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By eleven University of Laval professors July 2012
Original French Text: http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2012/07/A/47979
Anxious to preserve the accessibility of the masses to higher education, the Quebec students have opposed for four months, a raise in tuition in universities announced by the liberal Jean Charest government(1). The extension of the movement to the rest of the population, followed shortly in early spring with the adoption of the special law on May 18th. This would push Quebec one step closer to an authoritian regime. These measures have encouraged students to engage a large segment of Quebec society against the party in power and the people directing the economy.
For about thirty years, the issue in regards to access to education, has been threatened by Neo-Liberals. The question arises quite regularly in Quebec. The debate has developed in specific terms, which is quite in contrast with the “rest of Canada”(RDC). Transferred from the Catholic church to the province little after WWII, the education system was seen as an emanation of society which had institutionalized itself progressively: It was the result of institutional and policy framework. Access to university for the largest possible audience was perceived as an instrument for social mobility for the francophones and a symbol for the new collective identity during the “Quiet Revolution” (1960-1966)(2). In the context marked by the economic crisis of 2008 and the rise by a certain social exasperation. The threat to restrain our social programs has engendered a resistance movement of rare intensity. Like all social struggles of grand amplitude, the “Quebecois Spring” divides the society that has witnessed it flourish.
This division has temporarily eclipsed a larger issue much older then itself: the “national question”. For several decades, the last two hundred and fifty years of British conquest has been under the spotlight. Quebec is constantly faced with the choice to stay within the Canadian federation or constitute itself as a sovereign state. This separates the province into two groups with opposite views with well entrenched positions. The student protests and two opposing views are not unrelated. It’s barely a coincidence that the party that has chosen to increase tuition is a federalist party in Quebec. And in contrast, the independence parties such as the QS [Quebec solidaire] and PQ [Parti quebecois] have been supporting the students to a varying degree.
« Two Solitudes »
From its first fractures, there adds another that touches not only the political sphere but society as a whole. Quebec has over eight million inhabitants, of which 79,6% are francophone, 8,2 % are anglophone and 12,2 % speak another language. The last group has been increasing steadily with a migration flow of forty five thousand arrivals every year. Their children will be schooled in french, since the Charter of the French Language (1977) made it a central disposition in Quebec politics . (Read « « Avancez vers l’arrière », ou les vicissitudes de la loi 101 »).
In the reports of the ROC, Quebec presents itself as a society distinct on linguistic, cultural and national plans. We have become accustomed to talking of the “Two Solitudes” to describe the mutual incomprehension in the Belle Province and the RDC. The term is also used to distinguish the solitudes between Anglo-Québécois et francophones in Quebec. In English Canada, the demonstrations in the springtime were received with hostility towards the students and all of Quebec. Media in Anglo-Canada has portrayed the students as “spoiled children” of a parasite province. This analysis has spread into the french media, who have often abused the expression to mock students.
However, different in scale, the principal media outlets in English Canada have associated their judgement on the latter argument, and focused on the Quebec model: They continue to vilify the equalization payments from the federal government in some provinces (therefore Quebec) and that according to them, is the reason for the “spoiled children” generation (3). This has resulted in a large segment of English Canadian media lashing out against the Hellenization of Quebec, because, as the Greeks, Quebecers have abused their social services, and refused to take their part in taxes and payback accumulated debt (4).
The mobilization of English university students in “Quebecois Spring” was relatively small compared to that of francophone institutions. How to interpret this difference? Whatever the reason maybe that could explain the two solitudes - varying ideas come to mind such as: the traditional fidelity of the English community to the Quebec Liberal Party, the high rate of foreign students in English schools, student associations that are too centralized and barely politicized, and rather intended to provide services rather then mobilize, etc. They neglect or are rather inept to mobilization.
Like The Greeks
In the words of young Anglo-Québécois engaged in this struggle, it is the first time that so many students are participating in a strike alongside the french students; it is also the first time that so many texts and ideas have been circulating between the youth from both linguistic communities, in particular, through the use of the internet and translated articles posted online. The student movement has changed the relationship between these young people.
The “Quebecois Sring” has not gone without effect in English Canada. They have witnessed in alternative medias a new discourse on Quebec. If this is to be presented separately from its previous analysis , it is to emerge as a model : A social life that is richer and a solidarity among the population that is stronger(5). We find it fascinating to see the transformation of the student protest into a powerful movement against the acts of austerity and repressive policies(6).
It is too early to judge the effects of “Quebecois Spring” but it clearly is not enough to erase language barriers and cultural differences at work, in everyday life and in the private space. The two major cultural communities will continue to coexist within Quebec society, but it will be interesting to see if the political expression of their cultural differences will change over time.
By 11 professors from the University of Laval (Olivier Clain, André Drainville, Gérard Duhaime, Andrée Fortin, Gilles Gagné, Sylvie Lacombe, Simon Langlois, Richard Marcoux, Daniel Mercure, Madeleine Pastinelli, Stéphanie Rousseau.)
(3) Cf. Editorial from Toronto Star, May 15, 2012.
(4) We cite here editorials from Tacha Kheiriddin, National Post, Toronto, May 17, 2012 ; Diane Francis, National Post, May 18, 2012 ; Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail, Toronto, May 19, 2012.
(6) Roger Annis, « Quebec students say Charest’s authoritarian “special law” will fail », Rabble.ca, May 18, 2012.
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.