NEW MEDIA AND POLITICS CANADA: An Attack On Progress

Here in Quebec, amidst the nightly demonstrations against the tuition increases and Bill 78, the bill that gave the movement oxygen, we hear a constant drumbeat from media sources that the kids are “spoiled,” or have a sense of “entitlement,” and are perhaps communists. Seriously. It’s tiresome.

Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)
Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Rogerio Barbosa)

Erica Shaker of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has written a terrific piece about this “scapegoating” of the kids involved and begins by asking a question that should be the starting point for any discussion about the issues at the center of the protests:

Why is it still, for some, a newsflash that reality for today’s youth is a solar system away from the world of just 25 or 30 years ago?

She then outlines what she calls the “toxic socioeconomic brew” that led here: Wages stagnating since the late ’80’s, the infamous 1995 Paul Martin budget which oversaw massive cuts to and restructuring of social programs, and the reduction of transfer payments which has reinforced the trend to greater income inequality.

Now, add to that…

…the fallout from declining levels of government support for higher education in Canada which has resulted in a number of new realities: over the past 30 years, government grants as a share of university operating revenue plummeted from 84% to 58%, and the share funded by tuition fees rose from 12% to 35%.

Suddenly a University education in Canada is a lot more expensive than people appreciate and students get saddled with more debt on the way out the door than their parents ever knew ($37,000 on average – somewhat less in Quebec), and there are less good employment opportunities. Remember, unpaid internships are all the rage.

More to the point, Ms. Shaker reminds us of the benefits of education to all of us:

We know the vast benefits of accessible higher education—and not just physical accessibility. Societies that make this a priority tend to be healthier, have a more politically-active citizenry, enjoy greater levels of community and family involvement, and have more social mobility. There are economic returns as well, all of which means that the demand for public education—or public health care, or public child care—is not a request for “free” anything, or even not wanting to pay one’s “fair share.”

For wanting more and easier access to education the student protestors have been vilified endlessly by the media. This of itself is simply sad but it illustrates the lack of understanding and the unwillingness of the supposed adults to engage in a constructive dialogue. But it’s not the name calling she wants to bring our attention to in all of this:

To be clear, I don’t think what we’re experiencing is so much an attack on youth, though it often feels that way, as it is an attack on progress.

Attacks on progress are something we’ve seen far too much of in this transitional era – one that seems to be marked by greed and stupidity. It’s time to try and put a stop to it by not giving in to media propaganda and opinion writers who regularly make a habit of not only being wrong but of always siding with the corporations, the banks and other arms of the establishment. Maybe we could all try and do what we’re always telling our kids to do, think for yourselves.

Go read the entire piece here for yourself, form you own opinion and just try not to be that guy or gal yelling at the kids to get off your lawn!

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Montreal Simon: Quebec: When a Society Wakes Up

It was wet and miserable in Montreal today. But that didn't stop thousands of people from attending a  rally to support the Quebec students.  Thousands of people clad in raincoats and carrying umbrellas gathered in Montreal's Jeanne-Mance park Saturday afternoon for what was billed as a family-friendly protest in support

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From Orangutan: Photos of Montreal lawyers marching against Law 78,

On Monday evening in Montreal, hundreds of lawyers donned their professional black robes and took to the streets on a silent march to protest Law 78 (also known as the “loi spéciale”), the legislation that the Jean Charest government recently passed in an attempt to put a stop to the Quebec student movement towards accessible post-secondary education. The Quebec Bar has expressed serious concerns over Law 78 for, among other things, its limitations imposed on student associations, its judicialization of debates, its use of the criminal justice system, and its granting of increased powers to the Minister of Education, Michelle Courchesne, who in effect, is able to amend laws in Quebec without consulting the people, members of the National Assembly, or even colleagues. Here are some of my photos of the march, which began at 6:30 p.m. at the Palais de justice (courthouse) and made its way through Old Montreal, Chinatown, the Quartier des spectacles (entertainment quarter), and finally to Place Emilie-Gamelin, the usual starting point of the nightly student movement demonstrations that begin at 8:30 p.m.

Palais de justice de Montréal

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Tattered Sleeve: Paint It, Red

But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!

Reports are the casserole protests continued tonight. Thousands marching up St-Laurent Blvd earlier this fine evening. Good for them. “That’s the spirit,” as my eight-year-old son likes to say.

You know, for months I was reluctant to get behind this particular student-led movement. It really left a bad taste in my mouth every time I heard about “striking” students thwarting others from attending classes. And like many others I spoke with, “strike” (or its french equivalent, “grève”, rhymes with Bev) seemed a misnomer. If anything, these guys were boycotting their classes, or at the very least, “protesting”. But calling it a strike seemed disingenuous.

I am however, a tolerant Canadian, so I did not quibble with them throwing bricks on subway tracks to get attention when the hardline Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest refused to even meet with them and hear their grievances. It was not very becoming of Charest, but then again, he is a pompous ass, and when you knowingly elect a pompous ass, you have to expect to live with that devil you knew and know. He was, after all, merely a young pup when learning the tricks of the trade within Mulroney’s cabinet.

But once he had had enough of these unwavering protesters, his pomposity grew to such outbound proportions with his Bill 78 that I knew in a heartbeat that rather than making a Swift, Decisive, Strong Leader decision, he had instead impetuously shat the provincial bed.

I look on it now as my Grinch moment. It awakened me.

There I was, hand cocked to ear, sitting atop Mount Crumpet with all the self-righteousness of the many people like me, feeling unlawfully hindered from wending our little ways through the workings of life to get to our woefully underpaid jobs. I was fully (gosh, naively) expecting to hear the mea culpas from CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and the others. And like all those who’d poo-pooed the movement and quietly categorized them as uber-brats, I had expected them to back down and accept that they were about to be firmly screwed again. The way I got screwed. The way we all have been getting screwed by the untenable but nonetheless well-embraced mantra of neo-liberalism that doesn’t know anything other than sucking every ounce of life from the 99.9% to feed the self-important point-0-one.

But this generation of students? Nuh-uh. They wouldn’t – and won’t – have any of it, even though Bill 78 meant these students had just had their whole semesters scuppered.

But just like the Whos in Whoville who had been robbed of all their worldly possessions, the “entitled” young buggers came right back out into the commons anyway. They came out in numbers much greater than what wept for Maurice Richard’s passing, and they sang their protest song on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012. Over a hundred thousand people marched in bold defiance of a law that so obviously contravenes our utmost rights (bestowed by the people to those that rule us, remember, not the other way around), even the dimmest of voters could not help but see it.

We all heard them; me from the 8th floor office on de Maisonneuve Blvd where I earn subsistence wages for an American company that constantly insists none of us may take a sick day without later furnishing a Doctor’s note, never mind that it’s against Quebec law to ask for that for absences of less than three days.

I went down to the street on my break and watched the marchers head down Peel Street. They were joyously defiant. They had all the violence of a John Lennon or Ghandi.

They were on the right side of history, I figured.

For what I had heretofore failed to see was that the tuition increase wasn’t all they were protesting. The increase, or “Hausse” was more like the straw that broke the camel’s back – the camel that the mass media was always looking beyond because it figured nobody cared so much about camels as about Kardashians. And if it’s sad that they are right in that assumption, it’s also true that they had a big hand in making it so.

I guess I didn’t relate because my own experience in university was that tuition kept going up each year, but my parents (what foresight!) had been saving for me and my sister since we were tots to make sure we had money to get a degree. And they had expected it to be a lot more expensive than it turned out to be.

My first year at Concordia University was also the last year of a long-standing tuition fee freeze (1988), and my contract for a full year’s study, including extra administrative costs, was all of $750. After that, there was books and living expenses of course. And I did my bit. I toiled unrewarded as a volunteer student journalist; I paid my way and switched to studying part-time once the $350-a-year increases kicked-in in 1989, working minimum wage at McDonald’s – a real Flaherty job if ever there was one.

Since graduation, I have found the market for my writing, my reporting, indeed the sum of my skills learned within the two departments of Journalism and Communications, to be drier than a James Bond martini. The jobs just haven’t been there, and when they were, I jumped at them, only to find myself jammed-up with numerous others, like the hammers of an old manual typewriter all struck at once, with none eventually hitting the ribbon, but left with no recourse save full retreat.

I am 43 years old, with two dependants and an ex-wife. I had to start over last year, grateful as hell to find employment that provides good family benefits and a measure of security (not maternity-leave replacement or fixed-term contract work, but permanent, full-time with vacation), despite the fact it pays less than I made twelve years ago as a McDonald’s manager.

So if the greater message is that this society is just not providing opportunity for the average Joe and Josephine, yeah, I get it.

And as someone who is squarely in the red, living in a tiny apartment with no money to go on vacations and unable to set aside anything for my kids’ education, let alone my own retirement (which I imagine won’t come before I am 70, if not 67 – unlike the tsk-tsk-ing well-heeled Boomer generation that is so disgusted by all this protesting), you bet I get it. Even Arcade Fire and Mick Jagger get it.

So I am with you. Sorry I wasn’t listening earlier. That’s what happens when you’re working for the clampdown. I always loved that song. Now I’ve lived it.

Not the way I’d hoped.

*Photo: thanks, Aly Neumann!

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Tattered Sleeve: Paint It, Red

But the sound wasn’t sad!Why, this sound sounded merry!It couldn’t be so!But it WAS merry! VERY! Reports are the casserole protests continued tonight. Thousands marching up St-Laurent Blvd earlier this fine evening. Good for them. “That’s the spirit,” as my eight-year-old son likes to say. You know, for months I

Continue reading

Tattered Sleeve: Paint It, Red

But the sound wasn’t sad!Why, this sound sounded merry!It couldn’t be so!But it WAS merry! VERY! Reports are the casserole protests continued tonight. Thousands marching up St-Laurent Blvd earlier this fine evening. Good for them. “That’s the spirit,” as my eight-year-old son likes to say. You know, for months I

Continue reading