April 27, 2012 – One thing that struck me, as I walked through the throngs of red-square wearing radicals and bon-vivants on Earth Day, was that there were more than just students in this crowd.
Families come in all sizes and shapes in our nuclear age, and these were the families that were marching together, for their collective future on a day to appreciate our planet after a week of radicalization, violence and arrests.
The Quebec students had been protesting for over a week against the latest affront by the Quebec Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest. College and university students were demonstrating against the government’s unilateral increase of tuition fees by 75% over five years.
Yes, in some cases there was excessive violence that led to the arrests of over 150 people over a span of two days – but that violence, from all parts of the society and not just the students, indicates that this movement of unrest involves more than just another raise in tuition fees, and effects more Quebecers than just students.
The unilateral nature of this latest fee increase indicates the comfort-level of a provincial government that has remained in power, virtually unthreatened for a decade now. This attitude of impunity from the provincial government has demonstrated itself in a wide range of issues that have affected every Quebecer, while simultaneously showing the Premier and his government to be more than just cold and out of touch from the concerns of average Quebecers — it has showed Quebecers that their government doesn’t care about them.
The Plan Nord is the Quebec government’s attempt to develop the northern regions of the province for opening and making the area suitable for business and enterprise. Despite the large number of Innu and European-heritage Quebecers living in the region, the basic feeling is that the local communities were not consulted in the development plan, which appears to have been tailored specifically for business interests. Add to that the strong sense from Quebecers province-wide that the development plan puts Quebec land at risk of environmental exploitation and you have a move by the provincial government which is questioned by all Quebecers, not just those living in the region.
“If the Plan Nord goes through we’re finished. It will damage our territory,” said Selena Gregoire, who walked from the Quebec north to the Montreal demonstrations with a group of about 40 Innu, “I’m doing this for my children.”
So while the student fee protests may have sparked the fire, the reality remains that it is a large batch of social issues and basic democratic format issues that give reason to every Quebecer to get involved in one way or another, and hopefully not through the looting and violence of vandals. There are those among the crowd who honestly feel that violence is what it will take to bring about change. The Quebec government has an excellent opportunity to prove them wrong by giving Quebecers the change we all want without having to resort to violence.
Matthew Brett put it this way:
The movement today is one of resistance and social change. People are refusing to pay for decades of corporate tax cuts, deregulation, economic crises and environmental exploitation. And while the conditions in Quebec are unique, many of the basic principles apply across Canada and most of the industrialized world. A spirit of political agitation, resistance and civil disobedience is emerging that will likely broaden in the months and years ahead.
The large family contingent on Earth Day rang out with the same message to the violent protesters of the last week as our planet cries to us every day – “Don’t forget about us! We’re here too and we want a sustainable, peaceful future to live!”