MONTREAL - Quebec's student protesters have a new celebrity critic — and he's firing away on all cylinders.
Jacques Villeneuve, the Quebec-born car-racing champion, is upset at a protest movement that has gone on for months and is now promising to turn up at Formula One Grand Prix events in Montreal all weekend.
In a five-minute exchange with reporters Thursday, Villeneuve urged the protesters to go back to school.
He suggested they were lazy. He called them an embarrassment to Canada — especially to Quebec. He suggested they were badly raised, by parents who never learned to say, 'No.'
And he said they risked scaring away tourists and wealthy taxpayers, who would just pick up and invest elsewhere in a more stable climate.
The student protest movement has received the enthusiastic endorsement of many Quebec celebrities and near-unanimous support from the artistic community. But the Quebec-born, Monaco-raised driver just might have become the most famous, most virulent new critic of the movement.
"It's time for people to wake up and stop loafing about. It's lasted long enough," Villeneuve told reporters at a cocktail benefit that kicked off the four-day Grand Prix festivities.
"We heard them. We listened. They should stop. It's costing the city a fortune. It makes no sense."
As for their parents, Villeneuve said: "I think these people grew up without ever hearing their parents ever tell them, 'No.' So that's what you see in the streets now. People spending their time complaining. It's becoming a little bit ridiculous. They spoke, we heard, and now it's time to go back to school."
He said that in a democracy, people can vote to turf governments, and speak their mind between elections to make themselves heard — but they have to know when to give it a rest.
"That's what democracy is. We vote for people — and if you're not happy, then you vote for other people the next time around. And if you're not happy you complain, they listen, and that's it," he said.
"Same with your parents: 'Daddy, mommy, I don't like this.' Well, go back to bed now." Villeneuve said he was raised to believe in hard work, and not imagine money will fall from the sky.
He also compared the students to the London rioters last year and said they were "rebels without a cause."
In the end, he said, the students are hurting themselves because they're pushing for things that aren't fiscally sustainable — and they'll end up paying one day. Unfortunately, he said, if they keep it up there will be less taxpayers around to help foot the bill.
"And where does the government get the money? From taxes, from selling stuff. The next thing they will say is, 'Well, take it from the rich,'" he said.
"And that's when you have the rich moving to another country."
The student protesters dismiss the idea that taxes would need to be raised to freeze or eliminate tuition — which represents only a tiny fraction of the provincial budget and pales in comparison to the money spent on corporate subsidies.
Scores of protesters demonstrated outside the cocktail event Villeneuve was attending, in the company of other racing figures and celebrities. It was a glitzy $1,000-a-plate fundraiser, with proceeds going to a local children's hospital. Some protesters have promised to disrupt events throughout the Grand Prix weekend and even jam the metro leading to the race track on Sunday.
Villeneuve, 41, won the 1997 Formula One world championship and received the adulation of local sports fans who feted his success with a roaring celebration before a Montreal Canadiens game. After several difficult seasons he left Formula One in 2005 and has since raced on other circuits.
He said he's heard from people outside the country commenting on the student protests in Quebec — but he said the opinion is ill-informed and based almost entirely on the one-sided take of protesters.
-With files by Alexander Panetta
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