Wednesday 13 June 2012

Quebec's student strike: exercise in democracy or attempt at mob rule?

No matter how many warm and fuzzy videos are broadcast on Al Jazeera, no matter how they fulminate on the threat to civil liberties Bill 78 supposedly presents, having to pass “An Act to enable students to receive instruction from the post-secondary institutions they attend,” is a terrible black eye on Quebec’s student movement. #GGI represents a fundamental assault on democracy.

This isn’t “doing politics differently”: it’s an attempt at mob rule.

And if the protesters think they reflect the majority in Quebec, their arithmetical savvy is as compromised as their politics. In fact, the students’ sense of entitlement—not to mention cluelessness about what real threats to human rights look like – is yet another sign that our university system was already in serious trouble before the “strike” was even a glint in Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’ eye.

Those outside the province should rest assured that the protests, only a few of them impressively large-scale, are largely evening affairs. We’ve lived through the War Measures Act, two referendums, and the ice storm; a few potbangers ain’t nothin’ gonna break our stride. The festival season is just about to hit –the Fringe, Festival TransAmériques, Circus Arts, Francofolies, Jazz Fest, Nuits d’Afrique, Just for Laughs, film fests – and everyone is welcome to the party that is summer in Montreal.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t serious collateral damage:

  • New students: A mother tells me her daughter will attend Dawson College next year instead of her first choice, Collège de Maisonneuve, where the winter semester was interrupted by the strike. Classes at de Maisonneuve are scheduled to resume in August – but what if students refuse to go back? What if the fall semester, pushed back to October 1st, doesn’t go ahead as planned? “What if those who were supposed to graduate after the interrupted semester stay on and there’s no room for my daughter?” the mother worries. The more militant schools are at risk of losing students due to dropouts and transfers.

  • Untenured teachers: A woman I know teaches on a contractual basis at one of the universities affected by the strike. Unlike tenured professors, she isn’t paid if she doesn’t teach. So far, two of her contracts were cancelled; now she’s on employment insurance and seriously concerned about making her mortgage payments.

  • Intimidation: A fellow writer tells me about his partner, a CEGEP teacher whose union strongly supports the class boycott. He phoned a radio talk show to offer his opinion on the “strike.” “Whatever you do,” she implored, “please don’t use your real name.” He didn’t. And don’t get me started on the intimidation among students: shouting down dissent, refusing to hold secret ballot votes, drowning out university events with bullhorns, clashing with students in classrooms

  • Free tuition is a gift for the rich: A few years back, my son went to Brazil with Canada World Youth. That’s how I learned that free--but not unlimited--places at university end up going to rich students. Unlike the poor students who attend public high schools, those from private schools end up best prepared for the stringent, compulsory entrance exams. Even Finland and Germany, oft-cited by those beating their pots for free tuition here, have such exams. Free doesn’t mean everyone gets to go.

  • Knocking Quebec’s most serious education problem off the map: Quebec has one of the highest high school dropout rates of all the provinces; according to statistics from 2009, about one-third of Quebec boys never graduate from high school. But since the university students's street theatre shenanigans--like taking their clothes off, painting themselves red, and banging on pots--nobody’s talking about the serious issue of this potentially permanent underclass.
  • One thing is certain: this imbroglio will be solved. And I sincerely hope the government hangs tough. To do otherwise is “letting the tail wag the dog” and will ensure this happens over and over again. Which, of course it has: in 1996, then-education minister Pauline Marois proposed a 30 per cent tuition increase. Massive protests led to her backing down. No wonder she wears a red square these days.

    Remember: if we capitulate to mob rule on university tuition, the next time the forces of darkness seek to abolish a law or impose one—abortion or gay marriage, anyone? – all it should take is a few large, well-timed demonstrations.

    Beverly Akerman, author of The Meaning of Children, lost the better part of a semester when her CEGEP teachers went on a five-week strike in the late ‘70s.

    (This article was originally published on OpenFileMtl)

    Watch Bev's interview on SunTV about the student strike: 


    1. much discussion of this post on my FB page:

      one of my retorts: you know, it's one thing to demonstrate about tuition fees and another for a small minority to prevent everyone from attending university or cegep classes. sorry, that is completely the opposite of democracy & so not cool. let those who choose to run around naked & painted red until the cows come home, who really gives a $%&^? but a group that considers it has the right to shout down meetings and classes and prevent others from attending school...that's the opposite of democracy, sorry. and i'm not even mentioning the violence. Bill 78 came after all that crap.

    2. and lots more comment on OpenFile,, including this memorable one:

      "This piece has restored my faith in Open File. I sum the whole situation in three words: first world pains."

      see my previous Gazette article where i called this issue a 'first world problem'

    3. Mike Alex Rose15 June 2012 at 20:35

      Mob will be augmented by summer Occupy movement in many cities in effort to obtain numerical majority that will survive collapse of world financial systems. Student leaders will then have permanent jobs as organizers. But if college were really to graduate to get jobs, young people could get jobs right now with little education, so they were going to school to do nothing. Congratulations Beverly on your new job in media journalism!

    4. Mike Alex Rose15 June 2012 at 20:48

      With Grade 11 education I got 10 different kinds of paid employment so that I learned how to do work. I now pay myself as my own housewife and even have money to go shopping.

    5. University is a government boondoggle to push along kids from year to year so that research gets funding from enrolment and sex&drug crazed youth can extort their parents. Shut down those campuses!