, in politicizing a generation, which is their most sincere and important success to date. Students have suffered under propaganda campaigns, violent repression, legal intimidation, and, most of all, the determination of an elite who view any and every minor concession as the ultimate unthinkable sacrifice which would ruin all of society. In short, elites are more stubborn than students could ever seem to be, and they have the means to hold their position and tire the students out if they can’t simply scare them away or crush them down. So, while symbolic actions and political radicalization are necessary achievements, the will to continue taking actions and the hope to manifest radical ideas becomes worn down, demoralized, and sapped of its strength. This is incredibly challenging to revive if the circumstances and courses of action do not change.
So perhaps it is time for a new tactic. Instead of having radicalization follow mobilization, students could begin to have radicalization guide mobilization. For any social movement to advance, grow, and become something not simply demanding reforms, or demanding something from power, it needs to provide something to the students, to the communities, and the public at large; it needs to create. This is the difference between a reformist movement and a revolutionary movement. In this context, the word ‘revolutionary’ is not used to imply a usurping of state power and violent overthrow of authority, but rather to transform on a radical scale our conception and participation in specific or all sectors of society. Thus, it is essential to provide new ideas for action, rather than discussing and debating the new terms of capitulation. It can make all the difference between a question of how little students will get from their demands, to a question of how much we can get from a new educational structure itself. A discussion of new ideas must replace – or coincide with – the articulation of ignored demands.
How is this possible? What might this look like?
For students, the fundamental issue is education. For the student movements, growth came from expanding the issue into a wider social one, and linking up with other organizations and causes. This expands the scope, and thus, the base of support for a student movement. However, established unions played a large role in guiding (or attempting to guide), fund, and organize in cooperation with student movements. While the cause of workers is an issue that must be engaged with, the established unions that have survived to this point, roughly thirty years into the global neoliberal era, have survived only because they function on a basis of cooperating with the established powers of society, the state and corporations. They are corporatist institutions.
Over one hundred years ago, unions were extremely radical, organized, massive, and revolutionary. The actions and ideas of radically organized labour were the impetus for 8-hour work days, weekends, pensions, job security, benefits, an end to child labour, and much more. Unions subsequently faced roughly a century of battering, violence, co-optation, and destruction. Those which remain are not radical, but only slightly reformist. I say ‘slightly’ because they do not mobilize to fight for new ideas or issues, but only to protect and preserve the reforms previously implemented as a result of radical labour agitation. Thus, union representative serve as a buffer for the blunt force of the state and organized capital and corporate interests which consistently seek to undermine and exploit labour. The major unions typically serve to soften the blow against workers as the elite bring down the hammer. Under this system, all rights, benefits, security and protections are slowly and inevitably worn down and thrown away. When the established unions provide funds and direction for the student movements, they tend to steer them away from radical or revolutionary paths, and promote a highly reformist direction, and which can only be undertaken through negotiation with and capitulation to the state and corporate interests. This gets us to where we are.
When it comes to engagement and interaction, solidarity, and cooperation with labour, it should, in fact, be the more radical – and radically organized – students who lead the unions back to a more radical direction, to take them back to their origins when they achieved successes instead of softened failures. If they refuse to follow a radical direction, then students should encourage and attempt to find means of supporting the organization of new labour organizations: provide assistance, direction, ideas and physical and moral support. Students could be mobilized into the streets for workers’ rights as well as educational rights.
The main point here is that for a movement to radicalize and become revolutionary, it must cooperate with, support, and be supported by other radical and revolutionary organizations and movements. If the more dominant force is reformist, established, and corporatist (by which I mean its functioning ideology is accepting of the state and corporate dominated society), then these organizations will attempt to co-opt, direct, and steer your movement into an area ‘safe’ for the elites, if not altogether undermined and eliminated. It is not necessarily done out of an insidious desire to destroy your student movements, but rather the result of an insidious ideology embedded within the very functions of their organizations. Thus, integration, mutual support, dependency and interaction with other social movements must take place at a radical and revolutionary level if you are to sustain that potential and desire within your own movement. It’s unfortunate, because it’s more difficult; but it’s true, all the same.
Therefore, what is required are radical ideas of organization: for the student associations and other associations they interact with to be more accountable, directly, to their constituents. Instead of elected delegates or representatives making all the decisions (which is how our governments function), the decisions must be made by the constituents, and the representatives merely carry them out and organize accordingly. The student associations in Quebec and elsewhere function more along these radical lines, while labour and other groups typically do not. If student associations do not function in this manner, that is the first issue which must be addressed: either demand the associations to change, or create new ones and thereby make the unrepresentative ones obsolete. Thus, for a student movement to become revolutionary, the first step is the radicalization of organization.
Now onto something more interesting: how to radicalize ideas and actions in education itself. This next step is about the radicalization of action. While the first step, in many instances – the radicalization of organization – had been achieved in several of the student movements, the actions themselves lacked radicalization. The actions were largely confined to mass demonstrations, picket lines, school occupations, and youth rebellion against state violence and repression. These are all important actions on their own: establishing solidarity, power in numbers, a public presence, a demonstration of will and power, the development of ‘self-esteem’ for a social movement. These are necessary, but if the actions do not evolve, the movement itself cannot evolve. Thus, what is required at this point is a discussion of new ideas of action. Typically, as is the case at the moment in Quebec, students are being told to stay out of the streets and go to the voting booth, where “real” change can be made. This is illusory and useless. Unless there is a radical party, the best that can be hoped for is to delay the inevitable assault on education, or perhaps achieve a minor concession, which would likely be more of an insult than incentive.
New ideas of action must come from the students themselves, and there are a number of initiatives that could be discussed and undertaken. Fundamentally, instead of demanding from power, create something new. If education is what you want, begin to do it yourselves. In the case of a school occupations, why should the students not simply begin to have discussions on issues, share knowledge, invite professors, academics, and others who are supportive of the movement to come talk and share their knowledge?
This does not need to only take place in occupied schools, though that would be quite symbolic, but could essentially take place in any public space. It would function as a type of grassroots educational system, designed to share and expand knowledge, not to prepare you for the workforce. Job opportunities are already vanishing everywhere for youth, and they will continue to do so as the economic crisis gets worse. These types of educational forums could potentially be designed to educate and share knowledge on issues of relevance to the student movements themselves: the history of education, protest and social movement history, political power, repression, the economic system – Capitalism, neoliberalism, etc. This could – and should – expand into much larger issues and areas of knowledge, including arts, the sciences, philosophy, etc. There are already people within society who have gained their knowledge through educational institutions, and thus, there are already people from whom to draw this knowledge from in a new forum, and in a new way.
To give an example, imagine a ‘class’ (or forum) on the history of social struggles. First, a physical space is required, so to set up in a park, public venue, rent a space, or occupy a space (such as a school lecture hall). The students should have previously discussed – likely through social media networks – which intellectuals and individuals they would like to invite to come speak to them about the issue. The invited speakers would share their knowledge on the history of social struggles, promote discussion, debate one another, and engage directly with the students. For every invited outside speaker, a student should be invited to speak also, to share their own knowledge and engage on an equal basis. The notion that students are there only to learn and not teach is an incorrect one, and it’s a misnomer that should be addressed and acted upon.
The public at large should also be accepted into these educational forums. The point should be to expand knowledge and discussion among the general population, not merely the students. But the students are the ones capable of providing this forum for the population at large. To add to this: such forums should be broadcast through social media, filmed and recorded, watched online both live and archived. Students could organize ‘subject collectives’, perhaps having a group of students organized along the lines of the larger student associations (through direct democracy), who would oversee the organization of each subject or issue: history of social movements, political economy, media studies, etc. Each ‘collective’ could establish its own website, where the wider community would be encouraged to engage, support, recommend speakers and issues and venues, watch archived or live-feed forums, debate in online forums, be notified of events and speakers, and be provided with educational material, reading sources, etc. The students could write papers which would then be posted publicly on such sites, to promote discussion and to actually use the knowledge instead of writing papers for a grade, which is a rather absurd notion. These sites could have news sections, providing relevant news and developments from around the world related to their issue. The collective itself – both within the community and online – then becomes a forum for the development and extension of knowledge to a much larger sector of society, locally and globally.
This is where the actions become even more important. For a social movement to survive and expand into a revolutionary movement, it must not isolate itself, and must engage and interact directly with the wider population. The best way to do this, and one which has the added necessary effect of increasing the movement’s support among the population, is to provide a service or need. In the case of a student movement: that need is education. Merely ‘opening up’ forums to the public may not be enough. Students or ‘subject collectives’ could individually organize smaller meetings and discussions, in neighbourhoods and venues all over the city, region, or country, where students themselves speak with and to the public on issues in which they have been getting their education.
In Quebec, where students have been consistently framed by the media and elites as “entitled brats,” this tactic would be a means to share our so-called ‘entitlements’ with the wider population, and at no cost to them. Thus, as students gain knowledge, they share knowledge with others. For example, a couple history students could hold a small forum at a cafe or in a small public location which they had promoted within the neighbourhood and on social media for people to freely come to listen and engage in a discussion about a particular history topic. Of course, knowledge in such circumstances should not simply be abstract or obtuse, but relevant to those who are engaging with it. So if the discussion is on a ‘history of social movements,’ students should share knowledge on this, but make it relevant to the current social movement, to the social conditions of the wider population, and ask questions and engage with others in the venue: to promote discussion and debate. Thus, instead of the public viewing students as ‘entitled’, they may come to view students as ’empowering.’
This type of tactic would especially have to be employed within poor communities, and oppressed communities, where students would have to be willing to listen and learn more than they would be inclined to speak and teach. This is because many student movements, simply by their position as being students, generally come from a more privileged sector of society than the really poor, minority, immigrant, or otherwise oppressed communities. These sectors largely remain in the sidelines of the student movements themselves. This must change, and for a very fundamental reason: there is a great deal to learn from these communities. Oppressed peoples have experienced and known for a much longer period of time what the majority of students are only just starting to learn and experience: the true nature and interest of power, the violent and oppressive state apparatus, the underbelly of the economic system, the reality of social existence for a great many people. In short, it would be a means through which to educate the students on deeper issues of social strife, by listening and speaking directly to and with those who exist within oppressed social spheres.
But there cannot be any taking without giving. So while oppressed communities may perhaps be willing to share their own knowledge with students and engage in discussion and debate, the students must provide something back to these communities. There is a very simple way to get this started: ask them what they need most in their communities. For example, if one community cited the cost and quality of food as a central issue, students could then leave the first meeting with the community with the intent to organize and plan around this issue. The students could hold their own discussions, meetings, debates, and share ideas on how to help resolve this specific issue within that specific community, and then propose various ideas to those community leaders. The ideas would be subject to critique, dismissal, support, etc, to go back to the drawing board with new suggestions or to get to work, putting action to the ideas.
So with the issue of food, for example, students could perhaps organize around the idea of establishing a community food garden, proposing it to the community, and, if approved and critiqued, they could find an area of land, get the support and materials they need, and work with members of that community to plant and establish such a garden, to help move toward some form of food sustainability, provided either free or cheap to those within that area. Potentially, there could be a student educational association which specialized in sharing knowledge about nutrition, horticulture, etc., and they could be brought in to share their knowledge, help in the endeavour, or even make it a staple feature of their functioning: to go to different communities to help establish food sustainability.
These are, of course, just ideas of actions, there is no reason to follow this specific outline. This is meant to merely promote the discussion of this concept: the actions, organizations, and objectives which would result from a radicalization of action are likely to be far more varied, interesting, and effective than these mere suggestions. However, I used these examples of actions and ideas to show how a student movement protesting against something (such as a tuition increase), can become a revolutionary movement for something.
These actions are revolutionary because they force people to question and reconsider their conceptions of education, its manifestation, its purpose, its institutionalization, philosophy, etc. The actions themselves engage directly with people, drawing from and providing to the population as a whole. This increases support among the population, but also greatly strengthens the ideas and actions of the students themselves. At such a conceivable point, it could not be called a ‘student movement,’ but could only be identified as a much wider social movement, which would help radicalize the wider society itself, which would in turn provide new ideas and actions to the students; solidarity in both words and actions.
These actions are revolutionary because they attempt to maneuver around power structures instead of expending all of their energy on directly battling the power structure itself. By going around the power structure – around the state, the schools, the corporations, etc. – the students would create a parallel educational structure within society, making the existing one increasingly obsolete. As this is done, the bargaining power of the state and other structures is reduced, because the students no longer rely exclusively upon them for an education. The state would most certainly attempt to repress such a movement, or perhaps even to offer much larger incentives, concessions, or even meet the previous demands of students in order to get them back in the schools and within an educational system that power controls. The state is well-established to deal with direct confrontations: that’s what police, armies, guns, badges and lawyers are for. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re demanding, or where you are demanding it, the state can simply tear gas you, scare you, disperse you, and wait you out. But to move around the power structure, and to create and establish something new, not under the control or direction of established institutions of power, the power structures become very nervous and insecure.
It would be foolish to think that the power structures would not respond with more state violence than they have up until present, they most certainly would. The primary difference, however, would be that the public support for the movement would have conceivably exploded, and in the case of increased violence, it would explode in anger and opposition to the state. In short, while the state would be likely to increase its tactics of intimidation and violence, the public response would likely be far more powerful than anything we have seen thus far. We saw an example of this in Quebec, when the government passed the repressive Bill 78 and a much larger segment of the population was mobilized in opposition to the government. However, this has now largely faded, and again, it’s about the difference between mobilizing against something and mobilizing for something. It’s the difference between opposition and proposition, demand and action.
The fundamental idea which I am arguing is that for a student movement to become a revolutionary movement, it must transform its demands of education into actions for education. If the issue is education, the answer is education. The inability of the student movements to have their demands met reveals a deeply-ingrained flaw in our society: that an institution does not reflect or respond to the demands of its supposed constituents. This fact makes that institution illegitimate. This flaw further manifests itself across the entire society. If the government itself, which is supposedly ‘representative’ of the people, does not reflect the intentions and interests of the population, then it is illegitimate. Most institutions do not even have a means for their constituents to have a say in who runs the institutions themselves. Some, such as governments or unions, may have elections in which people can choose candidates, but then all the other decisions are taken out of their hands. Other institutions, such as schools, corporations, banks, media, etc., do not even have a means for constituents to select leadership, let alone direction and action. University boards are populated with bankers, former government officials, corporate executives, foundation officials, and other established elites. Therefore, universities are geared toward meeting elite interests under their direction. This is flawed and wrong. Though, because most institutions function in this way across wider society, it tends to go unnoticed and is simply accepted as “the way it is.”
Students must now ask: Does it have to be this way? What other way could it be? What should change? How could that change? What is the intent of education? These questions lead to other, larger questions about the society as a whole, and, as a result, they make necessary the wider radicalization, organization, and revolution of society itself. It is a rather large idea, but I think it is also a logical one. As the economic and social circumstances for most people continue to deteriorate in the near future – and perhaps rapidly so as the global economic crisis accelerates – such ideas and actions will become all the more necessary and will generate much more support.
Since the beginning of the global economic crisis in 2007 and 2008, the world has seen a rapid acceleration of resistance movements, protests, and revolutionary struggles. The world is rumbling awake from a long lost slumber of consumption and consent as the situation of crisis reveals deep flaws in the structures, ideology, and actions of power. We are witnessing the rapid proliferation of global resistance movements, but it requires much more for them to become global revolutionary movements. It has only begun, but it requires new ideas and actions to move forward. It would potentially be very challenging to begin such actions now, but in the very least, student movements should begin to advance the discussion, to debate the direction, and to incite new ideas. These are, after all, the skills that an education is supposed to provide us with.
Perhaps it is time to put our education to use.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer living in Montreal, Canada. His website (www.andrewgavinmarshall.com) features a number of articles and essays focusing on an analysis of power and resistance in the political, social, and economic realms. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, and is currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and resistance movements emerging around the world. To help this book come to completion, please consider donating through the website or on Indiegogo.
Del Invierno Chileno a la Primavera Canadiense: ¡Solidaridad!
En la noche del 16 de mayo, miles de estudiantes y simpatizantes de Montreal salieron a las calles para pasar la 23va noche consecutiva de protestas, esta vez impulsada por el anuncio del gobierno de Quebec de legislar para terminar con la huelga estudiantil de 14 semanas que se ha apoderado de Quebec en los últimos tres meses. El proyecto de ley propuesto por el gobierno “impondría condiciones estrictas a los estudiantes que deseen manifestarse en contra de los aumentos previstos en las tarifas de matrícula”, que podrían “incluir multas severas contra cualquiera que intente bloquear las entradas a los colegios y universidades.” El primer ministro de Quebec, Jean Charest, anunció que el actual semestre no ha sido cancelado por el gobierno, “Estamos suspendiendo el semestre. No lo estamos cancelando… Esto nos permitirá terminar el semestre en agosto y septiembre.” Los estudiantes advirtieron que impugnarán la ley ante los tribunales “si la legislación limita su derecho a manifestarse y bloquear las clases si la mayoría de los miembros de una escuela o de las asociaciones estudiantiles vota realizarlo.”
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, el portavoz de 21 años de la asociación de estudiantes más grande, CLASSE, que representa a más de la mitad de los 160.000 estudiantes en huelga, declaró que: “El proyecto de ley que el gobierno propone a la mesa es una ley antisindical, es autoritario, represivo y vulnera el derecho de los estudiantes a la huelga… Este es un gobierno que prefiere golpear a sus jóvenes, ridiculizar a sus jóvenes, en lugar de escucharlos.” Cuando miles de personas salieron a las calles de Montreal para oponerse al plan del gobierno, se toparon nuevamente con la policía antidisturbios, y se desató la violencia después de que la que fuera una protesta pacífica fuese declarada “ilegal” por la policía, con 122 manifestantes arrestados. Sólo unos pocos de los 122 manifestantes arrestados están acusados de agredir a algunos agentes, mientras que el resto está siendo acusado de haber participado en una “protesta ilegal”. La policía antidisturbios cargó contra la multitud y se dispersó la protesta en unidades más pequeñas, que la policía luego arrinconó, y acto seguido, con roció con gas pimienta y les arrojó granadas aturdidoras, además de golpear con lumas a los estudiantes.
Más temprano el mismo día 16 de mayo, a unos 9.000 km de Montreal, cerca de 100.000 estudiantes y simpatizantes salieron a las calles en Santiago, Chile, en la segunda manifestación más importante este año, llevando al resurgimiento del movimiento estudiantil que se inició un año antes, en mayo de 2011; los estudiantes fueron movilizados por la Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (CONFECH), una confederación de todos los sindicatos estudiantiles de universidades públicas, (así como de algunas privadas), y el sindicato más antiguo, la Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (FECH). Estos sindicatos marcharon contra el sistema educativo más caro de los países de la OCDE, un sistema de educación privatizado instalado en mayor medida en Chile por el ex dictador militar, Augusto Pinochet, quien llegó al poder en 1973 con apoyo de la CIA. Gabriel Boric, el líder estudiantil de la FECH y vocero de la CONFECH de 26 años declaró: “Somos más de 100.000 personas. Estamos dando una vez más una clara señal al gobierno de que el movimiento estudiantil, después de un año, se levanta sobre sus pies y no va a descansar. Todavía estamos en la lucha.” Boric agregó: “Seguiremos siendo rebeldes, ya que el movimiento estudiantil no va a conformarse con corregir algunos excesos. Queremos arreglarlo todo.” El gobierno de Chile ha presentado tres propuestas diferentes a los estudiantes en el último año, todas las cuales no cumplían con el movimiento estudiantil, ya que eran meras concesiones que no tratan el problema principal de un sistema social, política y económicamente injusto, exigiendo un sistema de educación pública gratuita y de calidad para todos los chilenos. Boric declaró: “Este gobierno ha sido incapaz de responder a las peticiones básicas de los estudiantes.”
Las protestas de 16 de mayo 2012 se tornaron violentas con enfrentamientos entre estudiantes y policías antidisturbios, que llevaron al arresto de 70 estudiantes en Santiago. Esta fue la segunda manifestación estudiantil más importante de este año, después de cerca de 40 manifestaciones en todo el país durante 2011. La policía antidisturbios respondió a la protesta de los estudiantes con gas lacrimógeno y carros lanza agua. El 15 de marzo, Santiago fue sede de la primera manifestación estudiantil importante del año en la que varios miles de estudiantes salieron a las calles, y se produjeron enfrentamientos con la policía antidisturbios que llevaron a 50 arrestos. Por cierto, el 15 de marzo en Montreal, estudiantes y otras personas participaron en una protesta contra la brutalidad policial que terminó en violencia y en la detención de más de 200 manifestantes.
El gobierno chileno ha tratado constantemente de tanto reprimir – a través de la violencia estatal – y socavar – a través de pequeñas concesiones legislativas – al movimiento estudiantil que se ha identificado con la necesidad de un cambio en el sistema social, político y económico. A pesar de un año de protestas, la ex líder estudiantil de la FECH, de 24 años, Camila Vallejo, quien dirigió el movimiento estudiantil hasta que fue reemplazada por Boric en las elecciones estudiantiles de noviembre de 2011, comentó respecto al movimiento estudiantil: “En términos concretos, se podría decir que hemos logrado poco o nada… Pero a grandes rasgos, el movimiento estudiantil ha hecho una ruptura en la sociedad chilena. Hay un antes y un después de 2011, y por primera vez estamos hablando de temas que eran tabú en Chile.”
El 14 de mayo, la ministra de educación de Quebec, Line Beauchamp, renunció declarando: “Estoy renunciando porque ya no creo ser parte de la solución.” Ello siguió a las revelaciones de que Line Beauchamp asistió a un evento de recaudación de fondos para el Partido Liberal donde aceptó donaciones de un conocido mafioso de Montreal. Quebec se ha visto envuelta desde hace años en una controversia por la corrupta industria de la construcción, que está fuertemente controlada por la mafia y recibe contratos públicos tremendamente sobrevalorados por parte de los gobiernos municipales y provinciales. Beauchamp no ha sido la primera casualidad en el gabinete del primer ministro, Jean Charest. Ya en septiembre de 2011, la primer ministro subrogante de Jean Charest, Nathalie Normandeau, que también fue ministra de recursos naturales de Quebec, renunció en medio de controversias. Ella también estuvo implicada en escándalos de corrupción relacionados con la mafia.
Cerca de un mes después de que las protestas estudiantiles comenzaran en Chile, el ministro de educación, Joaquín Lavín, renunció en julio de 2011. Fue sustituido por Felipe Bulnes, quien a su vez renunció en diciembre de 2011, en medio del persistente movimiento estudiantil. Bulnes había tratado de calmar las protestas estudiantiles mediante la concesión de un mayor acceso al crédito y “una mejor supervisión de las universidades.” Bulnes fue reemplazado con Harald Beyer. Así como Bulnes renunció, tras las revelaciones de que tenía fuertes lazos con una universidad privada en Santiago (y por lo tanto, un interés personal en la defensa del sistema educativo privatizado), el ministro de Agricultura, José Antonio Galilea también renunció. A finales de marzo de 2012, el ministro de Energía de Chile, Rodrigo Álvarez renunció tras dos meses de protestas en la región austral de Aysén por el alza de los precios del combustible.
Como ministra de recursos naturales de Quebec (hasta su renuncia en septiembre de 2011), Nathalie Normandeau fue responsable de introducir el ‘Plan Nord’ (Plan del Norte), un programa de desarrollo económico de 80 mil millones para explotar los recursos del norte de Quebec a través de inversiones públicas y privadas. El Plan incluye inversiones en minería, silvicultura, transporte y gas, y está atrayendo el interés de corporaciones multinacionales de todo el mundo. El Plan Nord fue anunciado por Normandeau y el primer ministro Jean Charest en mayo de 2011, donde Charest declaró: “En el plano político, este es uno de los mejores momentos de mi vida.” Y añadió: “Esta es una de las razones por las que me involucré en la política.” El Plan prevé 11 nuevos proyectos mineros en los próximos años, con miles de millones gastados por el gobierno en el desarrollo de infraestructura y caminos para el transporte. La industria minera aplaudió Charest, pero incitó la preocupación de grupos ambientalistas y representantes de los pueblos originarios. En abril de 2012, un grupo de mujeres del pueblo inuit marchó desde el Norte a Montreal para protestar contra el Plan Nord, llegando a la ciudad para la reunión que promovería el Plan Nord entre el 20 y el 21 de abril. El 20 de abril, las mujeres de los pueblos originarios se reunieron para protestar contra la reunión, y se unieron a las protestas estudiantiles fuera del Palais des congrèsen en el centro de Montreal. Los manifestantes chocaron con la policía antidisturbios, granadas aturdidoras, gases lacrimógenos y lumas, y unos 90 manifestantes fueron arrestados.
En mayo de 2011, al igual que el gobierno de Quebec anunciando sus planes para el Plan Nord, el gobierno chileno anunció la aprobación del proyecto Hidroaysén, que será el generador de energía más grande de Chile, llevando a protestas de cientos de personas. El proyecto “consta de cinco represas y 1.900 kilómetros (1.180 millas) de línea de transmisión para alimentar a la red central que abastece a Santiago y a las ciudades circundantes, así como las minas de cobre de propiedad de Codelco y Anglo American Plc.” El proyecto provocó un aumento de la ira de los residentes de la región, así como de ambientalistas y otros activistas. Los opositores al proyecto presentaron recursos de amparo y una corte de apelaciones suspendió el proyecto Hidroaysén en junio de 2011. Fue en este momento que el movimiento estudiantil en Chile comenzó a emerger rápidamente. En octubre, un tribunal de apelaciones local rechazó las siete demandas contra el proyecto y dio luz verde para reanudar las obras. En diciembre, un recurso legal en contra del proyecto fue llevado a Corte Suprema de Chile. En abril de 2012, la Corte Suprema rechazó los siete recursos contra el proyecto. Esto provocó grandes protestas por la decisión de la corte, que chocaron con la represión la policía antidisturbios. La creciente demanda de energía proviene de la industria minera en rápido crecimiento de Chile, de la cual las empresas mineras canadienses son la mayor inversión de origen extranjero.
Protestas estallaron la región sureña chilena de Aysén en febrero de 2012, donde el costo de vida es significativamente mayor que en el norte (debido a la lejanía de la región patagónica) y por lo tanto, los costos de combustible, alimentos, cuidado de la salud y la educación son mayores que en otras partes. Los manifestantes se enfrentaron casi todas las noches con la policía antidisturbios, incluso levantando barricadas y lanzando piedras contra la policía, que utilizó carros lanza agua y gases lacrimógenos contra los manifestantes. Uno de los manifestantes incluso perdió un ojo durante los enfrentamientos, según informes, al ser baleado por la policía. Partidarios salieron a las calles de Santiago en solidaridad con los que luchaban en Aysén . En marzo, los manifestantes relajaron los bloqueos para mantener negociaciones entre el gobierno y las más de treinta organizaciones sociales que participaban en las protestas. Fue después de las negociaciones que renunció el ministro de energía Álvarez, diciendo que fue excluido de las conversaciones. A fines de marzo, el gobierno anunció planes para crear mejores condiciones en la región de Aysén.
En abril de 2012, Chile experimentó protestas contra una planta termoeléctrica y la minería, donde en mayor medida participaron chilenos de ascendencia indígena, y los estudiantes regresaron a las calles de Santiago, con decenas de miles de personas. A lo largo de Quebec, los estudiantes intensificaron las protestas durante todo el mes de abril, y se unieron indígenas, ecologistas y estudiantiles en protesta contra el Plan Nord. El 25 de abril, decenas de miles de estudiantes chilenos salieron a las calles de Santiago, en protesta contra la propuesta de “reforma” educacional del gobierno, que era completamente inadecuada. En el mismo día, 25 de abril, cerca de 5.000 estudiantes protestaban en Montreal contra de la cancelación del diálogo del gobierno con los líderes estudiantiles. A principios de ese mismo mes, el presidente chileno Piñera y el primer ministro canadiense Harper se reunieron en Chile para expandir el tratado de libre comercio entre los dos países. Los movimientos estudiantiles no fueron objeto de debate.
En Chile, al movimiento estudiantil y su desarrollo social más amplio junto a ambientalistas, sindicatos y otros grupos de activistas se le ha conocido como “Invierno Chileno“. En Quebec, el movimiento estudiantil, con su desarrollo social más amplio junto a sindicatos, ambientalistas, y otras organizaciones de activistas, se ha conocido como “Primavera Arce.” Ambos movimientos, manteniendo al mismo tiempo sus propias especificidades, en última instancia, se han movilizado en torno a una lucha contra el neoliberalismo, contra la austeridad, y contra un sistema social, político y económico que ha gobernado el mundo para unos pocos y en detrimento de las mayorías.
Para que ambos movimientos avancen, es importante no sólo promover actos informales y declaraciones de solidaridad entre los dos movimientos, sino comenzar a establecer vínculos directos e indirectos entre los movimientos: establecer conexiones entre las asociaciones estudiantiles, coordinar días de acciones de protesta importantes, protestar contra las empresas mineras que explotan a Quebec en el Norte y a Chile en el Sur, crear medios de comunicación organizados por estudiantes que compartan información entre ellos, realizar intercambios de activismo estudiantil entre los dos países, pero en primer lugar, es importante educar a los estudiantes en Quebec sobre lo que está ocurriendo en Chile, y a los estudiantes en Chile sobre lo que está ocurriendo en Quebec. Esa es la base para todas las otras formas de cooperación.
Así que desde el Invierno Chileno a la Primavera Arce
¡Solidarity, solidarité, solidaridad!
Andrew Gavin Marshall es un investigador independiente y escritor residente en Montreal, Canadá, que escribe sobre una serie de cuestiones sociales, políticas, económicas e históricas. También es Project Manager del The People’s Book Project y presenta un programa semanal de podcast, “Empire, Power and People”, en BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Meet Canada’s Ruling Oligarchy: Parasites-a-Plenty!
Class War and the College Crisis, Part 7
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
As hundreds of thousands of students in the province of Québec continue to strike into their 13th week against tuition increases, as the provincial government continues to employ legal repression and state violence against the youth, as Canadian families are over $100,000 in debt, as a looming housing crisis begins to rear its ugly head, as youth unemployment increases, student debt explodes, jobs vanish, poverty deepens, and oppression increases, it’s time to meet those responsible, those who are doing better than ever, those who are making record profits, sitting comfortably in their estates which are larger than the entire island of Manhattan, who travel by helicopter and private jet, who co-mingle with the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Spanish royalty, presidents and prime ministers at home and abroad: meet Canada’s ruling oligarchy.
As this series, “Class War and the College Crisis,” is more focused on the issue of education, I will focus here on the composition of the oligarchy in terms of how they control our educational system. This part in the series will be part article and part research annex. First, I will introduce the reader to Canada’s most powerful family, our version of the Rockefeller’s south of the border, or the Rothschilds in Europe, and of course, all these families are close in both business and social circles. Such is the nature of being an elite in a globalized world. The Desmarais family, located in the province of Québec, are without question the most influential and powerful family in the country, and it’s no wonder, considering their power is vested in an investment company known as Power Corporation.
Why is Power Corporation important?
The name says it all: it has Power. Founded in 1925, Power Corporation of Canada is an investment company involved in communications, business, and especially finance. Power Corporation was founded by A.J. Nesbitt and P.A. Thomson, two partners in the Montreal investment firm, Nesbitt, Thomson and Company, who wanted to consolidate Canada’s power sector, and established Power Corporation as a ‘holding company,’ meaning, it owns other corporations. In the 1960s, the company began to invest in energy, finance, industry, and real estate. In 1968, financier Paul Desmarais took over the leadership of Power Corporation, and rapidly expanded the assets held by the company, including by the 1970s: Canada Steamship Lines (transportation); Consolidated Bathurst (pulp and paper); Investors Group, Great-West Life, Montreal Trust (financial services); and Gesca (communications). Power Corporation expanded across Canada, Europe, and into China. Paul Desmarais stepped aside as Chairman and CEO in 1996, though remaining as the controlling shareholder, and had his two sons, Paul Jr. and André, become Chairman and President and Co-CEOs. Power Corporation owns Gesca, a communications company which in turn owns La Presse as well as six other daily newspapers in Quebec.
The Desmarais family, wrote Christa d’Souza for the London Telegraph, are “Canada’s equivalent of the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts.” Indeed, it would appear that the Desmarais are very much akin to the Rockefellers, the most powerful family in the United States, and one of the most powerful families in the world (perhaps only challenged by the older European-based Rothschild banking family). The Rockefeller family developed the Standard Oil empire, which branched off into several different oil companies, including Exxon and Chevron; founded the Rockefeller Foundation as an engine of social engineering, founded the University of Chicago, became a dominant force in global banking (through Citibank and JP Morgan Chase), highly influential in politics (Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Senator Jay Rockefeller), and of course, remain a dominant influence in think tanks, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, and the Trilateral Commission, which ultimately play a major role in shaping policies of industrial nations.
The Desmarais family, while not as powerful in a global sense as the Rockefellers, have nevertheless made themselves a powerful name in the global oligarchy, and most certainly the most powerful family in Canada. Paul Desmarais Sr. is one of Canada’s richest individuals, which is, of course, no surprise, and as Konrad Yakabuski wrote for the Globe and Mail, “Desmarais has been personally consulted by prime ministers on every major federal economic and constitutional initiative since the 1970s. Most of the time, they’ve taken his advice.” Power Corporation has taken large stakes in major European companies such as Bertelsmann, Total and Suez. Peter Munk, a friend of Paul Desmarais and the CEO of Barrick Gold Corporation (a major mining company profiting off of genocide in the Congo), said that, “Paul built that business with an enormous capability for networking that no one in Canadian history has ever matched. And the boys got introduced to his contacts. They were educated well, they married well. And they’ve behaved.” In the mid-1960s, a protégé of Desmarais was a young Montreal lawyer named Brian Mulroney, who would later become Canada’s Prime Minister. Paul Sr. groomed his sons, and especially André, who is now perhaps the most well-known Canadian businessman in China. André also married the daughter of another Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien. Desmarais Sr. also got involved in French banking through Paribas, and later, Pargesa, which handled investments in a wide range of European corporations, and shot Desmarais into the accepted ranks of French nobility and the old-monied European elite. Paul Desmarais Jr. is close friends with the recent French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and socializes with Spanish royalty, the Rothschilds, and other European oligarchs.
The Desmarais family have strong connections to Canada’s four major political parties: the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, and the NDP. This has included close ties to Lucien Bouchard, former leader of the Parti Québecois and Premier of Quebec, Jean Chrétien, former Canadian Prime Minister; Brian Mulroney, former Canadian Prime Minister who worked for Power Corporation; Bob Rae, an NDP leader, and Paul Martin, another Liberal Prime Minister who worked for Power Corporation. When André Pratte, the chief editorialist of the Desmerais-owned paper La Presse, wrote in 1994 that, “Power Corp. controls everything, everyone knows that. Chrétien, [then Quebec premier Daniel] Johnson, it’s Power Corp,” Paul Desmarais Sr. intervened directly with the paper to ensure that Pratte was demoted. Claude Masson, the deputy publisher of La Presse at the time, stated that, “When you bite the hand that feeds you, there are consequences.” Indeed, the hand bites back.
The Desmarais’ also have close connections with James Wolfensohn, the former President of the World Bank, who has extensive ties to the Rockefeller family. Paul Jr. married Hélene Blouin, the “founder and CEO of le Centre d’entreprises et d’innovation de Montréal, an incubator for tech businesses; a director of the Montreal Board of Trade; chairman of HEC Montréal; and a co-founder of the Montreal Economic Institute, a think tank that has become Quebec’s leading policy advocate on the non-partisan right.” André married France Chrétien, daughter of Jean Chrétien, and he even served as a press secretary to Jean Chrétien while he was Minister of Justice in the Pierre Trudeau government. In the 1990s, the international advisory board of Power Corporation included former Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau. Brian Mulroney was sure to create friendly ties between the Desmarais family and soon-to-be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who put two Desmarais-connected politicians in his cabinet, Peter Mackay and Maxime Bernier.
Quebec author Robin Philpot wrote a scathing critique of the power of the Desmarais family several years ago, suggesting that, “Over the last several years, [Paul Desmarais Sr.] has spun his web to such an extent that it now enables him to call the shots,” especially in promoting his right-wing economic vision, with “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada.” Of course, it’s not only Canadian politicians with whom Desmarais is close, but French and American politicians as well, including Sarkozy, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Desmarais owns seven of the ten French-language newspapers in Quebec, and has been close to nearly every Quebec premier, apart from Parti Québécois leaders Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry. Philpot alleged that Desmarais “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest,” who is the current premier imposing tuition increases. When Desmarais received the French Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) from Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean Charest was in attendance, of which Philpot stated, “He took him along like a poodle.” Philpot added, “It’s a very unhealthy situation for a government to be indebted to a businessman that has his own interest at heart. They get their hands tied.”
Jean-François Lisée, the director of the Center for International Studies and Research at the University of Montreal stated that, “They are in a class all by themselves… There’s the Desmaraises, then there’s everyone else.” However, as one man close to the family said, in regards to their influence in politics, “We live in a village in Canada, and there are a lot of circumstances which come together which make it appear as if there’s some great manipulation… These are the coincidences of life. It might be more notorious than substantial.” Indeed, the elite live in “a village,” and that’s the whole point, which is, I might add, “substantial.”
In rural Quebec, the Desmarais family has an estate the size of Manhattan, with a private golf course and pheasant shooting range, as well as a music pavilion where opera is performed. This is the home of Paul Desmarais Sr. Guests, such as former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, come play golf on this vast estate, and are flown in on helicopters belonging either to Power Corporation or Desmarais personally. As one of Canada’s richest billionaires, this is a simple matter. Power Corporation, which owns a controlling share in Power Financial Corporation, an insurance giant, has established ties with one of Belgium’s richest men, Albert Frere, with whom they have been in business for decades, and together hold significant shares of Total SA (the third largest oil company in Europe), Lafarge SA (the world’s largest cement maker), and GDF Suez SA (the world’s second largest utility company).
The Desmarais family has even had the internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil perform on their massive 15,000-acre estate. King Juan Carlos of Spain has even been a guest from time to time. André Desmarais is himself a member of the Trilateral Commission, founded by David Rockefeller, and is also on the International Advisory Board of David Rockefeller’s former bank, JP Morgan Chase, alongside other notables such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both brothers have regularly attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group, of which David Rockefeller is a top official (founded in 1954 as an elite think tank linking Western Europe and North America). The Desmarais also hold a major international meeting of elites in Montreal every year, the Conference de Montreal, drawing in thousands of top policy-makers, industrialists, bankers, strategists, and international elites from the major nations of the world. A son of Paul Desmarais Jr., Paul Desmarais III, is a banker with Goldman Sachs. At times, the influence of the family is shyly acknowledged. As French President Sarkozy stated upon awarding Paul Desmarais Sr. with the French Legion of Honour, “If I am the president of France today, it is thanks in part to the advice, the friendship and the loyalty of Paul Desmarais.”
So while Quebec students are being asked to pay double their current tuition to reduce public spending, the Desmarais family is hob-nobbing around with a top public-sector individual responsible for investing $150 billion in Quebecers’ public-sector pension and insurance plans, Michael Sabia. Though apparently a weekend stay at the Desmarais estate by Sabia did not involve business discussions, it was merely “friendly.” No doubt. Meanwhile, Power Financial profits rose 37% in March of 2012, earning the company $533 million, while Power Corporation itself earned $314 million in the same amount of time, with its profits also increasing by 37%.
The Canadian Oligarchy Assaults Democracy
In the 1970s, just as the United States elite were organizing for their assault on the democratic advances brought about by the activism and popular mobilizations of the 1960s, so too was Canada. With the Powell Memo and the Trilateral Commission’s “Crisis of Democracy” report in the early and mid 1970s, we saw the emergence of a vast array of right-wing pro-business think tanks which sought to – and successfully did – promote neoliberalism and thus, created enormous repercussions for universities and education. Canada was not to be left behind in the elitist assault on democracy.
As William Carroll and Murray Shaw wrote in the journal Canadian Public Policy: “Integral to the rise and consolidation of neoliberal hegemony were the emergence of new centres of class-wide business activism and the retooling of established policy institutes along neoliberal lines.” A few major think tanks and policy institutes were integral to this approach for Canada. The Conference Board of Canada was founded in 1954 when the New York Conference Board opened an office in Montreal, later moved to Ottawa, and now one of the largest think tanks in Canada, linking academia, government and corporate elites. The Private Planning Association of Canada (PPAC) was founded in 1958 by members of the Canadian American Committee (CAC), “a group of business and labour leaders from Canada and the US” who were seeking closer and deeper ties between Canada and the United States, specifically in relation to trade. When the PPAC merged with the C.D. Howe Memorial Foundation in 1973, the C.D. Howe Institute was formed. The C.D. Howe Institute became a major force pushing for free trade agreements such as NAFTA, and by the mid-1990s, was portraying social programs as a major source of Canada’s economic problems.
The Business Council on National Issues (BCNI) – now known as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) – was founded to create consensus on policy issues among Canada’s top 150 CEOs, making it less of a think tank, and more of a “shadow government.” Founded in 1976 in order to bring together the corporate elite of Canada into forming a more long-term strategic position with the government, directly lobbying the state. The mandate of the Council is “to ensure that Canadian chief executives play an influential role in the international financial, trade, investment, environmental and foreign affairs domains.” Since the era of the Trudeau Liberals, politicians have come and gone from power, but the Council, “the voice and organizational embodiment of corporate rule, is a permanent presence.” Another major player is the Fraser Institute (FI), dedicated to mythical “free market” policies and neoliberalism, founded in 1973 with money from fifteen different mining executives, and is essentially a replica of the American Enterprise Institute in the United States. The Fraser Institute is perhaps the most quoted institution in the Canadian media, ensuring that its neoliberal ideology is firmly entrenched in popular ‘information’ (i.e., propaganda). One study from 1998 showed that over the course of a year, the left-wing think tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was quoted in business news stories 16 times, while the Fraser Institute was quoted in over 140 stories.
Today, Hélène Desmarais, wife of Paul Desmarais Jr., is on the board of the C.D. Howe Institute, alongside top officials from GE Canada, Manulife Canada, HSBC Canada, Enbridge, Barrick Gold, BMO Financial Group, and a number of other top financial and industrial corporations. Power Corporation is listed among the C.D. Howe Institute’s supporters, alongside other notable entities such as: Astral Media (a major media conglomerate), Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barrick Gold Corporation, BMO Financial Group, Bombardier, Canadian Bankers Association, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, CIBC, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian Oil Sands Limited, Cargill Limited, CN, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Desjardins Group, Deutsche Bank, Enbridge, Encana, Ford Motor Company, HSBC, Google, Imperial Tobacco, JP Morgan, National Bank of Canada, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, RBC Financial Group, Rio Tinto Alcan, Scotiabank, Shell Canada, SNC Lavalin, Standard Life Financial, Swiss Bankers Association, TD Bank Group, and many others. The C.D. Howe Institute also gets a good deal of financial support from several Canadian universities, including Carelton, HEC Montréal, Laval, McMaster, Queen’s, Ryerson, Calgary, Lethbridge, Western Ontario, Université de Sherbrooke, U. of Alberta, UBC, Ottawa, Saskatchewan, U of T, and Wilfred Laurier University.
Looking at Power
The board of directors of Power Corporation includes: Pierre Beaudoin, President and CEO of Bombardier; Marcel R. Coutu, President and CEO of Canadian Oil Sands Limited and Chairman of Syncrude Canada, director of Great-West Lifeco (owned by Power Corporation), and is a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; Laurent Dassault, Vice President of Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault (a Paris-based investment and financing company), and a director of a number of European companies, including SITA, Generali France, Kudelski, and the Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild Europe (a major banking house owned by the Rothschild family); Guy Fortin, Vice Chairman of Sanpalo Investments, former senior partner at Ogilvy Renault, Chairman of the Canadian Tax Foundation; Anthony R. Graham, President of Wittington Investments, formerly with National Bank Financial Inc., Chairman of President’s Choice Bank, on the board of Power Financial, Loblaw Companies, George Weston Limited, Brown Thomas Group Ltd, Holt Renfrew & Co., the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Council for Business and the Arts in Canada, and is a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; Robert Gratton, former Chairman and CEO of Montreal Trust, director of Power Financial, member of the Harvard Business School Canadian Advisory Board, the Conference Board of Canada, the C.D. Howe Institute, and the Trilateral Commission; Isabelle Marcoux, Vice Chair of the board of Transcontinental Inc., on the boards of George Weston Ltd., Rogers Communications, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal; Donald Mazankowski, director of Power Financial, former member of the Canadian House of Commons and member of Parliament for 25 years, former Canadian Minister of Transport, Deputy Prime Minister, President of the Queen’s Privy Council, and Government House Leader, and is a former member of the board of governors of the University of Alberta.
Other board members include: Raymond L. McFeetors, Vice Chairman of Power Financial and Chairman of Great-West Lifeco, a director of London Life, Canada Life Financial, Canada Life, Crown Life, IGM Financial, Investors Group, Mackenzie Financial, Putnam Investments; Jerry E. A. Nickerson, Chairman of Nickerson & Sons Ltd., director of several Power Corporation companies, honorary director of the Bank of Montreal; James R. Nininger, on the Board of Management of the Canada Revenue Agency (responsible for administering the tax laws of Canada and most of the provinces), on the board of Canadian Pacific Railway, former President and CEO of The Conference Board of Canada (a major research institute/think tank); R. Jeffrey Orr, President and CEO of Power Financial, a board member of several Power group subsidiaries, former Chairman and CEO of BMO Nesbitt Burns and Vice Chairman of the Bank of Montreal’s Investment Banking Group, and is a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; Robert Parizeau, Chairman of Aon Parizeau, Inc., director of National Bank Life Insurance Company, former Chairman of Gaz Métro, former director of Van Houtte, and director of the National Bank of Canada for over 20 years, and is a director of the Institute of Corporate Directors; Michel Plessis-Bélair, Vice Chairman of Power Corporation, director of several Power group subsidiaries, and a director of Lallemand Inc., Université de Montréal, Hydro-Québec, and is a member of the International Advisory Board of École des hautes etudes commerciales (HEC) of Montréal (Business School of Montreal); John A. Rae, director of a number of Power subsidiaries, a director of Fednav Ltd, BNP Paribas (Canada), McGill University Health Centre Foundation, former Executive Assistant to Jean Chrétien, National Campaign Chairman for Jean Chrétien’s 1984 and 1990 leadership campaigns, and Coordinator of the National Campaign of the Liberal Party of Canada for the 1993, 1997, and 2000 elections, and is also Chair Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of Queen’s University; Henri-Paul Rousseau, a director of several Power group subsidiaries, board member of the Global Financial Markets Association, former President and CEO of the Caisse de depot et placement du Québec (which manages public pensions for the province of Quebec), former President and CEO of the Laurentian Bank of Canada, former CEO of Boréal Assurances Inc., and former Senior VP of the National Bank of Canada; T. Timothy Ryan, Jr., President and CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), the leading trade association representing global financial market participants, CEO of the Global Financial Markets Association (GFMA), a director of a number of Power subsidiaries, as well as a director of Lloyds Banking Group, Lloyds TSB Bank, HBOS, the Bank of Scotland, and the United States-Japan Foundation, formerly a top official with J.P. Morgan, is a private sector member of the Global Markets Advisory Committee for the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC), the Council which oversees all sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies; and Emoke J.E. Szathmary, President Emeritus of the University of Manitoba, former President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, Provost and Vice President of McMaster University, and former Dean of the Faculty of Social Science of the University of Western Ontario, is currently a director of a number of Power subsidiaries, and is a director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and the Board of Governors of McMaster University.
And of course, we have the Desmarais family themselves, including Paul Desmarais Sr., Paul Desmarais Jr., who is not only a director of several Power subsidiaries, but is Vice Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of Pargesa, a director of Group Bruxelles Lambert, GDF Suez, Total, Lafarge, and is a member of the European Institute of Business Administration, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Economic Forum of the Americas, a trustee and Co-Chair of the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institute, founder and member of the International Advisory Board of the McGill University Faculty of Management in Montreal, and the founder and member of the International Advisory Committee of HEC (business school) in Montreal. André Desmarais is not only on several Power subsidiaries, former Special Assistant to the Minister of Justice of Canada, a director of Pargesa in Europe, CITIC Pacific Ltd. in China, is a member of the Chairman’s International Advisory Council of the Americas Society (founded by David Rockefeller), and is Honorary Chairman of the Canada China Business Council.
As for Power Financial, while there is a great deal of overlap between the two boards, there are some unique names on the board of Power Financial. Among these are J. Brian Aune, President of Aldervest Inc., former Chairman of St. James Financial Corporation, is Governor Emeritus of Concordia University; V. Peter Harder, President of the Canada China Business Council, former Canadian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, former Deputy Minister of the Treasury Board, Solicitor General, Citizenship and Immigration, and Industry Canada, and is a director of IGM Financial, TimberWest, Telesat Canada, Energizer Resources, Northland Power, Pinetree Capital Ltd, and is an independent advisor to the Auditor General of Canada.
The Oligarchy of Education
Canada’s universities, like all universities, are governed by bankers and corporate executives, foundation officials, and think tank presidents, media moguls and millionaires. Given the current situation in Quebec, where hundreds of thousands of students have been taking to the streets in a strike against tuition increases, with over 200 protests in Montreal over the past three months alone, I will focus here on the two major English-speaking universities in the province: Concordia and McGill. This is important to focus on, simply because throughout this crisis, the university administrations have been claiming to be “neutral,” though they have actively set themselves against the students, filing legal injunctions against picketing, hiring private security firms to patrol the schools, and even calling in riot police to disperse striking youth. The schools have claimed to be neutral on the issue of tuition increases, though they have not – in any way – applied pressure or lobbying efforts on the government to reverse its position. In fact, it has been the exact opposite. When we look at who actually sits on the boards of the school administrations, it becomes clear that these are the very same elite who, in their various other social positions, lobby the government to increase the tuition, who sit on the boards of the banks that hand out student loans and charge exorbitant interest rates, who profit off the debt and poverty of the masses.
So let’s start with my own school: Concordia University.
The Chancellor of Concordia is L. Jacques Ménard, the President of BMO Financial Group, one of Canada’s largest banks, a director of Claridge Inc., and a director of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (a think tank promoting elite interests). The Chairman of the Board of Governors of Concordia is Peter Kruyt, President and CEO of Victoria Square Ventures, a director of La Presse (the largest French-language newspaper in Quebec), a director of Picchio Pharma Inc., a director of CITIC Pacific Ltd., Chairman of the Canada China Business Council, and a Vice President of Power Corporation, a company he has been working for since 1980 when he was Executive Assistant to the CEO, Paul Desmarais.
Norman Hébert, Jr.: CEO of Group Park Avenue Inc., former board member of Hyrdo-Québec, Chairman of the Board of Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ, a provincial crown corporation which sells liquor).
Hélène F. Fortin: a director of Larose Fortin CA Inc., member of the Institute of Corporate Directors, former Assistant to the Vice President of Quebecor Inc. (a major media conglomerate), and a former director of CBC and Hydro-Québec.
Brian Edwards: founder of BCE Emergis, one of North America’s largest electronic commerce companies, Chairman of the Board of Miranda Technologies and Biotonix 2010 Inc., and is on the boards of Camoplast Inc. and Impath Networks Canada Corporation, and Transat AT.
Jean Pierre Desrosiers: on the boards of KPGM, Aéroports de Montréal and D-BOX Technologies Inc.
Rita Lc de Santis: a partner at Davies, Ward, Phillips & Vineberg, former member of The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada, Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal, Business Development Bank of Canada and Hydro-Québec.
James Cherry: President and CEO of Aéroports de Montréal, former executive with Bombardier, Oerlikon Aerospace Inc., CAE Inc. and ALSTOM Canada Inc.
Baljit Singh Chadha: Director of the Canada-India Business Council, Pesident and founder of Balcorp Ltd.
Charles Cavell: former President and CEO of Quebecor World Inc., former Chairman of the Board of Sun Media Corp, a director of Adaltis Inc., Novelis Inc.
Tim Brodhead: former President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, former Executive Director of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), past chair of Philanthropic Foundations Canada.
Joelle Berdugo Adler: founder of ONEXEONE, and CEO of Diesel Canada.
Jonathan Wener: President and CEO of Canderal (a major real estate investment company), a trustee of the Fraser Institute, member of the board of the Laurentian bank of Canada, Silanis Technologies, and former president of the Urban Development Institute of Canada.
Annie Tobias: former official at Deloitte & Touche
Michael Novak: Executive Vice President of SNC-Lavalin Group, a global engineering and defense contractor.
Marie-José Nadeau: Executive Vice President of Hydro-Québec, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and General Secretary at Cascades Fine Papers Group Inc, and is a director of Metro.
Andrew T. Molson: Chairman of the Board of Molson Coors Brewing Company, is a partner and chairman of RES PUBLICA Consulting Group, a Montreal-based holding and management company, is Chairman of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and a director of The Montreal Canadiens, DundeeWealth Inc., Groupe Deschênes Inc. and Montréal International, and is president of the Molson Foundation.
Tony Meti: President of G.D.N.P. Consulting Services, Inc., a former Senior Vice President at National Bank Financial Group, a director of ADF Group, Saputo Inc.
Jacques Lyrette: Executive at Innovative Materials Technologies, former CEO of ADGA Inc., an engineering consulting company.
Arvind K. Joshi: CEO at St. Mary’s Hospital Center, member of the advisory board of the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University.
Suzanne Gouin: President and Chief Executive Officer, TV5 Québec Canada, former director of Hydro-Québec.
H. Arnold Steinberg: Chancellor of McGill University, formerly worked for Dominion Securities (now RBC – Royal Bank of Canada – Dominion Securities), has been a member of the boards of Bell Canada, Teleglobe, Provigo, National Bank of Canada.
Heather Munroe-Blum: Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill, is on the board of the Internationalization Committee, and the Membership Committee of the Association of American Universities, a member of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) of Canada, the U.S. National Research Council’s Committee on Research Universities, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Trilateral Commission, and is co-chair of the Private Sector Advisory Committee of the Ontario-Quebec Trade and Co-operation Agreement, on the boards of the Trudeau Foundation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Conférence de Montréal, and the Royal Bank of Canada. She has served on the boards of the Conference Board of Canada, Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Four Seasons Hotel, and Hydro One.
Stuart Cobbett: Managing Partner and Chief Operating Officer of Stikeman Elliott LLP, and is a Director of Citibank Canada.
Lili de Grandpré: founder of an organization strategy consulting firm, CenCEO Consulting, formerly with the Mercer Consulting Group and Bank of Montreal.
Michael Boychuk: President and CEO of Bimcor Inc., and is a member of the advisory board of Centennial Ventures, a U.S. private equity firm, former Senior Vice President and Treasurer of BCE Inc. and Bell Canada.
Gerald Butts: President and CEO of WWF-Canada.
Daniel Gagnier: former Chief of Staff to Quebec Premier Jean Charest, former VP at Alcan, former Chairman of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, current chairman of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and a board member of the Asia-Pacific Foundation.
Banking on Power
In Canada, there are five major banks which dominate the national banking sector (and together wield enormous influence over Canada’s monetary system through the Bank of Canada). These banks are the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), the Bank of Montreal (BMO), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). To understand how these banks wield influence over Canada as a whole, it would be useful to examine the boards of directors of the banks, drawing the overlap of leadership between the ‘Big Five’ and Canada’s major corporations, think tanks, foundations, media and educational institutions. For the purpose of this report, I will simply take a look at the board of directors of the biggest bank: Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and show how it overlaps with the other institutions which dominate our society.
W. Geoffrey Beattie: on the board of directors of General Electric (GE), President of the Woodbridge Company, a privately held investment holding company (the majority shareholder of Thomson Reuters, a major media conglomerate of which he is Deputy Chairman), and he is also a board member of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. and Chairman of CTV Globemedia, a major Canadian media conglomerate.
Richard L. George: President and CEO of Suncor Energy, on the board of the Canadian Pacific Railway, former Chairman and current board member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), was a member of the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), which was formed in 2006 to advise North American governments on the process of ‘North American integration’.
Paule Gautier: the first woman president of the Canadian Bar Association, on the boards of Metro Inc., TransCanada Corporation, and Transcanada Pipelines, an associate member of the American Bar Association, and is on the board of CARE, a supposed “humanitarian” organization, and she was a former director of the Institut Québecois des Hautes Études Internationales at Laval University.
Timothy J. Hearn: former CEO of Imperial Oil Limited, former chairman of the C.D. Howe Institute (a major pro-business think tank) where he remains as a board member, former member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), is co-chair of a fundraising campaign for the University of Alberta and is chair of the fundraising campaign for Tyndale University, and is on the Advisory Board of the Public Policy School at the University of Calgary, a director of Viterra Inc., and is Chair of the board of directors of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
Alice D. Laberge: former CEO of Fincentric, a current Commissioner of the Financial Institutions Commission, on the board of the Minerva Foundation, and a member of the Financial Executives Institute, and a former director of BC Hydro and Power Authority, and is on the board of directors of the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Jacques Lamarre: former President and CEO of SNC-Lavalin, a major global engineering, construction, and military contractor; is on the board of Suncor Energy, the founding member and former Chair of the Commonwealth Business Council, former Chairman of the board of directors of the Conference Board of Canada, a leader at the World Economic Forum, a former director of Canadian Pacific Railway, a member of the C.D. Howe Institute’s British North American Committee.
Brandt C. Louie: Chairman and CEO of H.Y. Louie Co. Limited, a food retail distribution company, Chairman of London Drugs Limited, Vice Chairman of IGA Canada Ltd., former Chancellor of Simon Fraser University (SFU), Governor of the Vancouver Board of Trade, Governor of the British Columbia Business Council, a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), and is a member of the Dean’s Council of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and is a current director of the Gairdner Foundation. He is also a board member of the World Economic Forum, Grosvenor (a property company), and the Fraser Institute, a major right-wing pro-business think tank.
Michael H. McCain: President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., Chairman of the Canada Bread Company, board member at the American Meat Institute, the Richard Ivey School of Business Advisory Board, a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), and a former director of Bombardier Inc.
Heather Munroe-Blum: the Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University, board member of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, a member of the Trilateral Commission, has attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group, is co-chair of the Private Sector Advisory Committee of the Ontario-Quebec Trade and Co-operation Agreement, on the board of the Trudeau Foundation, and is on the board of the Conférence de Montréal (the International Economic Forum of the Americas), which is chaired by Paul Desmarais Jr.; and she has also been on the boards of the Conference Board of Canada, Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Four Seasons Hotel, and Hydro One.
Gordon Nixon: President and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, a director and past Chairman of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), on the board of directors of the International Monetary Conference, and has been on the boards of Daimler/Chrysler, Catalyst, EnCana Corporation, and Queen’s University School of Business; is a director of the Institute of International Finance and has attended Bilderberg Group meetings.
David P. O’Brien: Chairman of the Board of the Royal Bank of Canada, Chairman of EnCana Corporation, a director of Enerplus Corporation, Molson Coors Brewing Company, and TransCanada Corporation; he is also the Chancellor of Concordia University, and is on the board of the C.D. Howe Institute. He was the former Chairman and CEO of Canadian Pacific Limited.
J. Pedro Reinhard: a director of the Colgate-Palmolive Company, a director of Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, a chemical company; former Executive Vice President and Dow Chemical Company, is a former board member of the Coca-Cola Company, and is President of Reinhard & Associates, a financial advisory practice.
Edward Sonshine: was President, CEO and a director of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust, Chairman and a director of Chesswood Income Fund, and is Vice Chairman and a director of Mount Sinai Hospital.
Kathleen P. Taylor: President of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, is a director of The Hospital for Sick Children Foundation, a cabinet member of the United Way of Greater Toronto and a member of the Industry Real Estate Financing Advisory Council of the American Hotel and Motel Association and the International Advisory Council of the Schulich School of Business of York University.
Bridget A. van Kralingen: Senior Vice President of IBM, and was Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting, and is a member of the board of advisors at Catalyst Inc.
Victor L. Young: a director of Imperial Oil Ltd., former Chairman and CEO of Fishery Products International Limited, and is a current board member of McCain Foods, former Chairman and CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, and was a director at BCE Inc. (Bell Canada).
Our Parasitic Elite
Canada’s elite, like all elites, are parasitic to the social good and wellbeing of the people. They own the banks and financial institutions, own our central bank which sets the interest rates, gives loans and collect on debt, pushing people deeper into servitude and slavery; poverty as punishment. They control our media, which shapes our views and ‘opinions,’ they sit on the boards of our universities, putting future generations into debt before they have a chance at life, and control the ‘knowledge economy’ for which they have defined the purpose of education. They influence and control our governments and political leaders, sit on the boards of the think tanks that write policy and promote political agendas, they run the foundations and claim themselves to be benevolent philanthropists, when philanthropy is at best, moral masturbation for the wealthy, a way to feel good about their vast disparity of wealth, and at its more organized levels, is simply a means through which to engage in social engineering and social control: to give a little in order to continue taking so much. The profit off of the foreign wars our country wages and supports, blood plunderers of the Congo, Afghanistan, and Libya. The Canadian elite rule the country as a proxy for the American Empire, acting as a resource suction-cup for the behemoth below us, providing the United States with most of its oil, water, electricity, and timber. These rapacious parasites claim they hold the answers to the crises they cause and profit from; a super-class which can only be understood as a sprawling, venomous, and vacuous social succubus.
With a massive student movement in Quebec nearing its fourth month of strikes against tuition increases, the media has set against them in a massive propaganda campaign, the legal system has set against them in declaring injunctions against picketing students, the provincial state has dismissed, derided, and engaged in fallacious negotiations designed only to win public sympathy for the government, while the police have been incredibly oppressive against the youth: employing pepper spray, tear gas, smoke bombs, concussion grenades, beatings with batons, mass arrests, shooting students in the face with rubber bullets, and a disturbing trend of driving police cars and trucks into crowds of students. These are images you expect from a military dictatorship like Egypt, but not from a supposed “democracy” like Canada. In the midst of this social upheaval and state repression, the propaganda campaign against the students has been so successful that the majority of public opinion stands with the government and against the youth. Through every institution, and with every means made available, the elite have set themselves against the student movement. It is time the students and Canada at large recognize our elite for what they are: parasites!
While this rhetoric is perhaps a little inflammatory, it remains apt. A parasite is much smaller than its host, and it benefits at the expense of the host, changing its behaviour and health. The word “parasite” comes from the Latin word parasitus which is itself derived from the Greek word, parasitos, meaning, “one who eats at the table of another.” The elite have been eating at our table for far too long. They have long over-stayed their welcome. It’s time to make it known that we have no patience or place for them at our table any longer. This will not be easy, this will not be simple; this will take a long time and a great deal of effort. But if we don’t start now, if we don’t begin to take and create a society of, by, and for the people (what was once referred to as ‘democracy’), then elite parasitism will continue to sap the strength, health, environment, wealth, and the very hope and lives of future generations. They will continue to spread like a social cancer until the host is dead.
The youth are always told that the future is ours, but that remains up to us to make it so. The past and the present belong to the parasites, so if we do not stand up and struggle now and forever, we have no future to inherit, no world in which to grow and no hope in which to gaze. We have only debt bondage, state violence, table scraps, impoverishment, punishment, and oppression. The youth in Quebec are trying to just begin to stand up, to say ‘No More!’ and demand for themselves and others a chance at a future. The success of the strike is secondary to the newly-discovered strength of the students. They have been dismissed and derided, insulted and oppressed, from the left and the right, from so-called Progressives and self-congratulating Libertarians. Because the students do not articulate the same philosophy as those of other critics, they are presented as naïve and ‘entitled.’ Those who insult and deride without empathy or understanding only expose their own naivety.
The fundamental and historical importance of the present situation in Québec is not the cost of tuition, it’s the mass mobilization of youth: it is an expression of a popular and growing dissatisfaction with the way things are and an articulation and drive to create something different, to chart a course for the way things can be. Those who fail to see and recognize that, fail to see the development of progress through history, not immediate, but evolving, not instant, but incremental and persistent. If nothing else, this generation can look back and say, “At least we tried. At least we started.”
What will you look back and say?
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
 Christa d’Souza, The art of being Louise MacBain, The Telegraph, 26 June 2004:
 Konrad Yakabuski, Like Father, like sons?, The Globe and Mail, 26 March 2006:
 Marianne White, “Author delivers high-voltage critique of Paul Desmarais Sr. — the man behind Power Corp,” Ottawa Citizen, 21 October 2008:
 Ian Austen, “The Name Is ‘Power’ and It Fits,” The New York Times, 26 January 2007:
 Lisa Kassenaar, “Desmarais family keeps a low profile,” Edmonton Journal, 1 August 2009:
 Lisa Kassenaar, “Buffett Loses to Desmarais as Power Exceeds Return,” Bloomberg, 30 July 2009:
 Christinne Muschi, “Great-West Lifeco helps boost profit at Power Financial,” Reuters, 14 March 2012:
Kevin Dougherty, “Sabia-Desmarais meeting was “friendly”, not lobbying, Caisse de dépôt says,” Montreal Gazette, 7 February 2012:
 William K. Carroll and Murray Shaw, “Consolidating a Neoliberal Policy Bloc in Canada, 1976 to 1996,” Canadian Public Policy (Vol. 27, No. 2, June 2001), pages 196-200.
 William K. Carroll and Murray Shaw, “Consolidating a Neoliberal Policy Bloc in Canada, 1976 to 1996,” Canadian Public Policy (Vol. 27, No. 2, June 2001), pages 200-202.
 C.D. Howe Institute, Members and Supporters: http://www.cdhowe.org/members-and-supporters
The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?
Tuition Hikes, Student Strikes, Police Batons, and Teargas Bombs
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is Part 6 of the series, “Class War and the College Crisis.”
In Montréal, where I live, and across the Canadian province of Québec, there is a growing and expanding student movement which emerged as a strike in February against the provincial government’s plan to increase the cost of university tuition by $325 per year for the next five years, for a total of $1,625. The students have been seeking and demanding a halt to the tuition hike in order to keep higher education accessible, a concept that the province of Québec alone has held onto with greater strength than any other province in Canada. The government continues to dismiss and deride the students, meeting their protests with batons, teargas bombs, and mass arrests. The universities in Québec are complicit with the government in their repression of students and the struggle for basic democratic rights, bringing in private security firms to patrol and harass students in the schools. While the university administrations claim they are ‘neutral’ on the issue of tuition hikes, privately, the boards of governors are made up of bankers and business executives who lobby the government to increase tuition. After all, in April of 2007 – five years ago – Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank Group), one of Canada’s ‘big five’ banks which dominate the economy, released a “plan for prosperity” for the province of Quebec, which recommended, among other things, raising the cost of tuition: “by raising tuition fees but focusing on increased financial assistance for those in need, post secondary education (PSE) institutions will be better-positioned to prosper and provide world-class education and research.”
The movement is becoming more radicalized, more activated, and is consistently met with more state repression. Almost daily, it seems, there are protests all over the city, drawing in other social organizers and activists in solidarity. The little red square patch – the symbol of the Québec student strike – is adorned across the province of Québec and the city of Montréal and on the jackets and bags of a large percentage of its residents. The city and the province, it seems, are at the forefront of a youth-driven social struggle, a growing and rumbling resistance movement. As the issues spread from tuition hikes to a more broad conception of social justice, the movement has the potential to grow both within and far beyond Québec. If the situation continues as it has until present, already the longest student strike in Québec’s history, with increased activism and accelerated state repression, it is not inconceivable to imagine a growing student-led social rebellion by the end of the summer. As the economic situation in Canada – and indeed, the world – continues to get worse for the people of the world (as opposed to the corporations and banks, who are doing very well!), the momentum behind the current student movement has the potential to spill across Québec’s borders into the rest of Canada, with some people referring to this as the beginnings of the ‘Québec Spring,’ or the ‘Maple Spring.’
Emotions are running high in Québec, and increasingly, the government and the Canadian media are presenting the protesters as violent and destructive, and framing the debate in a misleading context, presenting the students as whining about “entitlements.” The rest of Canada is especially fed a line of intellectual excrement, repeating the same invalid and misleading arguments ad nauseum. This article seeks to present the issues of the strike, and the actions of protesters and the government into a wider context, so that other young Canadians (and youth around the world) may understand what is truly taking place, what is truly being struggled for, what the government and media are doing to stop it, the absurdity of the arguments against the students, and the need for this movement to spread beyond this province, to let this truly be the dawn of the ‘Maple Spring.’
Entitlements and Social Justice: Putting the Protests in Context
The most commonly spewed argument against the student protests – and for the tuition increases – emanating from the ‘stenographers of power’ (the media) and others, is that the students are complaining about their supposed ‘right’ to entitlements for cheap education. Québec has the cheapest university tuition in Canada (for residents of the province), and even with the tuition increases, it will still remain among the cheapest nation-wide. Thus, claims the media, there is no rational basis for the complaints and strike. The argument is, however, based upon the fallacious argument that, “the rest of Canada does it, so why not Québec?” In Québec’s history, however, the claim that “the rest of Canada does it” has never been an argument that has won the sympathy of residents of Canada’s French-speaking province. This argument, however, goes beyond a cultural difference between Québec and English-speaking Canada. The most basic problem with this line of thinking is that what is taking place in the rest of Canada is something to aspire to, that because the rest of Canada has higher tuition costs, this is not something to struggle against. When placed in context, we are left with the conclusion that the rest of Canada should be following the example of the students in Québec, not the other way around. So let’s break down the numbers.
Currently, the average yearly cost of tuition for Québec residents is $2,519. With the projected increases of $325 over five years (for a total of $1,625), the annual cost would reach roughly $4,000. The province of Ontario has the highest tuition costs in the country, which has also increased over the past four years from $5,388 to $6,640, an increase of 23% between 2008 and 2012. Québec’s proposed 75% increase over the next five years would mean that Newfoundland would have the lowest tuition in Canada, at $2,649 per year. Québec, while currently the cheapest in Canada, has already undergone a number of tuition hikes in recent years. While maintaining a tuition freeze between 1994 and 2007, while the rest of Canada had consistent hikes, Québec premier Jean Charest introduced a five-year tuition hike of $100 per year between 2007 and 2012. So the reality is that Jean Charest has undertaken and is attempting to undertake a 10-year tuition hike for a total of $2,125 in additional costs, more than doubling what tuition cost in 2007, prior to the onset of the global economic crisis.
So, what does this have to do with the rest of Canada? Let’s pretend, for a moment, that the argument that “the rest of Canada does it” is a valid one. So let’s look at what the rest of Canada actually does, and therefore, if this is something which should be accepted and promoted, instead of struggled against. An article in the Kamloops Daily News pointed out that the average tuition cost in Canadian schools is $5,000, while Québec currently has roughly half that cost. Thus, stated the author, “despite all the whining and crying coming from post-secondary students in Quebec, it’s hard — really hard — to feel sorry for them.” Describing the students like children throwing a tantrum for lack of getting what they want – “kicking up a fuss” – the author contends that since we’re not in a “perfect world,” tuition has to be increased. This line of thinking is, of course, beyond ignorant. Its premise is that because we don’t live in a “perfect world,” there is no basis for trying to struggle for a “better world.” I suppose that black Americans in a liberation struggle in the 1950s, 60s and 70s should have just listened to those who claimed that, “hey, it’s not a perfect world, accept your place in it!” Or perhaps gays and lesbians should just accept that it’s “not a perfect world,” so, why bother attempting to attain rights? Or, for that matter, just tell women to get back in the kitchen. After all, it’s not a “perfect world,” so there’s really no point in trying to make it better, in trying to achieve even small victories along the way. With this absurd argument out of the way, it is true that Québec has roughly half the tuition costs as the rest of Canada. As well as this, Québec students have less student debt than the rest of Canada, at roughly $13,000, also nearly half as what the rest of Canada has. The author of the absurd article contends, therefore, that the real reason for the strike is that, “like a lot of things in Quebec, the sense of entitlement seems to have become a normal part of the culture.”
Now, think about this for a moment. Let’s put this in its proper context. The average tuition for students in Québec is $2,500, and the average debt for Québec students is $13,000. On the other hand, the average tuition costs for Canadian students is $5,000, with the average debt for Canadian students at $27,000. Is this really something to aspire to? Is this really the type of “equality” that we should want, that we should accept, or adhere to? Is it really a valid argument in stating that since the rest of Canadian students pay excessive tuition costs and graduate with absurd debts, that we should too? Especially important in this equation is the current condition for students and youth in Canada today, where upon graduating with an average of $27,000 (a national average, which, by the way, is kept lower due to Quebec’s lower fees), and “once they complete their degrees, there are fewer jobs around that pay the kind of money that allows grads to seriously whittle away at their debt.” This massive debt for students in Canada “is bankrupting a generation of students,” explained the Globe and Mail. It’s not simply the money which is being borrowed, but the interest rates being paid, varying from province to province at between 5 and 9 percent. Interest rates, more over, are expected to increase, and thus, the cost of the debt will increase, and with that, so too will youth poverty increase.
With tuition hikes to add to that, the debt burden will become greater. So not only will the average interest payments on student debt increase with more student debt required to pay for tuition, but the interest rates themselves will increase. What this translates into is class warfare. Thus, the argument that “the rest of Canada does it, so stop complaining,” is akin to saying, “Everyone else is screwed, doomed to be a ‘lost generation’, so stop complaining that we’re throwing you to the wolves too!” Since debt essentially amounts to a form of slavery, let’s use the example of slavery itself to look at this argument. Let’s build a premise of ten slave plantations, one of which is made of indentured slaves (meaning that they will be freed after a set amount of time), and the other nine consist of absolute slavery (from birth to death). Indentured slavery, while not desirable, is better than absolute slavery from birth to death. So, if the plantation owners begin to change the system of slavery of the unique plantation from indentured to life-time slavery, and the indentured slaves revolt, the plantation owners would then argue, “All nine other plantations operate under that system, stop complaining.” Is this a legitimate argument? So when Québec’s student-slave plantation owners tell us that, “the rest of Canada does it,” what they’re really saying is that they want to enslave us in debt and plunge us into a poverty of future opportunities to the same degree that exists in the rest of Canada. And when we fight against this, they say we are “whining and crying” about “entitlements.”
Québec students, themselves, are not living the easy life, as the picture is often painted. A study from November of 2010 put to shame these notions, based upon surveys of students in 2009, and thus, before the $500 tuition increase that ended in 2012, meaning that the numbers are likely much worse today. Half of all full-time students in Québec live on less than $12,200 per year, significantly below the national poverty line. To add to that, 25% of full-time students live on less than $7,400 per year. This data includes the amounts that students get in government loans, leading the president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (University Student Federation of Quebec), Louis-Philippe Savoie, to comment, “Imagine the disastrous effect that raising tuition fees by the Charest government” would then have on the students. The largest source of finances for students does not come from government loans, but from working: part-time students work more, and have less debt, with their work accounting for 83% of their financing; full-time students have more debt, but still 55% of their financing comes from working, and over 80% of full-time students work an average of 18.8 hours per week. Thus, Savoie noted, “The portrait of the lazy student is totally false.” The second largest source of financial support for students is from parents, accounting for 22%, with 60% of full-time students getting support from their parents and families, while 23% of part-time students get financial support from their parents, accounting for a total of 7% of their total financing. Roughly 60% of full-time students in Québec will go into debt, averaging at around $14,000, with student loans making up the majority of that debt, as 44.5% of full-time students have government loans, 23.4% take out bank loans or credit lines, and 22.1% take on credit card debt. The study further showed that 46.6% of part-time students will even end up in debt, averaging at $11,500. The report concluded that the government should freeze tuition and increase financial assistance. Over one year later, the government announced a 75% increase in tuition costs.
To Strike and Strike Down!
By April 26, 2012, the student strike – the longest in Québec’s history – had lasted 72 days and had a running total of 160 different protests, hundreds of people arrested, multiple injuries, and still the government stands stubborn in its refusal to even enter a negotiation with the students in good faith. As a result of the government’s intransigence to democratic appeals, some have taken to acts of violence and destruction. Bricks have been tossed off a downtown overpass, and onto the tracks of the Montréal metro system, leading to road and metro closures. Cars and businesses in downtown are left with broken windows and shattered debris, the remnants of protests in which police invariably turn to oppression and brutality. As the government and police become more repressive, the issue becomes less and less about tuition, and develops a wider social position. Thus, the nomenclature has begun to change from “student strike” to “Québec Spring” – or “Maple Spring” emblematic of “a broader, international Occupy-style fight for a new economic order.” In French, ‘Maple Spring’ is translated as “Printemps Érable,” with érable being very close to the French word for ‘Arab,’ thus drawing an even closer dialectical connection with the ‘Arab Spring.’ One student commented, “A lot of people have stopped calling it a student movement; now it’s a social movement, and I think that it affects people in a much deeper way than just tuition fees.” Another student added, “the whole protest is against the neoconservative and neoliberal point of view of doing politics… People in Quebec are using this movement as a means of venting against the current government.”
In March of 2011, Québec’s Finance Minister under the Liberal Jean Charest government announced the tuition hikes of $325 per year, over five years. In August of 2011, students began campaigning against the tuition hikes, with a large peaceful rally held in Montréal in November, establishing a “common front” of student groups attempting to apply democratic pressure against the government. On February 13, 2012, the strike officially began, with several student groups voting in favour of a walk out. The decisions in the student group are, after all, made democratically, unlike the decisions of the government.
On February 23, students occupied a downtown bridge, and were subsequently pepper-sprayed by police. During a protest on March 7, one student, Francis Grenier, almost lost an eye due to a police stun grenade. On March 21, student tactics changed – as the government refused to even consider negotiations – and were now seeking to disrupt the economy in order to be heard. One group of students occupied the busy city Champlain Bridge in Montréal during rush hour, leading to each student involved being fined $494. On March 22, a massive rally of students from around the province took place in Montréal, drawing hundreds of thousands of students and supporters. The government again refused to negotiate or even consider changing its position. Line Beauchamp, the Quebec [Mis]Education Minister, had the outside of her Montréal office painted red – the symbolic colour of the protests – as she continued to deride the protests and refuse to negotiate with the students. On April 16, the city’s subway (metro) system was shut down in a number of places as some individuals (who remain unidentified) tossed bags of rocks onto the metro tracks at a number of different stations. On April 18 and 19, over 300 people were arrested in the city of Gatineau, Québec, in a confrontation with police at a local university campus. On April 20 and 21, as Jean Charest was attending a job fair, speaking to an audience of business leaders in promoting his ‘Plan Nord’ (Plan North) which seeks to provide government funds to subsidize multi-million and multi-billion dollar mining corporations to exploit the mineral resources of northern Québec, had his speech interrupted by protests. Outside the convention centre, protesters clashed with police, leading to the arrests of over 100 people.
In what was described by the Globe and Mail as Jean Charest’s “Marie Antoinette moment,” as tear gas filled the streets with students fleeing the riot police protecting the comfortable lap-dog-to-the-rich premier inside the convention centre, Charest, speaking at a business lunch with his real constituency (the wealthy elite), joked, “we could offer them a job … in the North, as far as possible.”
Jean Charest, when he paused from making jokes about giving jobs to students “as far as possible” in the North, commented that, “[t]his is 2012, this is Quebec. We have had ministers find tanks of gas on their verandas… Molotov cocktails in front of their offices. There are ministers who have had death threats.” He added, “I find it unacceptable that one student association refuses to condemn violence,” referring to C.L.A.S.S.E (the largest and most militant of the student groups). Meanwhile, as Charest joked and complained, students were being brutalized by police just outside his conference meeting, with tear gas and concussion grenades being tossed at Québec’s youth by riot police. Charest declared social disruption to be “unacceptable,” but apparently state repression and violence is therefore, totally acceptable.
With Jean Charest’s ‘Marie Antoinette moment’ during his conference of congratulating Quebec’s business elite on their new government subsidization from his administration (the latest Québec budget allocated massive funds for mining companies), protests continued outside, with students setting up barricades “made from construction site materials and restaurant patio furniture to impede the circulation of police,” and so of course, the police “responded with stun grenades, pepper spray and batons.” As the violence erupted, Charest was inside making more jokes to his real constituents, stating, “[t]he (event) that we’re holding today is very popular. People are running all over the place to get in.” The crowd of businessmen erupted in laughter and applause. Charest added, “It’s an opportunity for job hunters.” The spokesperson for the student group, CLASSE, replied to the premier’s contemptuous comments, stating, “all my calls for calm won’t do anything… He’s laughing at us. I don’t know if he realizes were in a crisis right now.”
The Schools Side Against the Students
The schools themselves have been participating in the repression of student strikes. Injunctions were issued to protesters, demanding that they permit other students to attend their classes and exams. The legal injunctions declared that those who were not attending classes were not considered to be participating in a legitimate strike. After the injunctions were issued, and two days after the school’s director demanded classes resume, student protesters blocked the entrance to College de Valleyfield, with hundreds blocking the main doors to the school. The school director threatened students that if they did not return to class they would fail the semester. The director, however, canceled the classes in order to avoid a physical confrontation with protesters. Education minister Line Beauchamp then reminded schools that, “they are legally obliged to provide courses.” Premier Charest, who was in Brazil at the time, again serving corporate interests on a trade mission, suggested the possibility of “forcing the schools to open.” He added, “We leave to each institution the task of taking the decisions they must make based on several criteria that include safety as well as the management of their establishments.”
At Concordia University, protesters also blocked the entrance doors, preventing other students and teachers from entering the building during exams. The school responded by calling in the riot police to ‘remove’ the protesters, with fights breaking out between various students, and police then began “intervening” with pepper spray. The University of Montreal won a court injunction which banned protests from assembling on the school campus. The school informed students that, “all individuals must refrain from blocking access to campus buildings, individual classrooms, and even parking lots. Protesters are also banned from taking any action that interferes with classes, campus services or meetings.”
Striking students at McGill University delivered a letter to University President Heather Munroe-Blum, signed by many students, professors, staff and student groups, asking the school to accommodate striking students with finding alternatives to exams or issuing ‘Incompletes’ for classes. Munroe-Blum was not present to accept the letter, with her chief of staff accepting the letter on her behalf, stating that Munroe-Blum had “University business off campus.” Perhaps she was running errands for the Royal Bank of Canada, whose board of directors she also sits on. Concordia University has also shown significant opposition to the strike. The chancellor of Concordia, incidentally, is also on the board of directors of the Bank of Montreal. Concordia, facing demands from striking students to accommodate the strike, replied: “The university’s position has been the same from the beginning, and it’s not going to change.” Students who are involved in the strike, stated a Concordia spokesperson, are “accepting the risks.” She added, “[t]hose who choose not to attend exams when exams are being held, they know the consequences… There’s just nothing more we can add.” A CLASSE representative referred to the situation of the striking students at Concordia, numbering in the thousands, “Unfortunately, since the start of the conflict [they] have faced an intransigent and undemocratic attitude in their talks with their administration.” Some of the French-speaking schools had been making accommodations for striking students, but none were to be found at the English-speaking schools, where there are fewer strikers and more elitist administrators. The CLASSE representative, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, commented that, “[o]ur coalition and our militants will be there on the campus to help the students, to help the strikers, in order to make their democratic-mandated strike respected.”
Concordia University has also responded to the strike by hiring a private security firm to patrol the school. On March 26, there was a clash between striking students and security guards as the school took a harsh stance against picketing students. Some students were taking part in a sit-in on the 7th floor of the school, while others were being harassed by seven security guards on the 4th floor. Geography students were blocking the entrance to their classroom when security guards showed up, purportedly to ensure “there would be no incident,” while intimidating the students and filming them. One student who was present commented, “What happened at the classrooms so far was very calm and very peaceful. The presence of security guards is creating a really uncomfortable environment on campus. It’s really unnecessary and it feels like students are being prosecuted.” The previous week, the school had sent emails out to all of its students, “warning about consequences for students who choose to continue blocking access to classes, which could include formal charges.” The geography teacher who was supposed to teach the class then cancelled it, telling the security guards that there weren’t enough students to continue the class. The professor commented, “I just think that I’m in a really difficult position because I respect what the students have democratically chosen to do… But the picket wouldn’t permit me to pass through anyway and there weren’t enough students that were in the classroom to hold the class.” Earlier that same day, a student who was filming an argument between security guards and students “was struck in the face by one of the security guards, throwing the camera out of her hands and onto the ground.” The incident was filmed, and after the camera was thrown to the ground, the student asked the security guard for his name “for hitting a student,” after which he walked away.
As it turned out, the security official that hit the student in the face “was discovered not to be in possession of a valid security permit, according to a letter sent by the Concordia security department.” The student who had been assaulted had filed a request for information from the director of Concordia University Security, to which she received a letter response informing her that the assaulting guard – hired by the school from the private firm of Maximum Security Inc. – did not possess a security license, adding, “Given the fact that he is not a licensed security agent […] we are not legally permitted to release his name.” Concordia Student Union (CSU) VP Chad Walcott commented, “It would be very concerning if we are being blocked access to any information about the assault of a student… Having unlicensed security staff on campus is completely unacceptable.” The student who was hit told the school newspaper that, “[t]hese kind of accidents are likely to happen again… That’s what happens when you start hiring a large number of security guards for political purposes on campus when they’re not trained to do it.”
CSU VP Chad Walcott later commented: “The university told us on [March 30] that this person was under review… Then we found out that he wasn’t even licensed at all, which leads me to believe that the university lied to us, or they themselves were lied to… Every security agent that is on the university premises is supposed to be a licensed individual. These individuals are also all supposed to be providing students with licenses when requested, and to fail to do so is a violation of the Private Security Act.” As section four of Quebec’s Private Security Act stipulates, “Any person operating an enterprise that carries on a private security activity must hold an agency license of the appropriate class.”
Meanwhile, in late April, the Canadian Parliament – with the Conservative Party in power – are attempting to pass a bill entitled, “Bill C-26: The Citizen’s Arrest and Self Defence Act,” which “clarifies” laws around citizen’s arrests, and according to the Canadian Bar Association, “will grant greater powers to private security agencies” which “will give poorly trained ‘rent-a-cops’ greater latitude to arrest Canadians.” An official at the Canadian Bar Association warned that, “Such personnel often lack the necessary range of equipment or adequate training to safely and lawfully make arrests in a manner proportionate to the circumstances.” The only MP in Parliament to oppose the bill was Elizabeth May of the Green Party, who stated that it would be a “very big gift to the private security companies… The constitution of this country is governed by the concept of peace, order and good government… This stuff goes off in a wacky new direction, and it worries me.”
The Concordia University email sent to students declared that it was “no longer possible to tolerate further disruption of university activities by a minority of protesters who refuse to respect the rights of others,” though apparently it is okay to tolerate harassment by private security guards. The university informed students that those who choose to picket will be asked for their IDs by the private security goons, “and will be reported to a panel to face the appropriate charges,” while those who refuse to provide ID “will have their pictures taken in order to be identified.” The school declared that, “[t]he charges will depend on the severity of the case but it could go from a written reprimand to expulsion.” A Concordia spokesperson stated, “[t]he university will only target students who are physically blocking access to classrooms and offices. We received complaints and we need to make sure our community has the liberty of movement. Blocking the Guy Metro building [the previous week] for example was unacceptable.” The Concordia Student Union and Graduate Student’s Association replied to the school’s email, stating, “Students will not be intimidated.” Both organizations referred to the school’s email as “dangerous” and “irresponsible,” presenting picketers as aggressive, when “in reality [their actions] have been consistently characterized by a lighthearted, peaceful, and creative nature, with very few incidents.” A student union official stated, “[t]heir message is calling for a profiling of students and a general discrimination against protesters and picketers. We think that it is highly unacceptable.” The same official added that, “We actually sat with the university administration to tell them that this email would only create conflictual relations between students and the university… We were basically told that the university did not care if things went out of hand.”
Negotiations in Good Faith…? Not With Beauchamp!
In late April, the [Mis]Education Minister, Line Beauchamp, suggested that the government would agree to discussions with the students. She ensured, however, that the talks would be cancelled before they began, by demanding that the more radical, and most active student organization – C.L.A.S.S.E. – be refused the opportunity to engage in the discussions. Why? CLASSE was branded as “radical” (assuming ‘radical’ is a bad term to begin with) because it refused to come outright in denouncing violence at the protests, though there has never been any condemnation of police brutality and repression from the government, so it’s apparently a contradictory position. Moreover, Beauchamp, accustomed to operating in an authoritarian manner, empty of any notion of democratic governance, demanded that CLASSE do as she said before they could be invited to discussions with a government that had, until late April, refused to discuss the issue with hundreds of thousands of students demanding it. Beauchamp delivered an undemocratic ultimatum, stating that she would only speak with two of the three student associations involved, which together represent 53% of striking students. The student organization, CLASSE, which represents 47% of the 175,000 striking students, held a press conference in response, saying “Beauchamp’s decision was unacceptable and that there can’t be a solution to the dispute without CLASSE’s involvement.” A spokesperson for CLASSE commented, “She can’t marginalize half of the people on strike,” and accused Beauchamp of attempting to “divide and conquer” the student movement. CLASSE was not even involved in the violence that took place, and as the organization acts and makes decisions in a democratic manner, it cannot respond to authoritarian ultimatums from a woman who has no consideration for democratic methods.
Despite Beauchamp’s authoritarian ultimatum, the other student groups remained in solidarity with CLASSE and refused to meet with the [Dis]Honourable Beauchamp unless CLASSE was present. CLASSE announced that they could only denounce the violence if the members voted on it, since the leaders of the organization (unlike those of the government) must make decisions based upon the democratic wishes of their constituents, not their personal pandering to the financial elite. Of course, the refusal by CLASSE to follow the immediate demands of Beauchamp incurred the continued denunciation of the organization by the government and its media lap-dogs like the Montreal Gazette, responsible for possibly the most deriding, rag-like, yellow-journalism-inspired newspaper coverage of the protests to date. However, on April 22, CLASSE addressed its constituents (unlike the government) and they took a vote in which they unanimously condemned the violence, stating: “The position we took to last night was to clearly denounce and condemn any act of deliberate physical violence towards individuals… As a progressive and democratic organization, we cannot subscribe to those actions.” The spokesperson for CLASSE added, however, that civil disobedience will continue: “We think that the principle of civil disobedience has made Quebec civil society a little bit more just and little bit more free than other societies.” Beauchamp replied to the announcement, clearly confused about the difference between civil disobedience (the likes of which was praised and practiced by peaceful non-violent leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King) and acts of violence. Beauchamp addressed her own lack of education in stating, “We all need to act in good faith. If social and economic disruptions continue, the students who endorse them will be excluding themselves from talks.” So where previously it was the refusal to denounce violence that would result in exclusion of talks, and since that requirement was met, the demand changed to refusal to denounce “social and economic disruptions,” which is the entire basis of civil disobedience, strikes, and protests. So, essentially, Beauchamp is demanding that the student organizations denounce their cause before they meet… to discuss their cause.
The last strikes that took place in Quebec in 2005 were successfully divided using the same strategy as Beauchamp attempted. However, as her tactical failure was evident, the divide and conquer effort clearly was not working on Québec students anymore, who remained in solidarity with one another. The government then agreed to sit down to negotiations with the student groups in late April. The talks came to a quick end on April 25, as Line Beauchamp admonished CLASSE for sponsoring a protest the previous night which ended in violence, vandalism, and injuries. Beauchamp commented that, “We cannot pretend today that they have dissociated themselves. I consider, therefore, that the CLASSE has excluded itself from the negotiation table.” A CLASSE spokesperson replied, “Madame Beauchamp does not want to talk about the tuition hike… This decision by Madame Beauchamp is obviously another strategy to sabotage the discussions… Madame Beauchamp will not resolve the crisis without the CLASSE.”
On the night Beauchamp threw her hissy-fit and again ended the chances of negotiations, Montréal had a large protest, drawing thousands of students into the streets. When the students reached a police barricade at a major downtown intersection, tempers flared: garbage cans were overturned, windows of banks were smashed, and some rocks were hurled at police cars. It is notable that violence tends to erupt in protests when confronted with a heavy police presence. A protest earlier on that same afternoon was entirely peaceful, as the police did not have a major presence, instead tailing behind the protesters in vans. It is when the protest is cordoned off, and the right to march – the right to freedom of speech, association, and movement – is being curtailed by riot police, blocking off entire intersections like some reinforced line of Storm Troopers, with police tactics aimed at attempting to separate the protesters into smaller groups, that the police presence creates an antagonizing factor. So, as the protest on the 25th of April was confronted by the line of riot police storm troopers, the protest was declared to be “illegal” by the police: as a few acts of vandalism took place, the police waited, and then began firing tear gas into the crowd of students. The crowd began to disperse and students ran, as the police threw concussion grenades and used their batons.
The following day, all the blame was placed upon the students. In fact, this remains consistent. All the blame for all the events that have taken place is placed squarely upon the students and protesters. When, earlier in April, three out of four of Montréal’s metro lines were shut down due to bags of bricks being thrown on the tracks and emergency stop levers being pulled on the trains, the blame was also put on students, “but the police have not connected this incident to students.” One individual even released a smoke bomb in a metro station on April 18. While the sources of these incidents remain unknown, the sources of the vast majority of violence at protests is quite evident: the police. It should also be noted that Québec has a bad track record of dealing with protesters and inciting violence, often through agent provocateurs. Back in 2007, at the Montebello protests against North American integration, the Québec provincial police had to later admit that they planted three undercover cops among the protesters, dressed in all black, with their faces covered and brandishing large rocks in their hands as they neared a lineup of riot police. The three men were called out by protesters as being undercover cops attempting to start a riot and justify police repression, and once their cover was blown, they made their way past the police line where they were then “arrested.” Photos of the men show that they were wearing the same police-issued shoes as the riot cops, and the government had to later admit that they were indeed police. Though, the government claimed at the time, their men were undercover “to keep order and security.” No doubt with large rocks.
Emergence of the ‘Maple Spring’
Following the large protests in late April, the Liberal Quebec government – bypassing negotiations – came up with its own brand new “solution” to the protests: increase the tuition even more! Jean Charest and Line Beauchamp gave a press conference on April 27 announcing a six-point plan to end the protests, with absolutely no input from the protesters themselves. Charest began the press conference, speaking to the stenographers of power (the media), stating, “There is an increase in the tuition fees… Let’s not pretend it isn’t there.” The proposal suggested that the government would spread the increases over seven years instead of five, though Charest announced that the government would begin “indexing” the tuition costs in the sixth and seventh years to the rate of inflation, which would mean an annual increase of $254 over seven years (instead of $325 over five), resulting in a total of $1,778, as opposed to the $1,625 over five years. Beauchamp added that, “after factoring in the income-tax credit on tuition fees, the increase is $177 a year, or 50 cents a day.” Beauchamp told reporters, “I invite the students to go to their courses because the solution proposed by the government is a just and equitable solution which ensures better financing of our universities, which ensures a fair share from students, which also ensures access to university and ensures better management of our universities.” Further, Charest and Beauchamp announced that the government would add $39 million in bursaries, the premise of which suggests that it’s fine if the government takes a lot more money from students, so much as they give a small fraction of it back, without raising the obvious question of: why don’t we just keep it in the first place? A student organizer commented that Beauchamp’s “50 cents a day” argument was “very clever,” yet, “It does not touch the nub of the question.” The president of the student organization, the Federation etudiante universitaire du Quebec (FEUQ), Martine Desjardins, commented that, “Quebec families are already heavily indebted,” and the new plan would only increase the debt burden.
An overlooked report from late March by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-economique explained that, “increased student debt from higher tuitions could have severe repercussions on public funds.” The researchers noted that, “the provincial government is creating a precarious situation when it encourages students to incur higher debt, much in the same way banks in the United States created a risky situation when they made it easy to obtain mortgages – a situation that ultimately threw the U.S. economy into a recession when homeowners began to default on their payments.” When interest rates go up, as they are set to do so, “today’s students may well find themselves in the same situation of not being able to pay off their student loans.” One of the researchers commented, “Since governments underwrite those loans, if students default it could be catastrophic for public finances… We are already seeing signs of a higher education bubble like that in the U.S… If the bubble explodes, it could be just like the mortgage crisis… The fact is, there is no need for additional funding for Quebec universities.”
The student movement has now begun the campaign for other social movements, labour groups, and activist organizations to join the protests in a wider ‘social strike’ against the Québec government. The more radical student organization, which represents 47% of the 175,000 striking students in Quebec, C.L.A.S.S.E., issued a press release in late April calling for a “social strike” from the “population as a whole!”
Following a massive demonstration of over 200,000 people on April 22 in Montréal demanding the protection of the environment and natural resources, the message was clear: more than tuition is at stake. A manifesto for a “Maple Spring” appeared and spread through social media networks in late April. The manifesto declared that:
2011 was the year of indignation and revolt. The Arab spring unnerved autocrats, swept out dictators, destabilized regimes and drove many to grant reforms. The images of these Arab peoples deposing their oligarchies went around the world and set an example.
Inspired by the spontaneous occupations of public places in the Arab world, the first Indignados appeared in Spain, when deep-going austerity measures were imposed on the country. The Spanish highlighted the real limits of democracy in that country, strongly affected by the economic crisis, subject to the dictates of the financial markets, with 46 per cent of its young people unemployed. The initiative produced its emulators and the movement spread in Europe and beyond.
The movement extended to North America, and from New York around the Occupy Wall Street initiative. That movement was aimed at the richest 1 per cent, the major banks and multinational corporations, which dictate the laws of an unjust global economy that is mortgaging the future of all of us. The movement then spread to more than 100 U.S. cities, but also to Canada (Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal).
The rebellious Arabs, the European Indignant, or the American occupiers, all have gathered behind the same message of hope: Another world is possible!
This storm of global protest against economic and political elites out of touch with the legitimate concerns of insecure peoples who are always being asked to pay more, to work harder, and above all not to demand anything in return, is now blowing over Quebec. The students’ courageous fight for the right to education now constitutes the spearhead of a profound movement of indignation and popular mobilization that has been stirring in Quebec for several years. The monster demonstration of March 22 launched the printemps érable! [Maple Spring!]
Let us join in this global current of revolt and follow the example of the Icelanders who, in January 2009, forced the resignation of the neoliberal government of Geir Haarde, which had participated in the genesis of the economic and social crisis in which that country plunged in 2008.
It’s Quebec’s turn to bring down its corrupt clique!
Charest, that’s enough! Let us demand the government’s resignation!
Among the ‘demands’ that the manifesto made were:
– The right to education for everyone, without discrimination linked to money;
– The right to a healthy environment and the conservation of our natural resources, to protect our water, our rivers, our forests, our regions, and not to yield to the voracious appetite of the mining and oil and gas companies;
– The rights of the indigenous peoples to their aboriginal lands;
– The right to enjoy a responsible and democratic government, serving its people and not some financial interests;
– The right to pacifism and international solidarity, clearly displaying Quebec’s opposition to the militaristic and commercial policies of the federal Conservative government;
– The right to a local, sustainable, mutually supportive social economy that puts humans at the centre of its concerns.
Solidarity for the Québec students has been shown from students and unions and other groups across Canada and indeed, around the world. Students from the University of Ottawa have participated in strikes and protests in Montréal, and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) sent a bus of students to participate in the mass rally of hundreds of thousands of students on March 22. SFUO president Amalia Savva stated, “When it comes to tuition fees in general—when we see a 75 per cent increase in tuition fees over the next five years in Quebec—that’s extremely dangerous for students not only in Quebec, but across the country, to set a precedent like that… Tuition fees are one of the common struggles students have, not only between Quebec and Ontario, but across the country and across the world as well.”
A number of unions from Ontario expressed solidarity with the student strike, stating that, “We stand in solidarity with the student strikers and the professors, campus workers and community members who have supported this movement. Students in Quebec are fighting against the commercialization of education and user pay through tuition increases that create massive barriers to access and student debt that profits the banks while haunting students for years after graduation.”
On April 26, roughly 50 peaceful protesters assembled in downtown Toronto, with riot police assembled nearby, demonstrating in support of the Québec student strike. A progressive think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, had called for the Toronto protest, issuing a press release stating: “Join us for a rally in front of Québec’s Office in Toronto in solidarity with the ongoing student strike. On this occasion, we will be delivering a petition to be sent to the Premier’s office in Québec. With this action, we also want to contribute to bringing this great movement’s democratic and combative spirit to Ontario.” Students, while fighting against tuition hikes around the world, continue to express solidarity with Québec’s strike, including signs of solidarity appearing at a protest against tuition hikes in Taipei, Taiwan, as well as small protests in Paris and Brussels specifically assembled to show solidarity with Québec students.
Québec is not the only place where there is a massive student movement developing into a wider social movement. In fact, Chile saw the start of its massive nation-wide student protest movement in May of 2011, roughly one year ago. The movement began as a student protest and evolved into a wider social movement with demonstrations drawing hundreds of thousands of Chileans, often met with the state apparatus of repression, remnants from Chile’s military dictatorship put in power by the CIA in 1973. The student movement has continued into the new year, and on April 25, the same day that large protests erupted in Montréal, Santagio had a protests which drew tens of thousands of students into the streets (between 25-50,000), rejecting the government’s proposed reforms as “too little.” Student leader Gabriel Boric declared, “We will carry on making history… We students will not give up the fight to make education a public right.” Roughly ten days prior to the protests, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Chile seeking to extend “free-trade” agreements for the benefit of multinational corporations. Canada already has the largest investment in Chile’s mining industry. Reportedly, the massive student movement in Chile was not under discussion between Harper and Chilean President Pinera.
So in Québec, the premier is dismissing the students and subsidizing the mining corporations. In Chile, the Canadian Prime Minister is ignoring student movements in both Canada and Chile while seeking to better secure Canadian mining interests. Thus, in the provincial, national, and international arena, Canadian politicians continually seek to protect, support, and expand the interests of multinational corporations while simultaneously undermining, ignoring, dismissing, and repressing massive student movements demanding social, political, and economic justice. This is not merely a Canadian issue, but a global one, making what is happening in Québec all the more relevant in attempting to bring about a ‘Maple Spring.’ Informal acts of solidarity and formal associations and relationships should be established between the two student movements in Québec and Chile so as to further empower and support those around the world who are partaking in a similar struggle.
What the Students are Saying
I had the chance to interview students and youth taking part in the strike and protests here in Québec. While the mainstream media inundates readers with quotes and concerns of the minority of students who do not support the strike, thus giving a very slanted perspective of the events taking place, I felt it was important to provide statements and perspectives from students who do support and have been taking part in the strike. I asked the students to tell me about their experiences, perspectives, and hopes for the strike and student movement, and what their message to the rest of Canada would be, in light of the poor information being given through the media.
Karine G. from Québec City said that her message to the rest of Canada was that, “Québec is not Canada. Our education system, like other specificities in our society, reflects our difference and our values. We are not complaining, simply trying to defend who we are and how we think it should be reflected through our institutions. Democracy supposes that citizens are free to invest in what they value the most; we think education should be a priority.” She added, “No matter what people try to justify with numbers, raising tuition fees is an ideological decision. Even though the Liberals are trying to make us believe – ‘There is no other alternative’ – we are not fools.” She expressed a great deal of frustration in getting others to understand what democracy and strikes actually represent and consist of, and finds a great deal of “ignorance and individualism” as well as apathy among others who criticize or oppose the strike.
Mathieu Lapointe Deraiche from Montréal stated that while the strike began in opposition to the tuition hikes, “I think after 11 weeks of strike, in the middle of one of the greatest student movements in the history” of the province, in both numbers and duration, “the hike of fees is now only a detail.” He added, “It is now a social crisis that [has] revealed an important generational gap (not to say ‘war’) between Quebec’s youth and the children of the ‘Trentes Glorieuses,” referring to the “30 Glorious Years” of growth following World War II, ending in the 1970s. He explained that the “social crisis” has “called into question the role of the police and the media,” such as TVA, the Journal de Montréal, and the Gazette. Referring to it as a “socio-political war between the youth and the government,” Mathieu explained that it has now reached the point where he “couldn’t be satisfied with a cancellation of the fees,” as his “actual disgust towards [the] government… transcends a financial issue.”
Freezing the ‘Spring’: State Repression of the Strike
Andrée Bourbeau, a member of the legal committee for C.L.A.S.S.E., is responsible for organizing funds to pay for the legal defense of those who are arrested at the protests (whether or not they are students), by disputing the tickets and fines which are dispersed to protesters by the police for taking part in the demonstrations. The mass arrests are done through the use of such tickets, using two Québec laws in particular to repress the student protests, which C.L.A.S.S.E. maintains – and rightly so – as being unconstitutional. For example, article 500.1 of du Code de sécurité routière (Québec law) is “unconstitutional,” explained Bourbeau, “because it prohibits any demonstration.” The article states that, “No person may, during a concerted action intended to obstruct in any way vehicular traffic on a public highway, occupy the roadway, shoulder or any other part of the right of way of or approaches to the highway or place a vehicle or obstacle thereon so as to obstruct vehicular traffic on the highway or access to such a highway.” In short, the very notion of a street protest is declared “unlawful” by Québec, which is a very violation of the right to assemble, the right to free speech and movement. Thus, it is unconstitutional. This article has led to the repression of every demonstration in Québec City, where more than 300 people have received $500 fines under this law. If any of those individuals take part in another protest, and receive another fine, the amount increases to between $3,500 and $10,500. Bourbeau told me, “this is outrageous because this is purely political repression of the student movement in Quebec City.” From the beginning of April, demonstrations have been declared illegal by the police, who threaten students that they will be fined if they take part, even if the demonstrations are peaceful, and of course the vast majority of them are.
It’s a stark reminder of the reality of how the student movement is presented in the media that with over 160 protests – with an average of 2-3 per day across the province – the rest of Canada only hears about the few protests that turned violent. Yet, for the nearly 200 protests that have taken place thus far, they are consistently met with a large police presence, fines, police brutality, and other forms of state coercion and repression. But it is the incidents of bank windows being smashed which the rest of Canada hears about. In Montréal, protests are repressed by the police through a bylaw which forbids assemblies that “breach the peace.” Bourbeau explained, “this is so broad it covers every kind of demonstration.” Thus, at each demonstration, the police arrest students and other protesters simply for being present. When some protesters react with violence or vandalism, this is referred to in the media and by the government as a “riot.”
For example, an article in the National Post written by David Frum was entitled, “David Frum on the Quebec student riots.” The first line in the article wrote, “The rioting students of Quebec got scant sympathy even before they started smashing windows and detonating smoke bombs.” He later referred to the student protesters as “a radical fringe,” who do not “deserve any sympathy.” He added: “And besides, they are part of the problem: a richer-than-average tranche of their own cohort demanding support from the taxes of less affluent people.” David Frum, it should be noted, is a Canadian-American “journalist” who was previously a speechwriter for U.S. President George W. Bush, an ardent neoconservative, and was one of the loudest voices calling for the war on Iraq. Frum was also responsible for coining the phrase “axis of evil,” which George Bush first used in a speech from 2002. Hard to imagine that Québec would get fair coverage from the likes of Frum.
The use of bylaws and other unconstitutional ‘articles’ are – explained Bourbeau – aimed at “trying to demobilize the students, to make us fear going out to demonstrations and organize.” Of particular concern for protesters and organizers, she said, was the recently created police “GAMMA squad” in Montréal. In January of 2011, the GAMMA (Guet des activités et des mouvements marginaux et anarchists) squad was created as a special unit of the Montréal police, specifically designed to monitor anarchists and other “marginal political groups.” In short, it is a political policing unit, designed to engage in repression of ideological opposition to the state. These types of “squads” are typical in fascist and authoritarian countries around the world, but it’s new to Montréal. While protest organizers are very concerned about this squad, they have remained virtually out of the national media (though there is some discussion of them in the French media), so very few are even aware of their existence.
In July of 2011, C.L.A.S.S.E. filed human rights complaints against the GAMMA squad after an “unprecedented” wave of arrests, when four members of the student group, three of whom were executives, were arrested as they were preparing to organize a campaign against the tuition hikes. The stated reason for the arrests was for the organizers participating in having organized protests the previous March which resulted in a small injury of a staff member of Québec Finance Minister Bouchard’s office. A CLASSE spokesperson stated that the aim of the arrests was to “break the back” of the student movement before it even began to mobilize. CLASSE is neither an “anarchist” nor a “marginal” organization (due to it being the largest representation of the student movement), which is not to say that monitoring anarchist and other “marginal” groups (however the State defines that) is acceptable, because it is not. The “evidence” against the student organizers was largely provided by an informant for the GAMMA squad. CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois stated, “There is no doubt about the political nature of these arrests… This is clearly an attempt by the [Montreal police] to decapitate the Quebec student movement on the eve of one of its historical struggles.”
Alexandre Popovic, a spokesperson for the Coalition against repression and police brutality, explained that the GAMMA squad represents “police use of social stereotyping to hinder the legal expression of opposition to social and legal policies.” He stated, “It’s ridiculous… They have a stereotypical cartoon image of anarchists,” adding that while anarchists believe in opposing authority (which is a good thing!), they also have families, host book fairs, and engage in intellectual discussions. Referring to the complaints filed against GAMMA to the Québec Human Rights Commission, Popovic stated: “The commission needs to remind the police that we are not in a police state. We have the right to disagree and even have thoughts they might not like.” CLASSE spokesperson Nadeau-Dubois explained, “This squad is really a new kind of political police to fight against social movements.” The GAMMA unit is a branch of the Montréal Police Force’s Organized Crime Unit, which “uses tactics developed to monitor mafia and street gangs in order to keep tabs on political activists.”
Though apparently they don’t do a very good job of handling the Montréal mafia, since the city government they work for has been handing out public contracts to the mafia, who have connections to political parties and the construction industry as well. Back in 2009, a former city government opposition leader, Benoit Labonte, facing corruption charges, stated that the Montréal mafia controls roughly 80% of City Hall, telling Radio-Canada, “Is there a Mafia system that controls city hall? The response is yes.” Mafia-connected construction executives have been involved in election campaigns in municipalities all across the city of Montréal and elsewhere, and have thereafter been awarded with lucrative public contracts. Arrests were made on anti-corruption charges in Montréal in late April, and among the 14 suspects arrested, two of them were Liberal Party organizers, putting Jean Charest’s government further on the offensive. One of those Liberal Party organizers was personally given an award by Jean Charest at a Liberal Party meeting in 2010. Back in September of 2010, Jean Charest’s Québec government was declared by Maclean’s Magazine to be “the most corrupt province” in Canada. Marc Bellemare, the province’s former Justice Minister in the Charest government, spoke out about the rife corruption, favouritism, collusion and graft, with Charest granting Liberal Party fundraisers a say in the appointments of judges, not to mention his government’s deep connections to the overtly-corrupt construction industry. Interestingly, “it costs Quebec taxpayers roughly 30 per cent more to build a stretch of road than anywhere else in the country.” So if Québec really is concerned with “balancing the budget,” perhaps the government – and the police, for that matter – should start with ending corruption in the governments itself (as if that were even possible!). It seems that the government is more interested in supporting organized crime than organized students.
I do not mean to paint Charest as a pawn of the mafia, since he always has been and always will be far more beholden to elite financial and economic interests, specifically that of the powerful Desmarais family (Canada’s equivalent of the Rockefeller family), with its patriarch Paul Desmarais Sr, who treats Charest like a little poodle, and who has established close connections with every Canadian Prime Minister since the 1970s, and all but two of Québec’s premiers in the same amount of time. As one reporter with the Globe and Mail explained, “Desmarais has been personally consulted by prime ministers on every major federal economic and constitutional initiative since the 1970s. Most of the time, they’ve taken his advice.” It was also reported that, “[o]ver the last several years, [Paul Desmarais Sr.] has spun his web to such an extent that it now enables him to call the shots,” especially in promoting his right-wing economic vision, with “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada.” In particular, Desmarais “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest.” Quebec writer Robin Philpot wrote that when Paul Desmarais received the French Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean Charest was in attendance, of which Philpot stated, “He took him along like a poodle.” Philpot added, “It’s a very unhealthy situation for a government to be indebted to a businessman that has his own interest at heart. They get their hands tied.”
And now Charest is attempting to ensure that future generations of students are themselves beholden to the same interests he is: the bankers and corporations, the political-economic and financial elite who dominate the province and the country.
The Students ‘Spring’ Forward
Following Charest’s announcement of a new “seven-year” program for the tuition hikes (with even more tuition costs added on!), students took to the streets in another night of major protests in Montreal. Student leaders rejected the absurd proposal, declaring, “It’s not an offer, it’s an insult.” When some students in the protest occupied an intersection and sat down in the street, the police responded with tear gas. Then, after two hours of peaceful protest (apart from police aggression and a few projectiles thrown at police in response), the police declared the demonstration to be “illegal” and began arresting people.
In late April, in the eleventh week of the strike, international media have finally taken notice, as the student movement is making its way into the headlines of CNN, the BBC, and Al-Jazeera. Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), one of the main student groups, commented that, “I think we’ve seen that no matter how far reaching the movement is, Charest just isn’t listening… After months of taking to the streets, it’s encouraging and surprising to see the struggle catching on like this. It’s been tiring for students to have to keep marching and striking but this gives us new hope moving forward.” However, despite the general perception of the protests, both student leaders and the police themselves admit that the vast majority of those assembled do so peacefully. Constable Yannick Ouimet of the Montreal Police said, “We know that 99 per cent of the people who show up to protest want to do so peacefully… What we’re seeing now is that the peaceful protesters and their leaders are helping police identify criminals so that they can be removed from the crowd.” Desjardins reflected on the latest “proposal” from Charest, calling it “a smokescreen.” He explained: “the offer was never mentioned when we set down to negotiate with the government. Instead, it was sent above students’ heads as an attempt to win over the general public.” While the media continues to repeat the falling support for the students among the general public – figures which are attributed to the violence – Desjardins felt it noteworthy to point out, “We’re seeing small openings and we’re seeing our support base broadening. It’s not just students out there, it’s parents, teachers, trade unions and different social groups. We don’t want to have gone through all of this and to go back to school empty handed.”
Québec students are increasingly frustrated with the government response to the strike. At a protest in late April, a number of students gave their complaints to the media. “I don’t think there is any class of society that would like to be ignored for three months,” one student explained. She added, “Now, all of a sudden, people realize something is going on because some windows were broken.” Another student, and mother of two, Aurélie Pedron, raised the issue of agent provocateurs being used to demonize the students: “When there are vandals on bicycles, with rocks so huge that you could not find them on Ste. Catherine Street [where the protest was taking place], when it’s a bookstore whose window is smashed, do you really think it is students who do that?.. Don’t take us for idiots.” Another student explained that, “the government approach is to present us as a bunch of vandals.” One political science student explained, “this has become more than a student fight, it is a fight against the government and the state.” Another student at the protest agreed: “The issue is bigger than tuition fees. It is a question of re-establishing democracy. There is no democracy. We are closer to totalitarianism. Decisions are made without listening to the people.” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the spokesperson for CLASSE, elaborated on the increased scope and vision of the struggle of students: “Those people are a single elite, a greedy elite, a corrupt elite, a vulgar elite, an elite that only sees education as an investment in human capital, that only sees a tree as a piece of paper and only sees a child as a future employee.” Thus, he explained, the student strike would be “a springboard to a much wider, much deeper, much more radical challenge of the direction Quebec has been heading in recent years.”
Andrée Bourbeau of CLASSE told me that, “if Quebec is the province that has the lowest tuition fees and the best system of bursaries, it’s because we fought since the 1960s through organized actions and strikes,” with the current 2012 strike being the ninth one, and the largest of its kind, with the longest duration. She added, in regards to the methods of the student organizations, that, “we have practiced direct democracy through our student general assemblies for several decades now,” and that it is through this ‘direct democracy’ approach that decisions of the students are made before approaching the government. When the government ignores and dismisses the demands of the students, it is through the direct democracy approach of syndicalisme de combat that the students decide to target – through civil disobedience and peaceful assembly – the economy itself. “Transparency is very important,” explained Bourbeau, “Acting with syndicalisme de combat means that we mobilize people, we organize demonstrations and actions. The movement is its members, not an enlightened elite.” I asked her what her message to the rest of Canada was, to which she replied:
I wait for Canadian students to start struggling for their rights, for free tuition and self-governed universities. I don’t think Quebec has to be different than the other provinces in regards to social programs and public services. [I speak] in solidarity with the people of Canada!
The “political police” and its corrupt and elite-beholden government sponsor continues to repress dissent, demonize an emerging social movement, prevent the expression of basic – constitutionally guaranteed – rights and liberties of hundreds of thousands of youth and activists across the province. The government of Québec is attempting to turn a potential ‘Maple Spring’ into a ‘Hopeless Winter.’ But as we here in Montréal can see and feel, winter is on its way out, the temperature is getting warmer, the sun is starting to shine more and more, and spring is sprouting!
Message from Canada’s Youth: We Refuse to be a Lost Generation!
The argument that Québec students are “whining and crying” about “entitlements” is not only wrong, but deeply immoral. What Québec students are doing is finally standing up and saying, ‘No More!’ What Québec students are doing is not a misguided attempt to preserve “entitlements,” but to try to ensure for ourselves a future, a future which is being – year-by-year – stolen from us. My generation of Canadians – and for that matter youth all over the world – are shackled with more debts than any before us, with less job opportunities, with more poverty, and with the burden of beginning our lives under a system which has consistently favoured the rich few at the expense of the rest. We are told to go to school and get a good job. So we go to school, get deep into debt, and graduate into a market with few jobs. With professional degrees, we go work at Starbucks, so that we may pay the interest on our student debts, or the interest on our credit card debts, struggling to pay our monthly rent, or living at home for much longer than any generation before us because we simply can’t afford to move out. Rents are going up, and housing prices are sky-high in an absurd bubble waiting to burst. So then we are told that if we want “a future,” we have to buy property. None of us can afford a $500,000 condominium in Vancouver or Toronto, so we are told: get a mortgage, it’s the “smart” thing to do. So we get a mortgage, because our parents, our banks, and our government said: “It’s the smart thing to do.” And when this absurd housing bubble pops, our interest payments on our mortgages will skyrocket, and our student debts will skyrocket, and our credit card interest payments will skyrocket, and we won’t even be able to keep up with the increasing costs of food.
We are doomed to poverty before we even have a chance at possibility. We were raised with expectations of a life we could have. For those of us who grew up middle class, like myself, we grew up in a world built on a mirage of debt. The average Canadian household today spends 150% of its income, so that for every $1 they make, they owe $1.50. The average Canadian household is $103,000 in debt, largely due to mortgages, but also as a result of credit card debt, student debt, and other loans. Canada’s big five banks help provide the mortgages, the student debt, tell us to get credit cards, and through the Bank of Canada (our central bank), keep the interest rates low so as to encourage people to get more loans and go deeper into debt. Everyone is told to get an RRSP because “it’s the smart thing to do.” So we save what money we can, and put it into an RRSP account. Yet, if we want to spend that money, we have to do so on property. If we take out the money for anything other than a house or condo (which would still require us to get a mortgage to cover the full expense), then we lose a huge percentage of the money within the account. I took a class in high school where the teacher explained to all the compliant young students that investing your money in an RRSP is “the smart thing to do.”
So now our parents are struggling to pay their rent, meet their interest payments, or even pay for food. They work several jobs, and still we struggle, day-to-day and week-to-week. Our parents see us – their children – also struggling, falling behind and not meeting the social expectations that were set for us: when to move out, when to get an apartment, when to go to school and graduate, when to get a job, when to get a house, when to get married, when to have kids, etc. So our parents, naturally, want the best for us, want us to have what they tried for but are now struggling to even maintain as an illusion. So they tell us: get a student loan to go to school and get a good job, get a credit card, get a mortgage to buy a house. They encourage us to follow their path, when where they currently stand is already dangerously close to the cliff’s edge. Our path, then, is much rougher, much more dangerous, and all the more illusory than theirs. They see only their own children, and want the best. But we, their children, see each other: we see our friends, co-workers, fellow students and compatriots; we see our entire generation and how we all struggle. Our parents see the individual struggles of their own kids. We see and feel the collective struggle of a generation. We did what we were told, and now we are left with massive debt and no jobs, higher rents and fewer hopes. We did what we were told, year after year, because, as they say, “It’s the smart thing to do.” We did everything we were told to “get ahead,” and now we are being left behind.
So what the students in Québec are doing is simply trying to catch up, is simply speaking up and saying that we don’t want to be a “lost generation,” doomed to debt bondage. And now that we – finally! – are awakening to our situation and taking action, we are derided and dismissed, insulted and ‘dissed’, spat on and chastised, beaten with batons, bombed with tear gas. We are told, now, that we are “crying and whining,” that we are spoiled children, demanding “entitlements” and subsidies. We aren’t asking for a free ride through life, all we are wanting… is the chance to have a life.
The future is the world that we are inheriting, and before we can even enter the future, it’s being stolen from us. We are disciplined under heavy debts and higher costs before we have the chance to even reach a true sense of autonomy and independence. We are indebted before we even move out of our homes, before we get our first job. And then we are told we are spoiled and entitled!
It’s time for older generations to move aside, to stop telling us what it is we should want, how we should get it, and then deride us for not doing what they say. If we feel we are ‘entitled,’ it is because we were raised to feel that way. This is partly the fault of our parents’ generation, who have lived a life in debt, and who now instruct us to follow them into the abyss, and dismiss us when we say we want to chart our own course. Well now it’s time for them to move aside. They tried, in the 1960s and early 70s, to civilize society and make a better world – something we are now told is not worth aspiring to – and indeed, achievements were made, but it was stopped short. The elites of our society saw the emergence of social democratization and struggles for liberation and put a finish to it. The system they constructed to strangle the struggle for liberation is what we call “neoliberalism” and debt-domination.
Now, all around the world, from North Africa, to Latin America, East Asia, Europe and right here in Québec, the youth are finally standing up against this ruthless global system of exploitation, militarism, racism, and domination. What the students in Québec are doing is joining the global struggle as it emerges around the world, and setting an example for the rest of Canada and North America, who have so far been lagging far behind. We are not preserving entitlement; we are seeking empowerment. If our parents failed to do it, it is left to us. So, for those in previous generations who only want “the best” for their children, it is time to stop telling us to follow their examples, and time to start following ours. It is time to stand with and behind the youth, instead of out in front and above us. It is time to support us where we need it most. What the youth of the world are now saying is that we will welcome your support and encouragement, but if you get in our way, we will push you aside and leave you behind. So if you – like all people of this world should – desire a better world for your children, want to enter a more hopeful future, and create a more equal and fair society, it’s time to step up to the plate and stand behind the vanguard of the revolution: the youth!
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
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