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Quebec Protesters Are Putting the Media to Sleep

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We're now in what, week 87 of the Quebec student strike? I may be over-estimating slightly, but judging from the latest round of editorials on the matter, it definitely appears that we in the opinion-telling business are starting to run a little low on indignation fuel.

With so much that can be said already having been said during previous fortnights of tuition-fighting turmoil, and lacking any profound changes to the overall shape of the story, or the press' mostly homogeneous opinions on it (to refresh: students -- wrong, Quebec government -- bumbling), I advise skipping straight to the last line of any article on the subject, since that's probably the only place you're going to find fresh insights.

The last line in George Jonas' piece in the National Post, for instance, suggests the PM summon the army to show those students what-for. The rest is just a lot of blah-de-blah about his Hungarian boyhood. Jonas' colleague Matt Gurney uses his last line to predict that the politician known as Jean Charest is almost certainly headed for the ash heap of history, while Robert Asselin at iPolitics thinks Charest's skin could still be saved by an emergency provincial election. I'm having deja vu to week 37!

Even this week's oh-so-scandalous Maclean's cover story (which I'm sure will soon be denounced by legislatures o'er the land, like so much of what that magazine publishes) is a mostly tame regurgitation of the facts as we know them, and only really gets feisty in its parting shots, which describe Charest's authoritarian Bill 78 as "the most draconian public security law in the province's history," and Quebec society as "perhaps irrevocably" transformed. Scary stuff! But then again, "perhaps" is not generally a word one associates with stirring editorials (which is why Emile Zola's original "J'accuse... perhaps!" manifesto never went anywhere).

In this climate of growing monotony, one thing you have to be particularly watchful for is when the columnists start breaking out the ol' "but these tuition protests have really evolved into something bigger" line. This is just journalist code for "I'm tired of trying to understand  the sweet nothings that come out of [student leader] Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois' pie-hole."

Warren Kinsella in the Sun, for instance, devotes most of his "bigger picture" column to mocking various pundits he doesn't care for (who does that?), while on the opposite end of the spectrum, Jerry Agar in the Sun complains about Saul Alinsky and AdBusterswho of course are relevant as ever. Kate Heartfield at the Ottawa Citizen literally just provides a laundry list of issues she's more interested in.

So yes, week 96 has been a big snore, which is why all we owe the National Post's John Moore such an enormous debt of gratitude. Like the proverbial frustrated dad pulling a U-turn in the middle of a congested highway, last Thursday he dramatically swerved our whole boring Quebec conversation into the vastly more exciting ditch of cross-generational conflict.

It's all well and good for you other media guys to "harrumph" endlessly about spoiled students, says Moore, but hey, at least they didn't preside over the creation of a massive welfare state then repeatedly cut their own taxes rather than properly pay for it!

"Today's youth had nothing to do with that profligacy," he notes, "but are being called upon to 'grow up' and shoulder the adult responsibility of paying the debt off." If the old folks really "believe their entitlements were too generous," he adds, "then, perhaps, in the spirit of sharing the burden, they might want to give some of them back."

Well, this sort of generational treason did not go over well with the rest of the geezer set.

I'm giving enough back already, Moore, thank you very much, says Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe and Mail.

Far from being a boomer pleasure cruise, "Quebec has the highest small-business tax rate, the highest sales tax, the second-highest gas tax, the highest payroll tax, and a 3.9 per cent compensation tax on those who work in financial institutions," so there! And not to dust off an old chestnut, he continues, but the province also has the friggin' lowest tuition in North America! (Newspapers should really just pre-stamp their editorial columns with that line).

John Geddes at Maclean's agrees, and reminds everyone that the whole point of raising tuition is to bring fiscal "sanity" back to Quebec, and the whole point of fiscal sanity is that it eventually lets us lower taxes while providing more sustainable government services for all. If that's "a cruel intergenerational raw deal," it sure is a funny-looking one, says Geddes. Hell, if anything, boomers are pillars of "strength, patience, adaptiveness, and generosity," adds David Cravit from the National Post. Let's not go nuts, Dave.

As I noted in last week's column about the media's yawn-filled response to a recent visit by our future king, there comes a point in any news cycle -- no matter how theoretically interesting -- where analysts simply run out of intelligent things to say. The fact that the press is now so eagerly groping for some angle -- any angle -- on the Quebec strike that doesn't involve discussing the strike itself should serve as some kinda indication that the Fonzie of English-Canadian interest has clearly jumped the shark of pot-banging rabble-rousing.

For all their intellectual pretenses, in other words, it's fast becoming obvious Quebec's students no longer have much to teach us.

It's time to head back to class.