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Isabelle Porter - June 4 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/351613/le-point-limite-est-atteint
The founder of Génération d’idées fears that the student movement will give way to the “cult of civil disobedience”.
PHOTO CAPTION: Paul St-Pierre-Plamondon (on the left) participating in the protest led by lawyers and notaries against the Charest government’s law 78.
Paul St-Pierre-Plamondon in 5 dates
February 17 1977: Born in Trois-Rivières
2008: Establishment of the Générations d’idées group
February 2009: He leaves his job at Stikeman Elliott and undertakes a 19-city tour of Quebec in order to meet young people. He wrote an account of this experience in his book Des jeunes et l’avenir du Québec: les rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire (Youth and the Future of Quebec: Daydreams of a Solitary Wanderer)
January 2010: He becomes Vice President of the Delegatus legal firm.
October 2011: He plants brooms in front of the National Assembly to demand an inquiry commission. This action cost him his hosting contract with Radio-Canada.
Paul St-Pierre-Plamondon, of the Génération d’idées group, was shocked to hear that one of the student leaders threatened the government “to organize” Montreal’s Grand Prix last week. He fears that the movement will veer off course into a “cult of civil disobedience”.
“When I hear : “The Grand Prix, we’ll organize it for you”, I have a big problem with that”, he declared on Friday, outside a summit on public education. “I do not wish for Quebec to be ushered into an era where civil disobedience and violence are a part of our identity.”
“It’s not true that we’ll ever tell our students : “Civil disobedience is right, and threats are part of the political sphere,” he added.
The young 34 year-old lawyer became known, a few years back, by starting Génération d’idées, a think tank aiming at battling Generation Y’s apathy.
In 2009, he’d even left his job at the legal firm of Stikeman Elliott to travel across Quebec in search for new ideas. Since then, he’s been a staple on television sets, notably as a commentator on Bazzo.tv.
In his opinion, we are currently witnessing a breakdown of our social contract, as described in the 18th century by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. “According to Rousseau, the social contract will only work if the government itself respects the law. If they do not respect it, people feel justified in not respecting it.”
Last October, Paul St-Pierre-Plamondon had planted 260 brooms in front of the National Assembly, demanding an inquiry commission into corruption in the construction industry. His thesis is that we are currently lodged between two dynamics that are feeding each other : “Because there’s corruption and conflicts of interest, people feel justified in disobeying” and “because we’re disobeying, people feel entitled to create laws like law 78, for example, that raise serious issues surrounding freedom of expression and of association.”
This lawyer is, however, in favour of the student strike. In March, he loudly denounced the tuition fee hikes in Le Devoir and predicted that a “long-lasting deadlock” would occur between the government and the student associations.
As a lawyer, he stepped in last April to defend the Université de Montréal’s student association against the university’s administration that wished to restrict the right to protest on its territory. “The Université is not a Couche-Tard [transl.note: a trademark of convenience stores in Quebec], he declared. It’s a place of dialogue, of knowledge, of debate, financed by public funds.”
“If there’s one person who has given to the student cause and who is in favour of accessible education, it’s me, he says. But at the same time, I’m afraid of us ascribing to a cult of revolution, of social resistance.”
Beyond the infamous Grand Prix declaration, he is not denouncing the other acts of civil disobedience associated with the discourse of the past few weeks.
In the public debate as in social media, he bemoans the valorization of civil disobedience. In his opinion, we’ve reached a “limit” the “day when we threaten people and important institutions of our own economy and prosperity, like the Grand Prix”.
“It’s as though a Bolshevik Revolution with a Che Guevera flavour were to lead us somewhere in the current student negotiations. I highly doubt it.”
The Scandinavian Example
Paul St-Pierre Plamondon has a rather impressive resumé. He studied law at Oxford and in Sweden and has also notably worked as pro bono prosecutor for human rights in Bolivia. “My experience in Bolivia has had a tremendous influence on me, as well as my experience in Scandinavia”, he says. Revolutionary Bolivia is subscribed to changes in government, he bemoans.
On the other hand, he claims to have witnessed in Scandinavia “an extremely functional social democracy based on two premises” : “a transparent and healthy governance” and “a certain collective discipline” that “sometimes is lacking in Quebec in the application of social democracy”.
When he is brought to talk about the government’s overwrought argument about protester violence, he retorts that we shouldn’t give into such arguments.
“It is just falling into the trap”, he says, whereas “our democratic society gives us numerous ways to enforce our arguments in a spirit of civility and respect”.
There are other avenues, referring to the casseroles, to the protests, or even to Arcade Fire’s media intervention on Saturday Night Live. “They went to the United States, they wore their red squares, and they did it with great civility. What did that accomplish? It made the United States talk about the red square. There are ways in which it can be accomplished with civility while also helping the cause to grow.”
The intensity of the student cause has some surrealistic aspects, especially to this man who founded Générations d’idées in 2008 in order to combat Generation Y’s apathy. “That intensity can be channelled into beautiful projects, whereas at the time of the creation of Génération d’idées, there was so much apathy and gloominess. People were asleep, it was beyond reason”, he recalls.
“It’s there, the crossroads. You can have a escalation of violations of human rights and of criminal actions on both sides that will leave a really prejudicial mark on Quebec’s democratic tradition. Or you can harness the energy towards reforms, a renewal for Quebec.”
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.