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Josée Legault May 31, 2012
Original French Text: http://voir.ca/chroniques/voix-publique/2012/05/30/et-maintenant-on-va-ou/
Many are asking this question. And now, where do we go? We do what with this unexpected and heaven-sent revival of public debate that emerged from the longest student strike in our history?
If it is too soon to say, an important clue is becoming apparent. We find it in the “street” taken for weeks, confusing all generations, by the hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers otherwise disengaged from public discourse for years.
The tuition hikes served as the starting point. The catalyst was the totality of the work of the Charest government and its law 78, the straw that broke the camel’s back.
By restraining the freedoms of expression, association and demonstration, Jean Charest showed just how far he was willing to go to silence citizens becoming more and more angry. In return, they have shown him just what kind of resistance they are capable of.
The casseroles (pots and pans) spoke loudly. Covered in the international press, this disobedience has been spontaneous, large and pacifist. A veritable punch on the table of elites who are too sure of themselves.
Since the beginning of the strike, hundreds of demonstrations have happened—a phenomenon without precedent on this continent since the great social struggles of the ’60s.
Regarding the deeper problem, I persist and I sign on. To know that this revival of discussion is overall an expression of rising anger against the dilapidation of the common good in the name of an essentially neoliberal and corporate vision.
This vision, it is part of the right which, a little bit everywhere, has not ended since the Reagan and Thatcher eras, to dismantle, piece by piece, the welfare states that emerged post-war. Faced with the acceleration of this tendency in the new millennium, the values of the left are resurfacing. Whether we call them social democrats or progressives, they are opposed to the gluttony of the financial markets, to the complicity of the political class, the corruption which resulted from it, and its sometimes authoritarian reflexes.
These values rest on a larger equity between members of a society, in part due to public services which are provided without regard to the capacity of each person to pay. Free and universal education and medical care were its principal pillars.
Yes, the fact is that this right-left debate—which has waned in multiple variants of each—has been structuring the political universe for ages. Still today, it is everywhere in the west. Here, the spark was a student strike that came to wake up a people whom we thought to be asleep for a long time. Finally, the only real thawing that provoked Jean Charest in the past months has been that of public debate and progressive values.
The British Daily The Guardian summarized it brilliantly; these students have become the symbol of the most powerful questioning of neoliberalism on the continent. Period.
So, the day that the strike ends, where do we go? We go, I believe, towards a discourse that will be heard more and more. Even the intellectuals have emerged from their caves. We are going, one should hope, towards a rediscovery of social democracy. We are going towards the eventual political arrival of a generation capable of ethics and equity.
Things are happening even in Ottawa. While the student strike is taking all of our attention here, Thomas Mulcair is working to make the NDP a major political force. Outside Québec, we are beginning to even talk about the renaissance of progressive energy in Canada. In various English-Canadian cities, there are also “casseroles” nights being held to demonstrate against tuition hikes, law 78, and the Harper government! And for good reason!
In Québec, natural resources go to the highest bidder. We commodify health and education. We multiply the fee hikes, but we lighten the taxation of businesses. We sell the “right” to English schooling. Public funds have been misappropriated due to corruption, collusion, and cronyism. Fundamental liberties are taking the rap. Etc.
In Ottawa, the conservative majority are accelerating their swerve to the right. They have launched an offensive against employment insurance, freedom of assembly and the right to strike, public services, health transfers and funding of community organizations.
Mr. Harper claims to not want to open the debate on abortion, but he lets his deputees do the dirty work to appease the most regressive fringe of his party. They are cutting the taxation of businesses. They are refashioning a new militarist and monarchist patriotism. Etc.
And now, where do we go? Whoever knows precisely is very clever. Apart from this strong intuition of a public debate called to percolate and spread for some more time before it can give its full political assessment.
In short, we begin by rebuilding the progressive streak. Is this not the principal lesson given to us by that student strike?
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.