Tag Archives: protests

The tuition debate is over

As if to deliberately underscore how chaotic and disorganized the student activist movement is, two separate, competing protests are being organized over the next two weeks concerning tuition and accessibility of higher education.

The first, by the CEGEP-heavy, highly militant unlimited-strike-at-the-tip-of-a-hat ASSÉ, is this Thursday afternoon. (The event’s tagline is telling: “Parce que la lutte continue, tabarnak !!!”)

The second, by the bigger-budget, more organized PR-savvy FEUQ, is the following Thursday.

The reason behind the two protests is nothing more complicated than the two groups engaging in a pissing contest with each other. Rather than put aside their differences and come together, student groups prefer to fight and sue each other.

But even if this wasn’t the case, the protest is pointless for one simple reason: They’ve already lost the battle.

In the last provincial election, Liberal leader Jean Charest made it abundantly clear he intended to unfreeze tuition and raise it by a small amount. ADQ leader Mario Dumont even wanted to go further. Those two parties took over 2/3 of the seats in the National Assembly.

The public, meanwhile, made it very clear that keeping Quebec’s tuition the lowest in Canada is not their top priority. Even some students think our tuition is too low, and would prefer to see more student money go into the education system.

These protests (and the laughable “unlimited general strike”, which hurts no one but the few students participating in it) are organized on the assumption that the public supports them. But it doesn’t. And tying up downtown traffic so that some hippies can yell how $200 a course is too much to pay for university education isn’t going to help their cause at all. It will just piss people off and make them think that these students have far too much free time on their hands that they could be spending earning money to lessen their tuition load.

The tuition debate is over as far as the government is concerned. If you’re going to try to revolutionize the way Quebec finances post-secondary education, you have to convince the voters to think like you. That means a big, honest education campaign, not a protest.

And don’t hold your breath expecting attitudes to change overnight.

Mouvement Montréal français is right about Second Cup

A protest by members of Mouvement Montréal Français yesterday has prompted Second Cup (in one of the shortest press releases I’ve seen in quite a while) to announce offhandedly mention that it will review its policy concerning its signs.

The tiff was caused when the coffee giant decided it would remove “Les Cafés” from its coffee shop’s signs and just become “Second Cup”. They can do this, despite Bill 101, because Second Cup is a registered trademarked, like McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Future Shop.

MMF wasn’t happy with this. So they protested. No firebombing or anything like that, but they held signs and asked people to take their patronage elsewhere (Starbucks? Java U? Tim Horton’s? Dunkin Donuts?)

Good for them.

I’m no fan of Bill 101, and I oppose government over-regulation of commercial signs. But this isn’t government regulation, it’s regular citizens expressing their right to free expression in attempting to get a company to change its ways. Second Cup’s signs should be French not because the government forces it on them, but because it’s respecting the population to speak to them in their language. Imagine having English-only signs in China, or Spanish-only signs in the U.S. It’s understandable for a mom-and-pop operation or a store in an ethnic village, but for a major company it’s a slap in the face to French-speaking Quebecers.

Second Cup’s move was just plain stupid. It’s not like nobody recognizes “Second Cup” when it’s “Les Cafés Second Cup”. Instead, this smacks of a decision made by a clueless manager who has far too much free time on his hands and doesn’t know anything about Quebec politics.

Hopefully they’ll come to their senses and leave “Les Cafés Second Cup” alone.

Unions can be sued for protest inconvenience

A judge has ruled that a 2003 blue-collar protest which tied up traffic downtown inconvenienced Montrealers significantly enough that they should be compensated. In a judgement on a class-action suit from Boris Coll, the judge ordered the union to give $1.16 million to charity (determining individual compensation was deemed too impractical).

Reaction has been mixed. The Gazette calls it a victory for regular people who should be able to travel freely without inconvenient traffic jams. Dennis Trudeau, meanwhile, worries about future protesters getting sued because their marches might cause traffic disruption.

Both sides have reasonable points, but I have to side with Trudeau. A traffic jam is an inconvenience, but there’s no constitutional right to free roadways. There is, however, a right to assemble, protest and express yourselves on political issues. The latter right should take precedence.

Protesters already wear masks and keep their routes secret because they fear police repression. Making these things actionable is just going to drive them further into lawlessness and make those protesters angrier.

Student lobby groups need a reality check

You gotta love student politics in Quebec. We have the lowest tuition fees in Canada, the highest taxes, and Montreal has the highest number of students per capita.

Yet this province seems to be the largest battleground for student protests in North America. They protest tuition fees, which are too high because they’re above zero (some protests involve CEGEP students, whose tuition fees actually are zero). They protest government cuts to loans and bursaries. They protest the colonial capitalist imperialistic racist empire bent on … evil of some sort.

And, of course, they protest each other.

Five student associations from Concordia, McGill and Dawson are suing each other over control of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students. Concordia’s graduate association is planning to pull out of the organization over this dispute which has seen two competing executives appointed. (UPDATE Sept. 13: The Concordian — yeah, I know — has a detailed story on what’s going on)

“Regional” (read: not Montreal or Quebec City) groups at UQTR, UQO and UQAR are threatening to leave the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) over their concerns the group is too Montreal-centric, and create their own lobby group to represent just their interests.

Currently there are three post-secondary lobby groups in Quebec. In addition to FEUQ (considerd the grown-up group because they sit down and negotiate with the government) and CFS-Q (considered almost renegade by its parent national organization and with little weight in Quebec because it only represents the two anglophone universities and an anglophone CEGEP), there’s ASSÉ, the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, which is a newer, more militant group that accepts nothing short of free education for all.

To give an example, the Concordia Student Union has been a member of all three organizations over the past few years, paying student money to three redundant organizations. They recently dropped ASSÉ (which was the cheapest of the three but also the most ineffective), and now pay money only to two.

And yet despite this, Jean Charest was returned to power with the clear intention of raising tuition, and fees are going up. FEUQ is threatening strikes, but they’ve already lost the battle. The public voted for tuition increases, and a few hundred students choosing to waste their money by not going to class isn’t going to get anyone to change their mind.

All three groups need to take a moment to figure out why they’re losing (even many students don’t support their positions — though I don’t see too many of them lining up to donate money to the universities), and change their strategy before they become even more irrelevant than they already are. Once that happens, student unions will start pulling their funding and the Quebec student activist movement will implode.

UPDATE (Sept. 25): A judge decides to keep the offices off-limits to both groups until the issue can be reviewed further. The SSMU is happy, while the CSU is not.


Fake outrage is always fun to look at. Political operatives look at anything done by the opposition, put it through as many filters as possible and seek the flimsiest excuse to call something outrageous.

Then they draw up a press release, send it to the media, and hope it sticks.

Of course, in today’s media, rewriting press releases as news is fast, easy and therefore commonplace. So a lot of them start sticking, even if they don’t pass the smell test.

  • Guy makes political statement with profanity, for the sole purpose of getting noticed by the media? OUTRAGE!
  • Political ad has random letters for half a second spell out “PTORN” over two lines, which looks a bit like “PORN”? OUTRAGE!
  • Police keeping an eye on your protest? OUTRAGE!:

“…helicopters, shining bright lights, flew at a very low altitude, at the level of treetops, where the camp was being held.  This act demonstrates but one strategy to discourage the direct opposition put into place against the SPP summit.”

When they start finding real people who are actually outraged about these things without the cattle-prod prompting of political campaign directors, they can start thinking that it’s newsworthy.

Revolutions are so disorganized

With today’s anti-STM-strike protest still 45 minutes away (wish I could go see it, but the buses won’t get me there fast enough), there are already rumours circulating of similar protests planned for Friday and Tuesday.

The media picked up on today’s protest (4pm, Berri-UQAM metro), so it may get some decent activity despite the last-minute planning.

UPDATE: Since there’s been no news following the protest, I’ll assume that it either didn’t happen or didn’t make much of an impact.

UPDATE (Fri. 4pm): Apparently nobody showed up but the media and a single organizer. I don’t know if I’d agree that it was “heavily hyped”. In fact, other than a La Presse brief, a vague Facebook post and some mentions on the morning all-news channels (which only the media watch anyway), nobody even knew about the protest.