El paro se les fue de las manos…

Voulez-vous cacerolier avec moi, ce soir?

It’s one of the trippiest things that’s happened to me in a long time: last night at 8 p.m. the unmistakable tin-tin-tin of a cacerolazo started to ring out all over my nice, sleepy, Montreal neighborhood.

For a second there I thought I was having a PTSD flashback – then I realized “no, wait, of course: the tuition fee protests!”

If you haven’t heard about it, Quebec has been on Paro Cívico mode for the last 101 days now following a proposal to nearly double tuition fees at the province’s universities. It’s gotten pretty rowdy. My latest over at the IHT Blog goes through the outlines of what’s happened. (Or you can read a more pro-protests account here.)

The whole thing has been déjà vu-ish to the max: in vintage January, 2003 fashion, the protest movement has ended up stranded on an island of maximalist positions amid incredibly overheated, ni un paso atrás, no-compromises posturing that makes it impossible for them to negotiate.

Sensing that the general disorder the chaos on the streets was bound to piss off the silent majority here, Québec’s premier, Jean Charest, has been doing a Chávez – just goading the kids into over-reaching more and more, then stepping in to collect the political rewards.

Venezuelans are only too familiar with this kind of stunning political cynicism. It’s been amazing to see it play out in this context. Sheer Machiavellianism.

Gallingly, it might just work: Charest’s misnamed Liberal Party of Quebec (it’s actually the more conservative party here) has come back from the polling dead and is now almost even with the left-wing Parti Québecois. Amazing!

Es que el paro se les fue de las manos, chico…

55 thoughts on “El paro se les fue de las manos…

  1. The phrases “déjà vu-ish to the max” and “sheer Machiavellism” are so HHMMNN-worthy as to merit a post. Totally.

    • OK, so Machiavellism was a barbarism, but I stand by “déjà vu-ish to the max” as proper English!

      • Then why the exclamation mark? If one were that way onclined and solely and only if one had absolutely nowt better to do, one might query how anything at all can be “-ish” in a degree conveyed as “to the max”. But hey! Tomorrow’s Friday, shaping up nicely, and ‘looking guid”: how could anything possibly go wrong?

  2. The PQ leader has been irresponsible in her blanket approval of the protestor’s position (a vociferous minority of the student population), I have never forgotten her legacy as minister of finance in the last PQ government, just as irresponsible, Add to that the constant appeasement of the student movement by all Quebec governments that has strangled the universities buy keeping the fees frozen for years and not increasing funding. The Quebec tax payers are fed-up with the high tax rates and will favor any measure that promises reduction in government spending, so the present Liberal position has become popular. Additionally, there is little sympathy for the many violent ends to the student marches, the support of the labor unions to some of the student organization and the intransigent position adopted by some of the student leaders.

    • Right on all counts.

      The funny thing, though, is that 102 days ago, every paper here was dominated by stories about the yucky subworld of PLQ corruption…it was all Charbonneau, Charbonneau, Charbonneau.

      The students have performed a kind of miracle for Charest in changing the subject to something people agree with the liberals on. All the liberal sleaze scandals, all the yucky construction industry-mafia collusion stories, all the Accurso stuff, all of that is now banished to like page A37 of the paper. It’s like everyone forgot. They did him a HUGE favor, because this was supposed to be a referendum on the corruption-hit Charest government and now it’s going to be about something else entirely.

      Overall, a spectacular own-goal!

      • True, but it will probably be short lived, the Charbonneau Commission will probably have an impact and not only on the PLQ..,

  3. I was thinking about you in Montreal when I saw the ANtioanl Post pic yesterday.

    Big headline due to 100K people + out in the promenades.
    We should show them som big march pics aound april 2001 so Quebecians see how is done: go march to Qc’s Miraflores, get your premier to resign!

    102 days is just too long.

  4. I guess you have a lot of experience talking to people in your country’s favelas. What’s the education rate and the unemployment rate in those shanty towns? What’s the literacy rate there? Accessible education and employment make the difference.

    • It so amuses me when chauvinist people feel like they need to undermine someone they disagree with by pointing out they come from a different/less privileged background… Nice showing of the true colours there, Bobby Lee!

    • Um hm. But even there we have weird parallel’s with Venezuela’s crazy years. Remember this – http://www.resdal.org/Archivo/venezuela-ley-seguridad.htm ?

      A huge red rag to a bull, cynically pulled out in November 2002, to goad us into over-reach?

      Listen, Charest is a cynical bastard. There’s no question. I didn’t exactly mean to praise him when I said he was “doing a Chávez”, y’know! This kind of thing works, though…

  5. To compare Jean Charest to Hugo Chavez is the same league as comparing Hugo Chavez to Adolf Hitler, Way overboard! On the other hand, plenty of those marchers in the streets of Montreal would not be out of place in Chavista marches trading their little red square for a red T-shirt. Uh-ah!

    The reader not familiar with the Montreal scene should realize that plenty of those student marchers are studying in sectors where few are needed. So why should the population at large pay higher education for people who will end up as waiters (BTW nothing wrong with being a waiter especially in Montreal that has so many good restaurants. That is how I paid for my university fees myself). Students in accounting, engineering, medical are currently in school. The “progressives” are in the street. Quebec is already the most socialized province of Canada, one of the most socialized developed countries. Gimme a break!

    • “Left” and “right” is mood music in a situation like this. The relevant cleavage is order/disorder. Chavez won by setting himself up as a bulwark against disorder in 2002-2003: Charest is doing the same damn thing.

      • Nothing wrong with the Liberals winning again, the alternative is the PQ, a bunch of xenophobic revanchists. That is a dead alley.

    • “The reader not familiar with the Montreal scene should realize that plenty of those student marchers are studying in sectors where few are needed. So why should the population at large pay higher education for people who will end up as waiters ”

      You’re talking about the Montreal arts scene- that’s why its such a great city! ;)

  6. Francisco Toro says:
    Québec’s premier, Jean Charest, has been doing a Chávez –
    just goading the kids into over-reaching more and more,
    then stepping in to collect the political rewards. …
    Clutching for straws?
    Bit far fetched, I’d say.
    Cheers

  7. Same thing with the 15M protests last year in Spain. It was déjà vu al over again when at 9PM every night during two weeks my neighborhood came alive with cacerolas.

    Every time I watched the “we are not leaders” in TV, it was like watching the Carlos Ortega daily war report. Painful. It was evident they were doomed. And there you go: the unstoppable spanish revolution wiped out by the media and the political system in under a month.

    So, I don’t know about you but I feel old, Quico. The mistrusting old geezer that says “esa vaina se les va a ir de las manos y nos van a joder a todos por culpa de ellos”.

    I think a lot about the spanish and cuban exiles in Venezuela and how we never listened to them. All collapses look alike, and people always say “no vale, yo no creo”, while they suck their scotch-mixing pinkie.

    • I’m so with you, Daniel P.

      Y ojo, the kids in Spain had like 10 thousand million gillion times better reason to fuck shit up than kids here.

  8. Yes, indeed, Charest’s “aqui no ha pasado nada” attitude of denial reminds me of Chàvez. But this attitude will certainly have a political cost for him, from now until October (reasonable time frame for a provincial election). On the polls, for instance, the government looses support, while the students movement doesn’t: http://www.legermarketing.com/admin/upload/publi_pdf/Sondage_loi_speciale-21mai.pdf

    A what about Michelle Courchesne, the current education minister, who is calling back the student leaders, after saying, not even a week ago, that no negotiation was possible since the student were “radicalized”?

    A repressive approach, with the 78 law, doesn’t seem to work for a 9 year old (…very old) government and certainly didn’t entitle Charest as the man of the situation.

    Actually, the end of this long chapter will merge with a next and very interesting one: la commission Charbonneau. And after Loi 78 what’s next? El “Plan Avila”?

  9. Sorry to rain on your parade guys –
    there’s no collapse to celebrate when you’re looking at Canada.
    Prices of oil, silver and gold may fluctuate, other than that, the only
    collapse that’s forseeable here in Canada,
    is that of poverty, illnesses, ignorance.
    cheers
    PS.
    Montreal, as well as other cities are quite safe,
    provincial & municipal services work,
    and human rights are respected.

  10. I generally support the students. Since there is no principle in Canada which determines the distribution of income here, nor of the distribution of tax benefits, such issues can only be decided by power contestations when agreement fails. In principle, The justice of a fee increase for students is properly determined by a look at the overall inequality in society, who receives other tax largesse, and which sectors are able to pay more. I call these potential tax targets “the 1%”. It might be reactionary to expect “those who don’t go to college” to subsudize education, but that isn’t the students’ position.

    However the strike turns out, Bill 78 is blatantly undemocratic. Assembly and protest are not secondary elements in a democratic society, they are fundamental. Democrats cannot support a law which makes assemblies on college campuses illegal.

    • Really? The students’ only recourse is “the power of contestation when agreement fails”? I thought in a democratic society their main recourse would be the elections due to take place this year!

      Because let’s get real Bill 78 is a nasty piece of work, but I don’t think the bands of encapuchados roaming around UQAM breaking up the classes of students who won’t join the strike are exactly a shining beacon of Tocquevilian democracy either.

      When a democratic government does stuff you find unacceptable, you have every right to work your butt off to throw it out of office at election time. You don’t have the right to bully and intimidate people into compliance with your position.

      • L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) est une université francophone, publique et urbaine de Montréal, dans la province du Québec au Canada.

      • I agree that some students are way over the line, encapuchados or otherwise. I spent time in the US civil rights movement, though, and so am very aware that a little creative disorder concentrates the minds of those in power quite nicely. I don’t believe that elections are the only democratic methodology available. For one thing, demonstrations can create enough attention to make something like student fees into an election issue, which otherwise it would not be. Also, to me, it is not irrelevant that the first-past-the-post system here gives a “majority” government to a numerically minority party like Charest’s. Fully representative elections might make me more respectful of their “majority”.

      • One point here about student organization … as a student at Universidad del Zulia (LUZ, what a beautiful name) back in the day, I remember the same bands of encapuchados roaming my college’s halls trying to disrupt the classes of the rest of us because they disagreed with this-or-the-other situation… most of the time we managed to stop them from interrupting our classes … the silent majority is still the majority…

  11. Quico, what’s the average tuition a year? Is it different than other provinces? ($5000~$6000 a year)

      • The increase will be implemented gradually. The plan is to have the annual fee reach $4700 in five years time.

        • The hike will represent a 82% increase over seven years, as a matter of a fact. Let’s pretend you run a business. All of a sudden your employees demand 82% over the next seven years. What would say?

      • Are you sure? That is a semester in U of Leth and U of Vic (where both my kids are going), and U of T.

        • it is not quite 2680$ per year, Caroline. Given that Universities were in need of money and could not increase tuition, they created the notion of “frais afférents”, all types of fees that, in the end , are like a tuition increase. For instance, I recall paying at least 2000$ for a semester, which amounted for more than 4000$/year, and that, several years ago. This is almost double what the government says is the tuition fees. Moreover, those “frais afférents” vary from one University to the other.

          • That sounds closer to what I’m paying.
            The reason I ask is because I don’t know if there are any subsidies from the government in this case.
            Memorial U in Newfoundland is partially subsidized so their tuition fees are almost half than the rest. My son was considering it, but when you add cost of living and transport from this side of the world, it makes no difference.

            • Québec has a three-tier system of tuition fees: for Québec residents, for Canadian residents and for the rest of the world. So if your son is interested in coming here, check the canadian resident tuition and always ask what the “frais afférents” are.

              CarolinA :-)

              • He was accepted in U of Vic and Memorial, both sides of the country! U of Vic will be.

  12. As my son is heading from the States to attend McGill this falll and pay a hefty $19K/year in tuition (still a bargain for a world-class university), I want to take those students and give them a tour in the good old USA. As Quico said, tuition in Canada is still a huge bargain by North American standards. It’s a real pity that these kids are shooting themselves in the foot.

    • Nah, they should take a tour of Germany, where the universities are just as good and cost $1500 a year. (Or France, where the Uni are free!)

      The U.S. REALLY must not be the benchmark here…

    • Hgdamh,

      It is a matter of choice. The US made the choice not to pay for higher education and pay lower taxes. As a result, a large part of the US population never gets the chance to go to college. On the other hand, all quebecers have their chance, but they pay higher taxes all their life.

      In the US nobody would dream of a 7$/day daycare, or general prescription drug insurance, or no-fault insurance, or goverment paid paternal leave or even socialized medicine..but they scream outloud when the price of gas goes beyond 4$/gallon, which for us is extremely cheap.

      So Hgdamh, your son’s tuition may be a bargain because in Quebec we pay 1.32$/liter of gas, 15.6% sale tax, 50% marginal taxes, heavy property and school taxes and we get very few deductions like you’ve got….like your mortgage interests. It was a society choice.

      • Quico and Bruni, I think you missed the irony in my comment. Indeed, the US must not be the benchmark. My son is going to McGill because it is (value-wise: Quality of education/price) a much better choice than NYU and many other colleges in the USA. Still, if my son pays full tuition at about $ 19K/year, it should be obvious to the Quebecois students that their education is heavily subsidized (by taxes). As Quico’s Latitude post mentioned, the question is how far should the State go into keeping subsidies for higher education (since everybody is taxed, but not everybody goes to college).

  13. Listen, Quico, you’re being too North American about this whole issue. Even though I broadly agree with your view, I’m sure Bill 78 will have a political cost for Charest. Quebecers are unique creatures amongst North Americans.

    • Bueno, time will tell. It’s possible he’s over-reached. But one thing I’m sure of: every mini-riot that comes out of the Student Movement is another 50,000 votes for the Liberals.

      • i was listening to the public tribunes …it does not look that way Quico. Quebecers may want social peace but they do not like restrictive laws…

  14. “how can an ostensibly left-wing movement want to force people who don’t go to college to help pay (via their taxes) for the education of those who do? How is that progressive?”

    paraphrase to how can people who claim to support fairness want to force people who are poor to help pay (via their oil money) for the education of those who aren’t poor? How is that progressive?

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