Montreal was once again the stage for large-scale student protests on Tuesday. Just how large? Well, the protest was so large that when people go to McDonald's, instead of saying supersize it, they say "Mtl Protest it." OK, so maybe the "yo momma" style jokes haven't quite yet caught on in describing Quebec student movement, but it's just about the last thing the protesters are missing, as the protest has recently gained international recognition, and celebrity endorsements.
In addition to protesting the government's proposed tuition hikes, protesters were marching to show their opposition to Bill 78 -- or as it is so unexcitingly named, An Act to enable students to receive instruction from the post secondary institution they attend. The bill has incited new-found disdain for the Charest government and by proxy support of the student movement.
Now, don't get me wrong. Charest never needs to try too hard in order to feel it in the low approval ratings department. And for good reason: whether his government is under investigation for influencing the appointment of Quebec judges, or facing a massive inquiry into corruption, Charest and the Quebec Liberals always manage to make their way to the forefront of what not to do while in government.
The adoption of Bill 78 is no different.
It can be argued that the legislation was completely unnecessary to begin with, considering the current climate of Quebec is one in which legislation and court ordered injunctions aren't respected as is. Supporters of Charest will argue that nothing else could be done and that the Liberals were essentially backed up against a wall, and that may be, but they are only in that position because they let themselves get there.
The government brought the students to the negotiating table and made concessions to their cause, while simultaneously and ineffectively enforcing the majority non-protesting students' right to go to class. So, they turned around and tabled legislation that limits one's right to peaceful assembly, grants an excess of powers to the executive branch of government and employs vague language throughout. In essence, the Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ) effectively failed every conceivable voting constituency.
In coming out against Bill 78 in large numbers under the guise of the protection of civil liberties, it is interesting to note how supporters of the student strike pick and choose which rights and civil liberties to defend. A painstakingly obvious display of this is the egregious way in which protesters and their supporters, including parents and teachers, failed to respect the rights of students who were merely trying to attend the classes they had already paid for.
However, there is a more nuanced approach taken by some strike supporters, namely Pauline Marois and other members of the Parti Québécois (PQ). Protecting civil liberties is something that they indeed hold very close to their hearts ... as long as it is the civil liberties of others like them.
Who cares about a person's fundamental right to religious freedom? Nah, that can be trampled on in the name of promoting a Québécois society.
What about the right to receive quality medical care? Well, if you're an immigrant, language trumps medical care, because according to the PQ, immigrants should be clearly labeled as such on their provincial health care card to make sure no bleeding heart doctor or nurse explains anything to them in English.
But they'll be damned if any legislation touches a right that they choose to deem worthy.
The Parti Quebecois is notorious for proposing radical measures that are undoubtedly in dubious Charter territory. Apparently though, the PQ is now rubber while Charest and the Liberals are glue in this situation, since everything seems to bounce off them and stick to the PLQ.
In any case, the strikers can chalk a win up on the board, considering Charest really dropped the proverbial ball on this one. Bill 78 may finally be the determining factor impelling Charest's Liberals out of office.