Supriya Dwivedi Headshot

Are Separatists Driving the Quebec Student Protest?

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I suppose very few people are surprised by the fact that the negotiations between the Liberal government and the student associations failed. Neither side was willing to compromise in an effective manner. Yes, the government has made several concessions to the students, some good, and some bad. Although from an objective standpoint, their last offer was an insult to the student leaders' resolve; it seems rather naïve for the government to have thought that the student leaders would have accepted a deal that was only $1 lower than the original proposal.

Both sides unrelentingly cite overly cited facts and figures. Quebec pays the lowest tuition in Canada, and Quebec students have the lowest debt in Canada. The strike isn't about tuition; it's about a deeper social cause. Universities are underfunded and Quebec universities in particular, save for McGill and perhaps the University of Montreal, are consistently outranked by their provincial counterparts. The government is corrupt and universities bleed money. Blah, blah, blah.

None of it really matters anymore. The government and the striking students are holding their province and the city of Montreal hostage. Much like a broad-spectrum antibiotic, with the ability to kill a wide array of bacterial pathogens, Quebec is in dire need for a universal solution that will quell both sides on this issue. As the city streets become increasingly infected with discontent, towards the government and the students alike, it becomes ever more clear that if a solution is not reached soon, the entire city might just succumb to chaos.

Negotiations and proposals have failed miserably. The city is set to lose millions of dollars over CLASSE's threat to disrupt the Grand Prix in Montreal next weekend, not to mention the threat posed by Anonymous, which is compounded by the already lost millions of dollars since the protests have started, disrupting tourism and commercial activity in the city's downtown core.

The only plausible solution at this point seems to be an election. The only problem is that Jean Charest refuses to call one, most likely because he doesn't want the inquiry into his government's alleged corruption to make front-page news. Opinion polls show the PQ and the Liberals as being deadlocked in support. All of the political parties have tried to use this protest to their gain in some way or another, with the PQ taking the cake, wearing the now iconic red square on their lapels as well as figuring it onto the official masthead of their website. There is a very obvious dichotomy in the voting patterns in Quebec, with Anglophones and Allophones voting largely Liberal while Francophones predominantly vote PQ.

It is no secret that the supporters of the protest movement in Quebec are principally made up of people who are white, Francophone, and sovereigntist. There are of course exceptions to that sweeping generalization, especially amongst those who are out every night banging on their pots and pans protesting Bill 78. But there is no use in denying the overwhelming demographic supporting the strike. One needs only to attend a rally to see the copious Quebec flag waving and chants for independence to really get a taste for one of the many underpinnings of the movement. Jacques Parizeau himself came out from under a political rock, to express his joy at not seeing one Canadian flag in a sea of over 200 000 people during the protest on May 22nd.

In a similar vein, it's kind of entertainingly peculiar how CLASSE did not openly threaten to disrupt Montreal's French language music festival, Les Francopholies, which starts the very same weekend that Grand Prix does.

Charest would be wise to call an election, announce he is not running for re-election, under the guise of a return to normalcy for him and his family, and let this issue resolve itself on the ballot box. The only question now is who to vote for? A grossly incompetent government that has severely mismanaged this crisis or a government that somehow manages to take the worst aspects of the left and the right and mesh them into a political platform. Bloc Pot anyone?