[Marxism] Our Not-So-Friendly Northern Neighbor
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 24 10:53:32 MDT 2012
NY Times Op-Ed May 23, 2012
Our Not-So-Friendly Northern Neighbor
By LAURENCE BHERER and PASCALE DUFOUR
WHEN Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in Russia, Quebecers could
not help but laugh. Poutine, as he is called in French, is also the name
of a Québécois fast-food dish made of French fries, gravy and cheese.
But these days the laughter is over, as Quebec gets a taste of Mr.
For a change, Americans should take note of what is happening across the
quiet northern border. Canada used to seem a progressive and just
neighbor, but the picture today looks less rosy. One of its provinces
has gone rogue, trampling basic democratic rights in an effort to end
student protests against the Quebec provincial government’s plan to
raise tuition fees by 75 percent.
On May 18, Quebec’s legislative assembly, under the authority of the
provincial premier, Jean Charest, passed a draconian law in a move to
break the 15-week-long student strike. Bill 78, adopted last week, is an
attack on Quebecers’ freedom of speech, association and assembly. Mr.
Charest has refused to use the traditional means of mediation in a
representative democracy, leading to even more polarization. His
administration, one of the most right-wing governments Quebec has had in
40 years, now wants to shut down opposition.
The bill threatens to impose steep fines of 25,000 to 125,000 Canadian
dollars against student associations and unions — which derive their
financing from tuition fees — in a direct move to break the movement.
For example, student associations will be found guilty if they do not
stop their members from protesting within university and college grounds.
During a street demonstration, the organization that plans the protest
will be penalized if individual protesters stray from the
police-approved route or exceed the time limit imposed by authorities.
Student associations and unions are also liable for any damage caused by
a third party during a demonstration.
These absurd regulations mean that student organizations and unions will
be held responsible for behavior they cannot possibly control. They do
not bear civil responsibility for their members as parents do for their
Freedom of speech is also under attack because of an ambiguous — and
Orwellian — article in Bill 78 that says, “Anyone who helps or induces a
person to commit an offense under this Act is guilty of the same
offense.” Is a student leader, or an ordinary citizen, who sends a
Twitter message about civil disobedience therefore guilty? Quebec’s
education minister says it depends on the context. The legislation is
purposefully vague and leaves the door open to arbitrary decisions.
Since the beginning of the student strike, leaders have told protesters
to avoid violence. Protesters even condemned the small minority of
troublemakers who had infiltrated the demonstrations. During the past
four months of protests, there has never been the kind of rioting the
city has seen when the local National Hockey League team, the Canadiens,
wins or loses during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The biggest
demonstration, which organizers estimate drew 250,000 people on May 22,
was remarkably peaceful. Mr. Charest’s objective is not so much to
restore security and order as to weaken student and union organizations.
This law also creates a climate of fear and insecurity, as ordinary
citizens can also face heavy fines.
Bill 78 has been fiercely denounced by three of four opposition parties
in Quebec’s Legislature, the Quebec Bar Association, labor unions and
Amnesty International. James L. Turk, the executive director of the
Canadian Association of University Teachers, called Bill 78 “a terrible
act of mass repression” and “a weapon to suppress dissent.”
The law will remain in force only until July 1, 2013. The short duration
says it all. It amounts to a temporary suspension of certain liberties
and allows the government to avoid serious negotiations with student
leaders. And it grants the authorities carte blanche for the abuse of
power; just hours after it passed, police officers in Montreal began to
increase the use of force against protesters.
Some critics have tried to portray the strike as a minority group’s
wanting a free lunch. This is offensive to most Quebec students. Not
only are they already in debt, despite paying low tuition fees, but 63
percent of them work in order to pay their university fees. The province
has a very high rate of youth employment: about 57 percent of Quebecers
between the ages of 15 and 24 work, compared with about 49 percent
between the ages of 16 and 24 in the United States.
Both Quebec and Canada as a whole are pro-market. They also share a
sense of solidarity embodied by their public health care systems and
strong unions. Such institutions are a way to maintain cohesion in a
vast, sparsely populated land. Now those values are under threat.
Americans traveling to Quebec this summer should know they are entering
a province that rides roughshod over its citizens’ fundamental freedoms.
Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour are associate professors of political
science at the University of Montreal.
More information about the Marxism