Saturday, May 26, 2012

La Belle Province - French Spring

This week's news of Queen Victoria's journal being opened to the public reveals that Canada's 'distaste' for the uniqueness of it's french province  was shared by her Imperial Majesty some 180 years ago. At the time of Lord Durham's report into the then recent rebellions in the two Canadas, the Queen queried her ministers on why the Quebecois had been allowed to retain their particularly un-english institutions. "Where there no Englishmen in the province" when this was done? The answer was, "None."  And as for the reason why, her then Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, responded, "Because it was the proper thing to do."

There are many Canadians, particularly west of the Ottawa River, who would still like to see the 'proper thing' undone. Ever more so in the light of the recent student protests. in 'la belle province'.  The daily news has stirred the hearts of 'real' Canadians to thoughts that some other 'Canadiens' - being 'spoiled' by an overly generous rest of the country.- are living high on the proverbial hog amd making the rest of 'us' foot the bill. As well as 'holding the nation to ransome', being intrinsically 'disloyal' and refusing to speak english like the other nine provinces and three territories. Students, particularly, come under the harsh light of accused ingratitude by those who either failed to get a decent education or, even worse, did get one - on that same old desiccated public tit. Indignation seems to increase with west longitude and it's getting worse.

One hundred days, or so, ago, a small crowd (200 +/-) of students gathered  of a Saturday afternoon on the Montreal campus of their college to protest an announced hike in tuition fees. There to meet them were Montreal's finest - in particular its riot squad. The meeting ended with more that a hundred arrests and the student 'mob' maced and batoned into submission. Or so it seemed.

 That same day the eyes of the world were on Moscow where a 'showdown' between 'Putin's goons' and  peaceful, pro-democracy protestors was imminent. A 'bloodbath' was expected. Instead of reported Russian mayhem, the 'goons' quietly steered a crowd of some 25 000 out of the square ith 43 arrerests.. Needless to say the 'goon show' in Montreal took pride of place in the Sunday papers in Canada. And there the story has remained with increasing numbers involved and increasing numbers arrested. It has become such a problem that special legislation has been passed by the Quebec Assembly to deal with 'protests' and the Federal government has a 'masked rioter' Act ready to go in Parliament.

Most Canadians are non-plussed to figure out why students who 'already pay the lowest tuition fees in Canada' would be screwing things up nightly over a measly $2 500 bucks spread over three years of their education. The reaction is everything from some jejeune name-calling to demands that the army, or a force of vigilante citizenry, be turned loose on them. But as I've often said - and am now only starting to see in the media -  the protests lave long since moved beyond tuition fees. Those first beatings the riot squad 'laid on' are really what this trouble is all about. The response of the public, and especially politicians, to the bully tactics - 'give it to em boys with lots more of the same' - is now being replaced with the panicked look of  deer in the headlights,  For it's no longer students on the street, its turning into everybody with a gripe about the Charest government (he's been in power long enough to have annoyed lots of people) , and support is spreading to those students in other provinces who, until now, we were told, were happy to be paying more for an education. Charest has a problem. If it's not careful Harpergovernment could have one too.

At root of the matter is the fact that the Canadian economy has slowed down. Typically the conservative government's reaction is to 'free up' taxes for the movers and shakers while cutting back on the 'entitlements' of the poor, the old, the 'dependent on government' - including students and 'have not' provinces.

Since the foundation of Canada it was realized that, to make a more perfect union, the smaller, less-wealthy provinces could not be made subservient, or their citizens treated differently, than in  the wealthier, more productive ones. Political accommodations were made to protect rights or ensure a fairly representative voice.  After a while, transfers of wealth from 'have' to 'have not' provinces was effected through Federal government taxation income.   Since the days of the Quebec 'crisis' and the constitutional debate - Quebec has been treated as a special case, a have-not province. When things were good, Quebec  used this largesse to augment the social programs inproving the lives of Quebecois. Student tuition - along with a host of other schemes - from childcare, to pensions - was addressed by the province. The Federal Government has announced cutbacks - affecting these Quebec programs. Rather than raising taxes - Premier Charest is firmly in the 'austerity' mode - except, of course, when it comes to the movers and shakers for which his government seems to have a bottomless till. He wants students to take the first hit and is adamant in seeing that they do. He has promised 'No Surrender!"

The students don't believe him, or they don't care. They want a regime change.

So the students continue to hit the streets - with varying degrees of disorder. But if arrests are any indicator it must be worse than the black bloc at the G20,  for the Surite is 'kettling like krazy'.  It remains to be seen if Quebec courts can keep up. Whatever happens, the money that would have been saved in increased tuitions is now already long blown in increased security costs, and more increases will be needed to pay for  the potential expenditures on 'justice'.