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For more useful English-language sources on the conflict, see:
Pierre Beaudet, Professor of International Development at the University of Ottawa, Gordon Lefebvre, retired teacher, Éric Martin, Professor of Philosophy at Collège Édouard-Montpetit.
July 17, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/354692/le-quebec-une-societe-a-debloquer
For a number of observers, the fast approaching elections will be the landing strip of the student and popular uprising of spring 2012. And yet, a simple shuffling of political representatives will not manage to settle the profound contradictions which cross Quebecois society and which this conflict has revealed.
The antiquated institutions in place and the absence of public debate on the direction that society is taking are in a head on collision with the demands of the youth, who are reviving the fundamental ideas of the Quiet revolution from a new anti-globalization, ecological and feminist sensibility. The arrival of a more authentic democracy demanded by the young men and women presupposes much deeper institutional changes than the game of alternating major parties allows.
Some wanted to paint the students as intransigent “radicals” and supporters of “violence” and “intimidation”. However, their demands would have seemed practically commonplace during the 1960s. At that time, Jean Lesage’s Parti Liberal and father Daniel Johnson’s l’Union nationale defended free education. As for the emerging independence movement, it put together a critique of the British parliamentary institutions and the domination of the federal government that restricted the development of the Quebecois people. So the youth demanded the right to freely choose their future without being submitted to dogmatic authorities or illegitimate foreign powers.
If the student demands appear as scandalous today, it’s because Québec and its elite abandoned the project of the Quiet revolution a long time ago to submit themselves to the federal government and the injunctions of economic globalization. The crisis of politics and public space has made society allergic to debates on fundamental questions. The radicalism of the market doesn’t hesitate to severely reprimand social movements that protest against the antidemocratic character of reforms imposed by neo-liberalism, which corrupt not only the essence of high education, but also all the public institutions of the Quebecois people.
The conflict, which started in the spring of 2012, reveals this blockage. Our antiquated institutions and the absence of a proportional electoral system favor the domination, in alteration, of a duopoly formed by the two major parties (the Liberal party and the Parti québécois). It could be said that the PQ expresses another point of view. In reality, it’s not obvious. The students remember that they also showed themselves favorable to tuition increases and the commercial instrumentalization of education numerous times in the framework of the “economy of knowledge”. Naturally, the youth have little confidence in a game of “musical chairs” between the two dominant polities.
The students’ demands go beyond the defense of public and free education. It’s the corruption of a public good„ the selling off of resources, the degradation of the land and environment, the absence of equality between men and women, in short, a vast group of blockages at the social level that worries them.
A very large part of the youth doesn’t accept that economic aspects trump social justice and are dictated by a fistful of managers and experts close to the economic elite. Likewise, the citizens who have hit casseroles to support the students don’t want to stupidly substitute the “street” for political authority: by demanding a more lively and deeper democracy, they ask to have their chance to speak, the right to be responsible for what Québec will become, rather than to endure inevitable politics, ultimately justified by the baton or gag.
During this spring’s protests, the posters, flags and poems let show, as if implicitly, a desire to expropriate the project of collective autonomy and the project of the country (pays). However, the question of independence isn’t too explicit in the student discourse. It expresses the difficulty of explicitly redefining a project of “national emancipation” which, at least under aegis of the PQ, led to a dead end, in part because the PQ bet on Québec Inc. rather than on the popular aspirations.
The challenge of overcoming this “misunderstanding” between social aspirations and the project of national emancipation is difficult in reality. Even if steps have been made in this direction by popular movements and by Québec solidaire, there is still a lot to do. This is why the movement and the contradictions that it reveals will, without a doubt, not disappear with the approaching election.
Only the future will say, however, if the movement will manage not only to unlock the Québécois societies institutional blockage, but to institute a Québec in which it will no longer be ashamed to see itself and where it will finally be possible to say “masters of our home” (maîtres chez nous) in an inclusive and uncomplicated manner.
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 email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.