Posts tagged ‘Student movement’

May 8, 2015

Does Quebec’s government have a mandate for austerity?

By Robert Green | Published April 29, 2015 by Ricochet.media
The Liberals won a majority promising stability, not a quiet counter-revolution of cuts

Quebec’s growing popular movement against government austerity is about much more than opposition to a particular government policy. It is quickly becoming a battle over the legitimacy of Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government.

The concept of legitimacy is central to the study of political science, and it’s what politicians are getting at when, for example, they refer to a pipeline project failing to achieve social licence. Definitions of the concept by numerous philosophers all share the idea that legitimacy is tied to the notion of popular acceptance of the exercise of authority — what John Locke referred to as “consent of the governed.”

Whereas dictatorships and theocracies have relied on religion, tradition, ideology and the charisma of leaders as sources of legitimacy, secular democratic governments, which are supposed to be the heirs of Enlightenment values, have relied on elections and notions of the common good. In theory then, a legitimate democratic government is one that is elected on the basis of a transparent political program aimed at advancing the public interest.

This raises the question of whether the government of Quebec, given its actions since coming into office, should be viewed as legitimate.

A government with political legitimacy?

Supporters of the Couillard government are quick to point out that his Liberal party won a significant majority in the last election and therefore has the right to govern as it sees fit.

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August 11, 2014

The Hypocricy of Austerity

By Robert Green | Published August 9, 2014 by Ricochet

In a move that seems perfectly symbolic of the sort of politics his government represents, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced this week that the five members of the government commission charged with reviewing government programs and recommending where to make cuts will be paid the tidy sum of $1.03 million for about eight months of work. Commission President and ex-Liberal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard will take home $265,000 for explaining to average Quebecers where they must make sacrifices.

The message being sent here is unmistakable: Tough choices, sacrifice and austerity are for the common people, not Quebec’s elites.

rich_get_richerThough his government has been in power only a short time, this is not the first time it has sent such a message. The government’s first budget contained cuts to school boards that are likely to seriously affect the services provided by already underfunded public schools, while leaving the subsidies wealthy families receive to send their children to private schools untouched. Apparently it is for the children of Little Burgundy to shoulder the burden of repairing Quebec’s public finances, not the privileged children who live up the hill in Westmount.

In fact this message is nothing new. From the PQ’s “deficit zero” politics of the late nineties to the Charest government’s attempts to “re-engineer the state” in the 2000s, Quebec’s political leaders have for years been saying that average Quebecers need to make do with less, that government spending is “out of control” and that we as a society are “living beyond our means.”

In 2010, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand called for a “cultural revolution” of austerity. This revolution led directly to the longest student strike in Canadian history and the defeat of Bachand’s government. Now back from exile, and sporting a new leader, the Liberals are set for round 2.

However, a cursory examination of Quebec’s recent spending trends shows a very different picture. With the exception of a spike in stimulus spending following the 2008 economic downturn, Quebec’s expenditures as a percentage of GDP have been trending downward since the early nineties. Even at the height of stimulus spending in 2009-2010 Quebec was spending significantly less as a percentage of GDP than it was in the early nineties. This is hardly a picture of out-of-control spending.

So if spending is not the cause of our current economic predicament, what is? The answer lies on the other side of the balance sheet, in revenues rather than expenditures.

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October 19, 2012

The Conflict in Context: A Québec high school teacher’s perspective on the movement for accessible education

By Robert Green

This article appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of ‘Our Schools / Our Selves’ edited by Erika Shaker and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

I teach a secondary five level course called ‘The Contemporary World’ at a public English high school in Montreal. One of the messages I am constantly trying to pass on to my students is that in attempting to understand world events, we should always be wary of overly simplistic formulations. Events do not occur in a vacuum. The historical and political context in which an event occurs always matters.

In recent months, as the student strike in Québec has come to dominate the headlines, I have found myself repeating a very similar message in discussions with students, friends, neighbours and colleagues. The mainstream media has been very successful at framing this conflict in the narrowest of terms; as being strictly about students not wanting to pay a $1,625 tuition increase. With such a simplistic framing of the issue it has been very easy for people to agree with commentators who characterize Québec students as irrational and entitled because they already pay the lowest tuition in Canada.

The problem with this analysis is that if indeed this movement is merely about irrational, entitled students, how does one explain the series of historic demonstrations of between two and four-hundred-thousand people? How does one explain the fact that these demonstrations were filled not just with students, but with teachers such as myself, university and Cégep [college] professors, parents, senior citizens groups, union members, etc.? There’s something missing from the simplistic picture the media is offering us.

In examining the student strike within its broader historical and political context, I hope to offer a more complete picture of the issue. In so doing I also hope to articulate why, as a public school teacher and as a citizen of Québec, I find it important to actively support the movement for accessible education.

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July 7, 2012

10 Must-See Videos Documenting the Quebec Student Strike

By Robert Green

If you’re a political junkie like me you’ve probably spent the last few months discussing the issues surrounding the Quebec student strike: tuition hikes, police brutality,  special laws, the challenges of movement building, etc. As an open and vocal supporter of the student strike one inevitably encounters echos of the English media’s characterization of the students as entitled and violent. Fortunately, there have been a number of excellent videos produced that have been of great use in countering such perceptions. This post is my attempt to assemble 10 of the best such videos in one location so they can be easily shared.

Overview of the movement:

Red Square Revolt

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June 29, 2012

Top union brass caught obstructing solidarity with Quebecois students

By Diane Kalen-Sukra, published June 25 by therealnews.com

“I’m surprised it took so long for Canada’s union bureaucracy to really feel the democratizing pressure of the social media Wikileak internet age. It finally happened in a big way this week – Quebec and Canada’s top union brass had “internal” correspondence, in which they direct all of Canada’s major unions to put the brakes on solidarity with Quebec students (including the wide-spread social resistance to the UN-condemned Quebec law criminalizing protest), leaked and posted by an anonymous blogger.

“How many union members know that behind the face of a handful of public union leaders there are thousands of staffers, lawyers, researchers, and in some offices enough communications people to rival our largest news stations?

It is through these staffers, and the control of union funds over locals, consultants, social justice groups, think tanks, legal firms and alternative media outlets, that the union bureaucracies wield their control over the workers’ movement. Orders are issued — “isolate that fighter”, “kill that campaign”, “purge that victory” — and everyone blindly follows, or else…

It is in this way that fighters are turned into vegetables, or worse, career-driven wheel spinners, and people of passion and conscience are broken into shadows of themselves. If they stick around and stop fighting, they lose their soul and resort to passing their days reminding members how busy they are (marching backwards), counting air miles from their latest junket and using social media to glorify their privileged lifestyle (compliments of members’ dues) rather than use it as a powerful medium to educate, empower and organize.

Rather than feel the pain of their members — the eroding wages, lack of dignity at work, and loss of all security — such union bureaucrats cling ever more tightly to their positions, their privileges and perks. Any challenge to the status quo, is a threat to this parasitic existence, even if it means turning a blind eye to gross injustice.

Controlling union staffers was more difficult in the days when most were recruited from the ranks, specially selected because of the way in which they had distinguished themselves as competent fighters with perseverance, integrity and their ability to persuade people to stand up for justice. But today, like all organizations in decline, our union bureaucracies shamelessly champion blind-allegiance over principled leadership, nepotism over merit, and power over justice, even if it comes with gross incompetence and does a disservice to the membership.

The pitfalls of bureaucracy plague the history of the workers’ movement and must be confronted. Most extreme is the example of Stalin. When he was preparing the grounds to expel and and kill the dozens of revolutionary leaders (his “threats”) who had actually brought down the monarchy, led the Bolsheviks to power and were loved by the people, he first flooded by the thousands the workers’ organizations, including key positions of responsibility, with inexperienced and often opportunistic people, who by the time they got over the nice feeling of having a big-title, handsome paycheck and fancy outfit to boot, the dirty deeds were done, history was rewritten, and the doomed course of a nation and revolution was determined.

It’s no secret that today’s union bureaucracies are not sufficiently transparent or democratic. With too few exceptions, Convention debates are prescribed and anyone “out of line”, faces the cold isolation of the monolithic bureaucratic back-turn. Staffers that are “out of line” have their number-punched and a merciless hatchet-team is unleashed, violating every conceivable union-principle, to mob them out of the organization, out of their employment and against the will and best interests of the membership. All sins are simply washed away with reminders of the movement’s past accomplishments (like the 8 hour work day, eroded beyond recognition today), and the unquestioned nobility of our overall cause.

The CLC’s heavy-handed “how dare you question us?” response, in this case, proves how unaccustomed the union brass are to being held to account. They actually think that correspondence calling on unions everywhere to potentially betray the Quebecois movement, what Chris Hedges refers to as the “Northern light..the most important resistance movement in the industrialized world”, can and should be considered “private”. Where in the CLC Constitution does it say that the union is to be organized as an aristocracy and not a democracy? Nowhere.”

Read the entire article: http://therealnews.com/t2/component/content/article/129-more-blog-posts-from-diane-kalen-sukra/1073-top-union-brass-caught-obstructing-solidarity-with-quebecois-students

April 15, 2012

Sign on! Open letter to Quebec’s labour federations to continue and intensify their support of the movement against tuition hikes

By Robert Green

Teachers in Quebec’s English school boards may be somewhat disappointed by the fact that their unions have been virtually silent on the unprecedented and historic movement against tuition fees that has swept the province in recent months.  After a motion to support this movement was proposed at a recent general meeting, Montreal Teachers Association president Ruth Rosenfield even helped ensure the motion wouldn’t pass by suggesting that a large number of members she had spoken to were actually in favour of the tuition hikes. Her supporters then dutifully voted that the union not take a position at all.

However, for those teachers that care that their students may one day be denied access to post-secondary education and that want Quebec’s labour unions to take a more active role in supporting the movement for accessible education, there is now an open letter that individuals can sign-on to in order to show their support. The letter is calling on Quebec’s labour federations to assume their historic role as defenders of social justice and to call for a national mobilization that could perhaps begin with a one-day Quebec-wide general strike.

To sign on to this open letter, click the following link: http://www.lettre-aux-syndicats.info/

 

April 14, 2012

Teachers demand education minister resign

A group of teachers at College Ahuntsic says its call for the resignation of Education Minister Line Beauchamp is snowballing, with now more than 1000 teachers from elementary school to university adding their names and voices to that call in the last 48 hours.

The teachers say they refuse to bear the onus of breaking the back of the student movement and of having to put their own moral convictions and increasingly, they say, even their physical safety at risk by being forced to cross student picket lines.

Read More: http://www.cjad.com/CJADLocalNews/entry.aspx?BlogEntryID=10370760

Also: http://www.cyberpresse.ca/actualites/quebec-canada/education/201204/13/01-4515130-des-professeurs-reclament-la-demission-de-line-beauchamp.php

March 22, 2012

Profs Against Tuition Hikes – The Series

Profs contre la hausse 1 (AMVoisard)

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March 8, 2012

Quebec Tuition: We Have A Choice

A great video by Concordia’s GSA that could have just as well been titled “Quebec Social Spending: We Have a Choice”. Jean Charest has become Quebec’s Robinhood in reverse, taking from the poor to give to the rich: