Monday, June 4, 2012

Montreal and the Maple Spring: Enter Joy

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the student group CLASSE, along with other student leaders, speaks with media after negotiations with Quebec's provincial government collapse

On June 18 I'm moving to Montreal. This move has been a year in the making for me, and I couldn't be happier with my timing on this one. I don't usually blow my own horn in this space, but Montreal is a city close to my heart as those who've read my previous posts may have (correctly) guessed. 

I couldn't have picked a better time to be there. 

Montreal has been the site of protests for the past several months as a segment of Quebec's student population strikes. This in response to Premier Jean Charest's move to raise tuition fees. Quebec has the lowest tuition rates in all of Canada. Even with the government's imposed hike they would remain the lowest in Canada.

There have been massive marches in downtown Montreal with thousands participating. Since the Charest government enacted a law that requires protesters to inform police of their intended route or face fines (among other provisions) the students have been joined by union leaders and others, both young and old. Concordia University's student television channel has been carrying many of the marches live (if you're not able to take part)

I should state here that I don't agree with the student's demands. I think it's reasonable for the government to expect those who use a service to pay for it, but at the same time I'm deeply impressed by them. They're standing up for what they believe in, a mark of honour and integrity.

Unlike Toronto where we suffer in silence for the TTC, inadequate infrastructure and a Mayor poorly equipped to handle the job, in Quebec they're getting angry. They're not just talking or writing the classic angry 'Canadian poison pen 'Letter to the Editor' either. They're taking their anger to the wet, cold pavement.
Vive le Québec! Vive les étudiants sexy! A bas le gouvernement!

It hasn't been all lighthearted protest though. In early May four smoke bombs shut down Montreal's subway system during morning rush hour. One of the student groups, which media describe as the most 'militant',
Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), refused to outright condemn the subway bombings, angering Charest and many Montrealers. 

“They are unable to condemn these acts,” Charest said. “When you intimidate people and put Molotov cocktails in front of MNA offices, and turn offices upside down, that is unacceptable… If we don’t put our fist down on the table and refuse to accept these things right now, then when do you do it?”

CLASSE has been spoken for by the charismatic, sexy Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. The 21-year-old history student is in a tough position. The Liberal government is angry with him, and members of the student movement who feel CLASSE isn't radical enough have been splintering off.

Helping Nadeau-Dubois is the fact that it's not just a tuition fight anymore. Some in the movement have called it a 'printemps erable', or 'maple spring', a deliberate echo of the Arab Spring that has rocked the Middle East. Many protesters have expressed their disgust with Charest's government, saying it has lost legitimacy.

Beyond that there's the excitement of waking up and taking control of the agenda. For once the majority is standing up to the powerful minority.

Perhaps Nadeau-Dubois had it right when he told The Globe and Mail, "
“It’s time for a larger, more profound, and yes, more radical reflection on the direction Quebec has taken in recent years.”

Whether the students get what they're looking for or not, it's going to be one hell of a summer in La Belle Province. I couldn't be happier that I have the chance to be part of their
printemps erable.

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