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For more useful English-language sources on the conflict, see:
Staff note: Another article in the Le Monde series “Au Québec, les raisons d’un soulèvement”, or “In Quebec, the causes of an uprising”. Previously featured were an article by Premier Jean Charest , one by CLASSE co-director Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, and one by essayist François Ricard.
Richard Desjardins, singer-songwriter & activist June 7, 2012
It is remarkable that the student protests are also about the management of our natural resources. The banners and signs prove it. And when the two themes met on April 22nd, Earth Day, 300 000 people descended into the streets of Montreal.
Ten years ago, our forests, our mines, our capacity for energy production still appeared to be resources on which we could count eternally. Regardless of whether they were managed in a shady way, they produced the well-paying jobs that were needed. The sector was content with extractions mostly for bulk sale.
Little by little, doubt set into the collective conscience. It started in the rural areas. With the emergence of the hyper-computerization of the industry, the labor pool diminished while production increased. Today, in the “techno-mines”, ten times less men are needed than fifty years ago to extract the same volume of minerals. From the highway, a problem can now be perceived in the forest: trucks transport trees with smaller and smaller diameters. In 2004, an inquiry commission on the management of forests confirmed this fact. It was incidentally learned that the subsidies granted to forestry societies surpassed the revenues taken from them.
In 2009, the general controller of Quebec (assigned with monitoring public funds and goods entrusted by the National Assembly to the government) sat down with the minister responsible for mines. To come out sounding good. Fourteen mines of the twenty-four in operation in Quebec had made no payment to the state for seven years! The others paid out 1.5% of the value of minerals excavated. We also learned that we assumed for the large part the cleaning of exhausted mineral sites. Today this public bill surpasses 1 billion Canadian dollars (774.2 million euros).
The findings, a little raw, didn’t create a shock wave. Nevertheless, the problem penetrates the collective conscience. Maybe Quebec recalled the fact that 90% of its territory is public property – an inverse proportion of what can be observed in Europe – and that the most humble of Quebeckers will inherit it. The future will tell us, but it warned me that the revolt in Quebec has taken root, for a good part, as a reaction to this territory-management calamity.
Over the last few years a succession of irritating anomalies, no link between them, hasn’t ceased to feed the people’s discontent. Like the brutal incursion of shale gas promoters in the Saint-Laurent valley, sometimes represented by former senior civil servants or politicians.
Like the implausible law suit, at the level of 11 million Canadian dollars, filed by the gold-bearing company Barrick Gold against the little editor Ecosociété [who produced a book in 2008 criticizing Canadian mining companies. As a consequence of the lawsuits brought against them, Black Canada has been taken down from the shelves.]
Like the declaration according to which the construction of a highway is 30% more expensive in Quebec than in Ontario, a symptom of what resembles mafia practices. Like the residents of a popular area of the little boreal city Malartic ordered to move to allow the digging of an open-air mine before the public consultations had even completed their work.
So, when the premier of Quebec, having become unpopular, wanted to spark the imagination by announcing the conquest of the North [in 2011 Jean Charest put into place a plan to facilitate the exploitation of natural resources north of the 49th parallel], well… he was allowed to talk: In these large spaces of Quebec tundra we’ll spread railways, airports, deep water ports, new dams to clear out two enormous iron and nickel deposits that have already been found. Only a hip-hop version of a Gilles Vigneault song was missing!
Small problem: we are asked to finance this mega-project collectively. Very well. But the two companies receiving the deposits, one Indian and the other Chinese, will give payments not calculated as a function of the volume of extracted minerals but on their pure profits. Once their misleading accounts will have deducted what our laws allow them, who will be granted something like a meager symbolic offering for our submission.
The government is about to use tens of billions for a project with hypothetical effects, as the majority of independent analysts see it. It’s in this context that it cuts the health and education budgets, that it augments tuition fees. “Your fair share,” he demanded from students. Their response: the street, the casseroles, the uproar. And maybe more.
This text is an extract of the preface of Alain Deneault and William Sacher, “Paradise under ground”, to appear October 4th (Eds. Ecosociété and Eds. Rue de l’échiquier).
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.