Who’s in charge in Québec, students or the authorities?
By Bruce A Stewart
Smoke bombs at the main junction of the Montréal Métro.
Streets closed for “encounters”, marches, riots.
Students who want to go to school — and professors who want to teach them — kept out.
There’s a tendency in the rest of Canada to turn the page on this story. “Just Québec; they’re like the French, you know.”
Well, don’t. In the past few weeks this became symptomatic of a bigger problem that exists elsewhere.
Governments that won’t act when they should.
The Caledonia blockade in Ontario. First Nations actions in BC. Yes, this stuff happens elsewhere.
The government of Jean Charest allowed the student protests over tuition fee increases to run for a long time. Three months.
Fair enough. Free speech comes at the price of inconvenience to others.
Eventually, the student leaders and the government reached an agreement. The changes would be phased in over a longer period.
Then the students voted to renege on that agreement, and keep the street theatre going — and to escalate it.
Starting your morning coughing, choking, escaping from the subway and then having to walk to your workplace was a step too far.
So, too, is causing students — who’ve paid to be there, or are in debt thanks to student loans — who want to learn so they don’t lose their year to be kept from classes for the fourth month.
Really, the year should have been lost already, but there’s been a scramble to try and salvage it.
There comes a point when government’s primary duty to the citizens of peace and good order takes precedence over the other considerations.
I think that line was crossed when the Berri-UQAM station filled with smoke. Métro riders have nothing to do with this. (Yes, that junction of the 1, 2 and 4 lines is also at the Université du Québec à Montréal campus. Convenient for students, but that doesn’t make the Métro system a hostage.)
The campuses of the universities and CÉGÉPs need to be opened. Where is the Sûreté du Québec (Québec Provincial Police)?
So far, this situation, and Charest’s dithering, has cost him his Education Minister. More should resign from his Cabinet in disgust — or it’s time to sit him down and say “leave, now”.
There are two by-elections coming, both in the worst-affected Montréal area. Both in what would normally be considered “safe” Libéral seats.
No government should be returned that won’t finally respect the rights of all the citizens. So far, Jean Charest has only shown that he respects the rights of the protesting students.
Current polls in Québec suggest a “Pizza” Assemblée Nationale after the next election (which needs to occur by late 2013) and a minority government.
This situation has already pushed the Parti Québécois into a slight lead. The “centre-right” Coalition Avénir Québec has been as silent as Charest, and fallen from first to third.
The school term must resume, and order be restored in Québec. Time to get someone who will.
Jean Charest has forfeited the right.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at email@example.com.