Joshua Ostroff Headshot

How do You Like it Now, Boomers? You're to Blame for the Quebec Protests

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Canada's baby boomer-run media has been pretending that Quebec's student protests are only about tuition, when that's merely symbolic of the boot the older generation is placing upon the necks of their kids. This misinformation campaign reached its culmination with Maclean's magazine's angrily incorrect cover "Quebec's New Ruling Class: How a group of entitled students went to war and shut down a province. Over $325."

The dollar amount is meant to dismiss the student protestors out of hand -- the actual issue is debt and the austerity measures that fuel it, the 75 percent tuition hike is simply the straw that broke this particular camel's back.

But the keyword here is "entitled." Kinda sounds like something the WWII generation would have sneered at the 60s-era boomers, however this is about more than simply growing up and becoming "The Man."

Canada's census just pegged the baby boom generation at 9.6 million, nearly 30 per cent of the population. They represent 42.4 per cent of working age Canadians, up from 28.6 percent in 1991. They also cast a startling 60 per cent of all election ballots.

And now that they're entering retirement age, they've decided to pay their bills by robbing their children of the, yes, entitlements they themselves have enjoyed.

Despite their radical past, boomers are now the generation running the government, banks, media and corporations -- but rather than an Age of Aquarius we got stuck with an Apocalypse Now. By allowing collusion and deregulation, they created the Great Recession.

So boomer politicians beholden to boomer voters are hiking tuition, slashing education, decreasing Employment Insurance and cutting childcare, none of which have an impact upon them. They're then justifying these cuts with a deficit crisis that is partly created by concurrent tax cutting, including dramatically reducing the corporate tax rate to the lowest in the G7. This benefits only the people, predominantly boomers, who can afford to invest in these corporations and will cost $11.5 billion in lost revenue in 2012-2013 alone.

But where they seem to have overplayed their hand was by forcing Millennials to purchase increasingly expensive post-secondary education that no longer necessarily gets them a job, locking them into a debt spiral many never escape. (The average Canadian university graduate owes $27,000 and outstanding student loans total $20 billion.) All in hopes of one day going into even more mind-boggling debt to "own" a house and then not-retiring because the boomers have knocked over our social security pyramid scheme and overloaded the healthcare system.

But wait, aren't they trying to save Old Age Security at least? Actually, Canada's 2012 budget is pushing eligibility back to 67, but that won't begin until 2023 and will conclude in 2029, at which point the last baby boomers (born in 1964) will have retired. Well played.

Harper could have pushed the eligibility back as of last year, when the first boomers turned 65, but that would risk losing the votes of the country's dominant demographic. It's more politically savvy to punish subsequent (smaller) generations.

And just as they never made the sacrifices of their parents' generations, boomers are now trying to offload sacrifice onto their kids in the form of austerity measures that cut government spending on social programs for the young and the poor while keeping their own intact without paying more taxes, despite being at their peak earning age. And so rather than balancing budgets and reducing deficits fairly, Millennials are waking up the fact they'll be shouldering a disproportionate burden.

This -- not $325 -- is ultimately what sparked Maple Spring and sent Quebec's young people out into the streets where 2,600 of them have been arrested, 700 in a single shameful night last week. Another 84 were taken in yesterday, including two student leaders who had just left the Quebec City negotiations and were promptly rounded up by riot police.

It's also what fueled theOccupy Movement and the Spanish Indignados that inspired it a year ago this month when hundreds of thousands of Spaniards took over public squares. They marked that anniversary recently with more occupations, began a squatter's movement to reclaim thousands of unoccupied buildings whose residents had been evicted and launched a teacher's strike against $4 billion in education cuts.

All month long, hundreds of thousands of young people have faced off against riot police in Frankfurt, Moscow, Paris, Athens, Chicago, New York, Oakland (where they rolled out a tank) and elsewhere. Students have been clashing with cops outside of Quebec, too, with education-based conflicts in Mexico, Chile and England.

Democracy has broken down because the unsympathetic and unprecedented Boomer voting block has made the young feel disenfranchised, driving them to demonstrate in numbers not seen since, well, the 60s. Sure, Obama got elected, but had his hands quickly tied by an austerity-crazed Congress which won't dare touch Medicare or Social Security (at least not yet). And while young people succeeded in making the NDP the official opposition in Canada, it was at the cost of handing Prime Minister Harper a majority government so he could push austerity full bore.

These policies purposefully increase income inequality by reducing social services for the young and poor without increasing tax revenue via the wealthy and corporations. But when that austerity-driven gap reaches its breaking point -- as it did during England's riots last summer -- an underclass of young people who feel like they have no future also have no qualms about burning their towns down.

Nobody of any age group wants to see that happen. The post-Terror era was supposed to be about hope and change -- those signature calling cards of the 60s -- and instead young people today feel hopeless and trapped. And as the Baby Boomers retire en masse while retaining their outsize political influence, it's only going to get worse for everyone else.

But they have one more chance to change the world, to remember their own uprising back in 1968 and to realize that they are now the powers they once protested against. The Boomers can maintain the status quo until the system crushes their kids or they can rediscover their idealism and, as is beginning to happen in Montreal, join them in the streets.