Welcome to the World Revolution in the Global Age of Rage

Welcome to the World Revolution in the Global Age of Rage

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Mass protest in Spain

 

I am currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and the global resistance, rebellious and revolutionary movements that have emerged in reaction to this crisis. Our world is in the midst of the greatest economic, social, and political crisis that humanity has ever collectively entered into. The scope is truly global in its context, and the effects are felt in every locality. The course of the global economic crisis is the direct and deliberate result of class warfare, waged by the political and economic elites against the people of the world. The objective is simple: all for them and none for you. At the moment, the crisis is particularly acute in Europe, as the European elites impose a coordinated strategy of class warfare against the people through “austerity” and “structural adjustment,” political euphemisms used to hide their true intention: poverty and exploitation.

The people of the world, however, are beginning to rise up, riot, resist, rebel and revolt. This brief article is an introduction to the protest movements and rebellions which have taken place around the world in the past few years against the entrenched systems and structures of power. This is but a small preview of the story that will be examined in my upcoming book. Please consider donating to The People’s Book Project in order to finance the completion of this volume.

Those who govern and rule over our world and its people have been aware of the structural and social changes which would result in bringing about social unrest and rebellion. In fact, they have been warning about the potential for such a circumstance of global revolutionary movements for a number of years. The elite are very worried, most especially at the prospect of revolutionary movements spreading beyond borders and the traditional confines of state structures. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s former National Security Adviser, co-founder with banker David Rockefeller of the Trilateral Commission, and an arch-elitist strategic thinker for the American empire, has been warning of what he terms the ‘Global Political Awakening’ as the central challenge for elites in a changing world.

In June of 2010, I published an article entitled, “The Global Political Awakening and the New World Order,” in which I examined this changing reality and in particular, the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski in identifying it. In December of 2008, Brzezinski published an article for the New York Times in which he wrote: “For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.” This situation is made more precarious for elites as it takes place in a global transition in which the Atlantic powers – Western Europe and the United States – are experiencing a decline in their 500-year domination of the world. Brzezinski wrote that what is necessary to maintain control in this changing world is for the United States to spearhead “a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management,” or in other words, more power for them. Brzezinski has suggested that, “the worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening.” In 2005, Brzezinski wrote:

It is no overstatement to assert that now in the 21st century the population of much of the developing world is politically stirring and in many places seething with unrest. It is a population acutely conscious of social injustice to an unprecedented degree, and often resentful of its perceived lack of political dignity. The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches…

The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as well. With the exception of Europe, Japan and America, the rapidly expanding demographic bulge in the 25-year-old-and-under age bracket is creating a huge mass of impatient young people. Their minds have been stirred by sounds and images that emanate from afar and which intensify their disaffection with what is at hand. Their potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious “tertiary level” educational institutions of developing countries… Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred.

Important to note is that Brzezinski has not simply been writing abstractly about this concept, but has been for years traveling to and speaking at various conferences and think tanks of national and international elites, who together form policy for the powerful nations of the world. Speaking to the elite American think tank, the Carnegie Council, Brzezinski warned of “the unprecedented global challenge arising out of the unique phenomenon of a truly massive global political awakening of mankind,” as we now live “in an age in which mankind writ large is becoming politically conscious and politically activated to an unprecedented degree, and it is this condition which is producing a great deal of international turmoil.” Brzezinski noted that much of the ‘awakening’ was being spurred on by America’s role in the world, and the reality of globalization (which America projects across the globe as the single global hegemon), and that this awakening “is beginning to create something altogether new: namely, some new ideological or doctrinal challenge which might fill the void created by the disappearance of communism.” He wrote that he sees “the beginnings, in writings and stirrings, of the making of a doctrine which combines anti-Americanism with anti-globalization, and the two could become a powerful force in a world that is very unequal and turbulent.

 

 

In 2007, the British Ministry of Defence issued a report looking at global trends over the following three decades to better plan for the “future strategic context” of the British military. The report noted that: “The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx… The world’s middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.” In my April 2010 article, “The Global Economic Crisis: Riots, Rebellion, and Revolution,” I quoted the official British Defence Ministry report, which read:

Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism.

In December of 2008, the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned that the economic crisis could lead to “violent unrest on the streets.” He stated that if the elite were not able to instill an economic recovery by 2010, “then social unrest may happen in many countries – including advanced economies,” meaning the Western and industrialized world. In February of 2009, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, warned that the economic crisis “could trigger political unrest equal to that seen during the 1930s.” In May of 2009, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, stated that if the economic crisis did not come to an end, “there is a risk of a serious human and social crisis with very serious political implications.”

In early 2009, the top intelligence official in the United States, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence (who oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies), stated that the global economic crisis had become the primary threat to America’s “security” (meaning domination). He told the Senate Intelligence Committee: “I’d like to begin with the global economic crisis, because it already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not centuries… Economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they are prolonged for a one-or-two-year period… And instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have on law and order, which can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community.” He also noted that, “there could be a backlash against U.S. efforts to promote free markets because the crisis was triggered by the United States… We are generally held responsible for it.”

In December of 2008, police in Greece shot and killed a 15-year old student in Exarchia, a libertarian and anarchist stronghold in Athens. The murder resulted in thousands of protesters and riots erupting in the streets, in what the New York Times declared to be “the worst unrest in decades.” Triggered by the death of the young Greek student, the protests were the result of deeper, social and systemic issues, increasing poverty, economic stagnation and political corruption. Solidarity protests took place all over Europe, including Germany, France, and the U.K. But this was only a sample of what was to come over the following years.

In the early months of 2009, as the economic crisis was particularly blunt in the countries of Eastern Europe, with increased unemployment and inflation, the region was headed for a “spring of discontent,” as protests and riots took place in Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Latvia. In January of 2009, more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Latvia in one of the largest demonstrations since the end of Soviet rule. A demonstration of roughly 7,000 Lithuanians turned into a riot, and smaller clashes between police and protesters took place in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, while police in Iceland tear gassed a demonstration of roughly 2,000 people outside the parliament, leading to the resignation of the prime minister. The head of the IMF said that the economic crisis could cause more turmoil “almost everywhere,” adding: “The situation is really, really serious.” A mass strike took place in France, bringing hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets and pushing anti-capitalist activists and leaders to the front of a growing social movement.

May 1, 2009 – the labour activist day known as ‘May Day’ – saw protests and riots erupting across Europe, including Germany, Greece, Austria, Turkey and France. In Germany, banks were attacked by protesters, leading to many arrests; there were over 150,000 demonstrators in Ankara, Turkey; more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Madrid, Spain; thousands took to the streets in Italy and Russia and social unrest continued to spread through Eastern Europe. Results from a poll were released on early May 2009 reporting that in the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Britain and Germany, a majority of the populations felt that the economic crisis would lead to a rise in “political extremism.”

In April of 2009, the G20 met in London, and was met there with large protests, drawing tens of thousands of people into the streets. In London’s financial district, protesters smashed the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which was the recipient of a massive government bailout during the early phases of the financial crisis. One man, Ian Tomlinson, dropped dead on the streets of London following an assault by a British police officer, who was later questioned under suspicion of manslaughter.

In November of 2011, a month of student protests and sit-ins erupted in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, triggered by budget cuts and tuition fees. The protests began in Austria, where students occupied the University of Vienna for over a month, quickly spreading to other cities and schools in Germany, where roughly 80,000 students took part in nationwide protests, with sit-ins taking place in 20 universities across the country, and the University of Basel in Switzerland was also occupied by students.

The small little island-country of Iceland has undergone what has been referred to as the “Kitchenware Revolution,” where the country had once been rated by the UN as the best country to live in as recently as 2007, and in late 2008, its banks collapsed and the government resigned amid the mass protests that took place. The banks were nationalized, Iceland got a new prime minister, a gay woman who brought into her cabinet a majority of women, fired bank CEOs; the constitution was re-written with significant citizen participation and the government took steps to write off debts and refused to bailout foreign investors. Now, the economy is doing much better, hence why no one is talking about Iceland in the media (woeful is power to the ‘tyranny’ of a good example). Iceland has even hired an ex-cop bounty hunter to track down and arrest the bankers that destroyed the country’s economy. As the debt burdens of a significant portion of the population of Iceland were eased, Iceland was projected in 2012 to have a faster growing economy than those in the euro area and the developed world. As reported by Bloomberg, the main difference between how Iceland has dealt with its massive economic crisis and how the rest of the ‘developed’ world has been dealing with it, is that Iceland “has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.” Instead of rewarding bankers for causing the crisis, as we have done in Europe and North America, Icelanders have arrested them, and protected homeowners instead of evicting them.

As Greece came to dominate the news in early 2010, with talk of a bailout, protests began to erupt with more frequency in the small euro-zone country. In early May, a general strike was called in Greece against the austerity measures the government was imposing in order to get a bailout. Banks were set on fire, petrol bombs were thrown at riot police, who were pepper spraying, tear gassing, and beating protesters with batons, and three people died of suffocation in one of the bombed banks.

In May of 2010, British historian Simon Schama wrote an article for the Financial Times entitled, “The world teeters on the brink of a new age of rage,” in which he explained that historians “will tell you that there is often a time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury.” In act one, he wrote, “the shock of a crisis initially triggers fearful disorientation” and a “rush for political saviours.” Act two witnesses “a dangerously alienated public” who “take stock of the brutal interruption of their rising expectations,” which leads to the grievance that someone “must have engineered the common misfortune,” which, I might add, is true (though Schama does not say so). To manage this situation, elites must engage in “damage-control” whereby perpetrators are brought to justice. Schama noted that, “the psychological impact of financial regulation is almost as critical as its institutional prophylactics,” or, in other words: the propaganda effect of so-called “financial regulation” on calming the angry plebs is as important (if not more so) as the financial regulations themselves. Thus, those who lobby against financial regulation, warned Scharma, “risk jeopardizing their own long-term interests.” If governments fail to “reassert the integrity of public stewardship,” then the public will come to perceive that “the perps and the new regime are cut from common cloth.” In the very least, wrote Scharma, elites attempting to implement austerity measures and other unpopular budget programs will need to “deliver a convincing story about the sharing of burdens,” for if they do not, it would “guarantee that a bad situation gets very ugly, very fast.”

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy began implementing austerity measures in France, particularly what is called “pension reform,” unions and supporters staged massive strikes in September of 2010, drawing up to three million people into the streets in over 230 demonstrations across the country. Soldiers armed with machine guns went on patrol at certain metro stations as government officials used the puffed up and conveniently-timed threat of a “terrorist attack” as being “high risk.” More strikes took place in October, with French students joining in the demonstrations, as students at roughly 400 high schools across the country built barricades of wheelie bins to prevent other students from attending classes, with reports of nearly 70% of French people supporting the strike. The reports of participants varied from the government figures of over 800,000 people to the union figures of 2-3 million people going out into the streets. The Wall Street Journal referred to the strikes as “an irrational answer” to Sarkozy’s “perfectly rational initiative” of reforms.

In November of 2010, Irish students in Dublin began protesting against university tuition increases, when peaceful sit-ins were met with violent riot police, and roughly 25,000 students took to the streets. This was the largest student protest in Ireland in a generation.

In Britain, where a new coalition government came to power – uniting the Conservatives (led by David Cameron, the Prime Minister) and the Liberal Democrats (led by Nick Clegg, Deputy PM) – tuition increases were announced, tripling the cost from 3 to 9,000 pounds. On November 10, as roughly 50,000 students took to the streets in London, the Conservative Party headquarters in central London had its windows smashed by students, who then entered the building and occupied it, even congregating up on the rooftop of the building. The police continued to ‘kettle’ protesters in the area, not allowing them to enter or leave a confined space, which of course results in violent reactions. Prime Minister David Cameron called the protest “unacceptable.” The Christian Science Monitor asked if British students were the “harbinger of future violence over austerity measures,” There were subsequent warnings that Britain was headed for a winter of unrest.

Tens of thousands again took to the streets in London in late November, including teenage students walking with university students, again erupting in riots, with the media putting in a great deal of focus on the role of young girls taking part in the protests and riots. The protests had taken place in several cities across the United Kingdom, largely peaceful save the ‘riot’ in London, and with students even occupying various schools, including Oxford. The student protests brought ‘class’ back into the political discourse. In November, several universities were occupied by students, including the School of Oriental and African Studies, UWE Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan. Several of the school occupations went for days or even weeks. Universities were then threatening to evict the students. The school occupations were the representation of a new potential grass-roots social movement building in the UK. Some commentators portrayed it as a “defining political moment for a generation.”

 

 

In early December of 2010, as the British Parliament voted in favour of the tripling of tuition, thousands of students protested outside, leading to violent confrontations with police, who stormed into crowds of students on horseback, firing tear gas, beating the youth with batons, as per usual. While the overtly aggressive tactics of police to ‘kettle’ protesters always creates violent reactions, David Cameron was able to thereafter portray the student reactions to police tactics as a “feral mob.” One student was twice pulled out from his wheelchair by police, and another student who was struck on the head with a baton was left with a brain injury. As the protests erupted into riots against the police into the night, one infamous incident included a moment where Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were attacked by rioters as their car drove through the crowd in what was called the “worst royal security breach in a generation,” as the royal couple were confronted directly by the angry plebs who attacked the Rolls-Royce and Camilla was even ‘prodded’ by a stick, as some protesters yelled, “off with their heads!” while others chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” As more student protests were set to take place in January of 2011, Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command contacted university officials requesting “intelligence” as students increased their protest activities, as more occupations were expected to take place.

In December of 2010, a Spanish air traffic controller strike took place, grounding flights for 330,000 people and resulting in the government declaring a state of emergency, threatening the strikers with imprisonment if they did not return to work.

Part way through December, an uprising began in the North African country of Tunisia, and by January of 2011, the 23-year long dictatorship of a French and American-supported puppet, Ben Ali, had come to an end. This marked the first major spark of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. Protests were simultaneously erupting in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere. In late January of 2011, I wrote an article entitled, “Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?,” noting that the protests in North Africa were beginning to boil up in Egypt most especially. Egypt entered its modern revolutionary period, resulting in ending the rule of the long-time dictator, Hosni Mubarak, and though the military has been attempting to stem the struggle of the people, the revolutionary struggle continues to this day, and yet the Obama administration continues to give $1.3 billion in military aid to support the violent repression of the democratic uprising. The small Arab Gulf island of Bahrain (which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet) also experienced a large democratic uprising, which has been consistently and brutally crushed by the local monarchy and Saudi Arabia, with U.S. support, including the selling of arms to the dictatorship.

 

 

In early 2011, the British student protests joined forces with a wider anti-austerity social protest against the government. As protests continued over the following months all across the country, banks became a common target, noting the government’s efforts to spend taxpayer money to bailout corrupt banks and cut health, social services, welfare, pensions, and increase tuition. Several bank branches were occupied and others had protests – often very creatively imagined – organized outside closed bank branches. On March 26, roughly 500,000 protesters took to the streets of London against austerity measures. As late as July 2011, a student occupation of a school continued at Leeds.

Throughout 2011, protests in Greece picked up in size and rage. In February, roughly 100,000 people took to the streets in Athens against the government’s austerity measures, leading to clashes with riot police that lasted for three hours, with police using tear gas and flash bombs and some protesters reacting with rocks and petrol bombs. In June of 2011, Greece experienced major clashes between protesters and police, or what are often called “riots.” During a general strike in late June, police went to war against protesters assembled in central Athens. Protests continued throughout the summer and into the fall, and in November, roughly 50,000 Greeks took to the streets in Athens.

 

 

In March of 2011, as Portugal plunged forward into its own major crisis and closer to a European Union bailout, roughly 300,000 Portuguese took to the streets of Lisbon and other cities protesting against the government’s austerity measures. Driven by the youth, calling themselves Portugal’s “desperate generation,” in part inspired by the youth uprisings in North Africa, the Financial Times referred to it as “an unexpected protest movement that has tapped into some of Portugal’s deepest social grievances.”

The Portuguese protests in turn inspired the Spanish “Indignados” or 15-M movement (named after the 15th of May, when the protests began), as youth – the indignant ones – or the “lost generation,” occupied Madrid’s famous Puerta del Sol on May 15, 2011, protesting against high unemployment, the political establishment, and the government’s handling of the economic crisis. The authorities responded in the usual way: they attempted to ban the protests and then sent in riot police. Thousands of Spaniards – primarily youth – occupied the central square, setting up tents and building a small community engaging in debate, discussion and activism. In a massive protest in June of 2011, over 250,000 Spaniards took the streets in one of the largest protests in recent Spanish history. Over the summer, as the encampment was torn down, the Indignados refined their tactics, and began to engage in direct action by assembling outside homes and preventing evictions from taking place, having stopped over 200 evictions since May of 2011, creating organic vegetable gardens in empty spaces, supporting immigrant workers in poor communities, and creating “a new social climate.”

The Indignados spurred solidarity and similar protests across Europe, including Greece, Belgium, France, Germany, the U.K., and beyond. In fact, the protests even spread to Israel, where in July of 2011, thousands of young Israelis established tent cities in protest against the rising cost of living and decreasing social spending, establishing itself on Rothschild Boulevard, a wealthy avenue in Tel Aviv named after the exceedingly wealthy banking dynasty. The protest, organized through social media, quickly spread through other cities across Israel. In late July, over 150,000 Israelis took to the streets in 12 cities across the country in the largest demonstration the country had seen in decades, demonstrating against the “rising house prices and rents, low salaries, [and] the high cost of raising children and other social issues.” In early August, another protest drew 320,000 people into the streets, leading some commentators to state that the movement marked “a revolution from a generation we thought was unable to make a revolution.” In early September, roughly 430,000 Israelis took to the streets in the largest demonstration in Israeli history.

In May and June of 2011, a student movement began to erupt in Chile, fighting against the increased privatization of their school system and the debt-load that comes with it. The state – the remnants of the Pinochet dictatorship – responded in the usual fashion: state violence, mass arrests, attempting to make protesting illegal. In clashes between students and riot police that took place in August, students managed to occupy a television station demanding a live broadcast to express their demands, with the city of Santiago being converted into “a state of siege” against the students. The “Chilean Winter” – as it came to be known – expanded into a wider social movement, including labour and environmental and indigenous groups, and continues to this very day.

 

 

The Indignados further inspired the emergence of the Occupy Movement, which began with occupy Wall Street in New York City on 17 September of 2011, bringing the dialectic of the “99% versus the 1%” into the popular and political culture. The Occupy movement, which reflected the initial tactics of the Indignados in setting up tents to occupy public spaces, quickly spread across the United States, Canada, Europe, and far beyond. There were Occupy protests that took place as far away as South Africa, in dozens of cities across Canada, in countries and cities all across Latin America, in Israel, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in hundreds of cities across the United States.

On October 15, 2011, a day of global protests took place, inspired by the Arab Spring, the Indignados, and the Occupy movement, when over 950 cities in 82 countries around the world experienced a global day of action originally planned for by the Spanish Indignados as a European-wide day of protest. In Italy, over 400,000 took to the streets; in Spain there were over 350,000, roughly 50,000 in New York City, with over 100,000 in both Portugal and Chile.

 

 

The Occupy movement was subsequently met with violent police repression and evictions from the encampments. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was busy spying on various Occupy groups around the country, and reportedly was involved in coordinating the crack-downs and evictions against dozens of Occupy encampments, as was later confirmed by declassified documents showing White House involvement in the repression. The FBI has also undertaken a “war of entrapment” against Occupy groups, attempting to discredit the movement and frame its participants as potential terrorists. Following the example of tactical change in the Indignados, the Occupy groups began refurbishing foreclosed homes for the homeless, helping families reclaim their homes, disrupting home foreclosure auctions, and even take on local community issues, such as issues of racism through the group, Occupy the Hood.

In late November of 2011, a public sector workers’ strike took place in the U.K., with tens of thousands of people marching in the streets across the country, as roughly two-thirds of schools shut and thousands of hospital operations postponed, while unions estimated that up to two million people went on strike. The host of a popular British television show, Jeremy Clarkson, said in a live interview that the striking workers should be taken out and shot in front of their families.

In January of 2012, protests erupted in Romania against the government’s austerity measures, leading to violent clashes with police, exchanging tear gas and firebombs. As the month continued, the protests grew larger, demanding the ouster of the government. The Economist referred to it as Romania’s “Winter of Discontent.” In early February, the Romanian Prime Minister resigned in the face of the protests.

In February of 2012, a student strike began in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec against the provincial government’s plan to nearly double the cost of tuition, bringing hundreds of thousands of students into the streets, who were in turn met with consistent state repression and violence, in what became known as the ‘Maple Spring.’ Dealing with issues of debt, repression, and media propaganda, the Maple Spring presented an example for student organizing elsewhere in Canada and North America. The government of Quebec opposes organized students but works with organized crime – representing what can be called a ‘Mafiocracy’ – and even passed a law attempting to criminalize student demonstrations. The student movement received support and solidarity from around the world, including the Chilean student movement and even a group of nearly 150 Greek academics who proclaimed their support in the struggle against austerity for the “largest student strike in the history of North America.”

 

 

In the spring of 2012, Mexican students mobilized behind the Yo Soy 132 movement – or the “Mexican Spring” – struggling against media propaganda and the political establishment in the lead-up to national elections, and tens of thousands continued to march through the streets decrying the presidential elections as rigged and fraudulent. The Economist noted that Mexican students were beginning to “revolt.”

In May of 2012, both the Indignados and the Occupy Movement undertook a resurgence of their street activism, while the occupy protests in Seattle and Oakland resulting in violent clashes and police repression. The protests drew Occupy and labour groups closer together, and police also repressed a resurgent Occupy protest in London.

In one of the most interesting developments in recent months, we have witnessed the Spanish miners strike in the province of Asturias, having roughly 8,000 miners strike against planned austerity measures, resorting to constructing barricades and directly fighting riot police who arrived in their towns to crush the resistance of the workers. The miners have even been employing unique tactics, such as constructing make-shift missiles which they fire at the advancing forces of police repression. For all the tear gas, rubber bullets and batons being used by police to crush the strike, the miners remain resolved to continue their struggle against the state. Interestingly, it was in the very region of Asturias where miners rebelled against the right-wing Spanish government in 1934 in one of the major sparks of the Spanish Civil War which pitted socialists and anarchists against Franco and the fascists. After weeks of clashes with police in mining towns, the striking workers planned a march to Madrid to raise attention to the growing struggle. The miners arrived in Madrid in early July to cheering crowds, but were soon met with repressive police, resulting in clashes between the people and the servants of the state. As the Spanish government continued with deeper austerity measures, over one million people marched in the streets of over 80 cities across Spain, with violent clashes resulting between protesters and police in Madrid.

 

 

This brief look at the resistance, rebellious and revolutionary movements emerging and erupting around the world is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be. It is merely a brief glimpse at the movements with which I intend to delve into detail in researching and writing about in my upcoming book, and to raise the question once again: Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?

I would argue that, yes, indeed, we are. How long it takes, how it manifests and evolves, its failures and successes, the setbacks and leaps forward, and all the other details will be for posterity to acknowledge and examine. What is clear at present, however, is that no matter how much the media, governments and other institutions of power attempt to ignore, repress, divide and even destroy revolutionary social movements, they are increasingly evolving and emerging, in often surprising ways and with different triggering events and issues. There is, however, a commonality: where there is austerity in the world, where there is repression, where there is state, financial and corporate power taking all for themselves and leaving nothing for the rest, the rest are now rising up.

Welcome to the World Revolution.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book come to completion.

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Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement

Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

The student strikes in Quebec, which began in February and have lasted for three months, involving roughly 175,000 students in the mostly French-speaking Canadian province, have been subjected to a massive provincial and national media propaganda campaign to demonize and dismiss the students and their struggle. The following is a list of ten points that everyone should know about the student movement in Quebec to help place their struggle in its proper global context.

1)            The issue is debt, not tuition

2)            Striking students in Quebec are setting an example for youth across the continent

3)            The student strike was organized through democratic means and with democratic aims

4)            This is not an exclusively Quebecois phenomenon

5)            Government officials and the media have been openly calling for violence and “fascist” tactics to be used against the students

6)            Excessive state violence has been used against the students

7)            The government supports organized crime and opposes organized students

8)            Canada’s elites punish the people and oppose the students

9)            The student strike is being subjected to a massive and highly successful propaganda campaign to discredit, dismiss, and demonize the students

10)            The student movement is part of a much larger emerging global movement of resistance against austerity, neoliberalism, and corrupt power

1)            The issue is debt, not tuition: In dismissing the students, who are striking against a 75% increase in the cost of tuition over the next five years, the most common argument used is in pointing out that Quebec students pay the lowest tuition in North America, and therefore, they should not be complaining. Even with the 75% increase, they will still be paying substantially lower than most other provinces. Quebec students pay on average $2,500 per year in tuition, while the rest of Canada’s students pay on average $5,000 per year. With the tuition increase of $1,625 spread out over five years, the total tuition cost for Quebec students would be roughly $4,000. The premise here is that since the rest of Canada has it worse, Quebec students should shut up, sit down, and accept “reality.” THIS IS FALSE. In playing the “numbers game,” commentators and their parroting public repeat the tuition costs but fail to add in the numbers which represent the core issue: DEBT. So, Quebec students pay half the average national tuition. True. But they also graduate with half the average national student debt. With the average tuition at $5,000/year, the average student debt for an undergraduate in Canada is $27,000, while the average debt for an undergraduate in Quebec is $13,000. With interest rates expected to increase, in the midst of a hopeless job situation for Canadian youth, Canada’s youth face a future of debt that “is bankrupting a generation of students.” The notion, therefore, that Quebec students should not struggle against a bankrupt future is a bankrupted argument.

2)            Striking students in Quebec are setting an example for youth across the continent: Nearly 60% of Canadian students graduate with debt, on average at $27,000 for an undergraduate degree. Total student debt now stands at about $20 billion in Canada ($15 billion from Federal Government loans programs, and the rest from provincial and commercial bank loans). In Quebec, the average student debt is $15,000, whereas Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have an average student debt of $35,000, British Columbia at nearly $30,000 and Ontario at nearly $27,000. Roughly 70% of new jobs in Canada require a post-secondary education. Half of students in their 20s live at home with their parents, including 73 per cent of those aged 20 to 24 and nearly a third of 25- to 29-year-olds. On average, a four-year degree for a student living at home in Canada costs $55,000, and those costs are expected to increase in coming years at a rate faster than inflation. It has been estimated that in 18 years, a four-year degree for Canadian students will cost $102,000. Defaults on government student loans are at roughly 14%. The Chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students warned in June of 2011 that, “We are on the verge of bankrupting a generation before they even enter the workplace.” This immense student debt affects every decision made in the lives of young graduates. With few jobs, enormous housing costs, the cutting of future benefits and social security, students are entering an economy which holds very little for them in opportunities. Women, minorities, and other marginalized groups are in an even more disadvantaged position. Canadian students are increasingly moving back home and relying more and more upon their parents for support. An informal Globe and Mail poll in early May of 2012 (surveying 2,200 students), “shows that students across Canada share a similar anxiety over rising tuition fees” as that felt in Quebec. Roughly 62% of post-secondary students said they would join a similar strike in their own province, while 32% said they would not, and 5.9% were undecided. In Ontario, where tuition is the highest in Canada, 69% said they would support a strike against increasing tuition. A Quebec research institution released a report in late March of 2012 indicating that increasing the cost of tuition for students is creating a “student debt bubble” akin to the housing bubble in the United States, and with interest rates set to increase, “today’s students may well find themselves in the same situation of not being able to pay off their student loans.” The authors of the report from the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-economique explained that, “Since governments underwrite those loans, if students default it could be catastrophic for public finances,” and that, “If the bubble explodes, it could be just like the mortgage crisis.” In the United States, the situation is even worse. In March of 2012, the Federal Reserve reported that 27 percent of student borrowers whose loans have gone into repayment are now delinquent on their debt.” Student debt in the United States has reached $1 trillion, “passing total credit card debt along the way.” It has become a threat to the entire existence of the middle class in America. Bankruptcy lawyers in the US are “seeing the telltale signs of a student loan debt bubble.” A recent survey from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) indicated, “more than 80 percent of bankruptcy lawyers have seen a substantial increase in the number of clients seeking relief from student loans in recent years.” The head of the NACBA stated, “This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy.” In 1993, 45% of students who earn a bachelor’s degree had to go into debt; today, it is 94%. The average student debt in the United States in 2011 was $23,300, with 10% owning more than $54,000 and 3% owing more than $100,000. President Obama has addressed the situation by simply providing more loans to students. A recent survey of graduates revealed that 40% of them “had delayed making a major purchase, like a home or car, because of college debt, while slightly more than a quarter had put off continuing their education or had moved in with relatives to save money,” and 50% of those surveyed had full-time jobs. Between 2001 and 2011, “state and local financing per student declined by 24 percent nationally.” In the same period of time, “tuition and fees at state schools increased 72 percent.” It would appear that whether in the United States, Canada, or even beyond, the decisions made by schools, banks, and the government, are geared toward increasing the financial burden on students and families, and increasing profits for themselves. The effect will be to plunge the student and youth population into poverty over the coming years. Thus, the student movement in Quebec, instead of being portrayed as “entitled brats” elsewhere, are actually setting an example for students and youth across the continent and beyond. Since Quebec tuition is the lowest on the continent, it gives all the more reason that other students should follow Quebec’s example, instead of Quebec students being told to follow the rest of the country (and continent) into debt bondage.

3)            The student strike was organized through democratic means and with democratic aims: The decision to strike was made through student associations and organizations that uniquely operate through direct-democracy. While most student associations at schools across Canada hold elections where students choose the members of the associations, the democratic accountability ends there (just like with government). Among the Francophone schools in Quebec, the leaders are not only elected by the students, but decisions are made through general assemblies, debate and discussion, and through the votes of the actual constituents, the members of the student associations, not just the leaders. This means that the student associations that voted to strike are more democratically accountable and participatory than most other student associations, and certainly the government. It represents a more profound and meaningful working definition of democracy that is lacking across the rest of the country. The Anglophone student associations that went on strike – from Concordia and McGill – did so because, for the first time ever, they began to operate through direct-democracy. This of course, has resulted in insults and derision from the media. The national media in Canada – most especially the National Post – complain that the student “tactics are anything but democratic,” and that the students aren’t acting in a democratic way, but that “it’s really mob rule.” Obviously, it is naïve to assume that the National Post has any sort of understanding of democracy.

4)            This is not an exclusively Quebecois phenomenon: I am an Anglophone, I don’t even speak French, I have only lived in Montreal for under two years, but the strikers are struggling as much for me as for any other student, Francophone or Anglophone. Typically, when others across Canada see what is taking place here, they frame it along the lines of, “Oh those Quebecois, always yelling about something.” But I’m yelling too… in English. Many people here are yelling… in English. It is true that the majority of the students protesting are Francophone, and the majority of the schools on strike are Francophone, but it is not exclusionary. In fact, the participation in the strike from the Anglophone schools (while a minority within the schools) is unprecedented in Quebec history. This was undertaken because students began mobilizing at the grassroots and emulating the French student groups in how they make decisions (i.e., through direct-democracy). The participation of Anglophone students in the open-ended strike is unprecedented in Quebec history.

5)            Government officials and the media have been openly calling for violence and “fascist” tactics to be used against the students: With all the focus on student violence at protests, breaking bank windows, throwing rocks at riot police, and other acts of vandalism, student leaders have never called for violence against the government or vandalism against property, and have, in fact, denounced it and spoken out for calm, stating: “The student movement wants to fight alongside the populace and not against it.” On the other hand, it has been government officials and the national media which have been openly calling for violence to be used against students. On May 11, Michael Den Tandt, writing for the National Post, stated that, “It’s time for tough treatment of Quebec student strikers,” and recommended to Quebec Premier Jean Charest that, “He must bring down the hammer.” Tandt claimed that there was “a better way” to deal with student protesters: “Dispersal with massive use of tear gas; then arrest, public humiliation, and some pain.” He even went on to suggest that, “caning is more merciful than incarceration,” or perhaps even re-imagining the medieval punishment in which “miscreants and ne’er-do-wells were placed in the stockade, in the public square, and pelted with rotten cabbages. That might not be a bad idea, either.” This, Tandt claimed, would be the only way to preserve “peace, order, and good government.” Kelly McParland, writing the for National Post on May 11, suggested that it was now time for Charest to “empower the police to use the full extent of the law against those who condone or pursue further disruption,” and that the government must make a “show of strength” against the students. If this was not bad enough, get ready for this: A member of the Quebec Liberal Party, head of the tax office in the Municipal Affairs Department, Bernard Guay, wrote an article for a French-language newspaper in Quebec in mid-April advocating a strategy to “end the student strikes.” In the article, the government official recommended using the fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s as an example in how to deal with “leftists” in giving them “their own medicine.” He suggested organizing a political “cabal” to handle the “wasteful and anti-social” situation, which would mobilize students to not only cross picket lines, but to confront and assault students who wear the little red square (the symbol of the student strike). This, Guay suggested, would help society “overcome the tyranny of Leftist agitators,” no doubt by emulating fascist tyranny. The article was eventually pulled and an apology was issued, while a government superior supposedly reprimanded Guay, though the government refused to elaborate on what that consisted of. Just contemplate this for a moment: A Quebec Liberal government official recommended using “inspiration” from fascist movements to attack the striking students. Imagine if one of the student associations had openly called for violence, let alone for the emulation of fascism. It would be national news, and likely lead to arrests and charges. But since it was a government official, barely a peep was heard.

6)            Excessive state violence has been used against the students: Throughout the three months of protests from students in Quebec, the violence has almost exclusively been blamed on the students. Images of protesters throwing rocks and breaking bank windows inundate the media and ‘inform’ the discourse, demonizing the students as violent, vandals, and destructive. Meanwhile, the reality of state violence being used against the students far exceeds any of the violent reactions from protesters, but receives far less coverage. Riot police meet students with pepper spray, tear gas, concussion grenades, smoke bombs, beating them with batons, shoot them with rubber bullets, and have even been driving police cars and trucks into groups of students. On May 4, on the 42nd anniversary of the Kent State massacre in which the U.S. National Guard murdered four protesting students, Quebec almost experienced its own Kent State, when several students were critically injured by police, shot with rubber bullets in the face. One student lost an eye, and another remains in the hospital with serious head injuries, including a skull fracture and brain contusion. The Quebec provincial police – the SQ – have not only been involved in violent repression of student protests in Quebec, but have also (along with the RCMP) been involved in training foreign police forces how to violently repress their own populations, such as in Haiti. Roughly 12,000 people in Quebec have signed a petition against the police reaction to student protests, stipulating that the police actions have been far too violent.  In late April, even before the Quebec police almost killed a couple students, Amnesty International “asked the government to call for a toning down of police measures that… are unduly aggressive and might potentially smother students’ right to free expression.” The Quebec government, of course, defends police violence against students and youths. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – Canada’s spy agency – has recently announced its interest in “gathering intelligence” on Quebec student protesters and related groups as “possible threats to national security.” Coincidentally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismantled the government agency responsible for oversight of CSIS, making the agency essentially unaccountable. In reaction to student protests, the City of Montreal is considering banning masks being worn at protests in a new bylaw which is being voted on without public consultation. Thus, apparently it is fine for police to wear gas masks as they shoot chemical agents at Quebec’s youth, but students cannot attempt to even meagerly protect themselves by covering their faces. The federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper is attempting to pass a law that bans masks at protests, which includes a ten-year sentence for “rioters who wear masks.” Quebec has even established a secretive police unit called the GAMMA squad to monitor political groups in the province, which has already targeted and arrested members of the leading student organization behind the strike. The police unit is designed to monitor “anarchists” and “marginal political groups.” Some political groups have acknowledged this as “a declaration of war” by the government against such groups. Spokesperson for the largest student group, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, stated that, “This squad is really a new kind of political police to fight against social movements.” The situation of police repression has become so prevalent that even the U.S. State Department has warned Americans to stay away from student protests in the city, “as bystanders can quickly be caught up in unforeseen violence and in some cases, detained by the local police.”

7)            The government supports organized crime and opposes organized students: The government claims that it must increase the cost of tuition in order to balance the budget and to increase the “competitiveness” of schools. The government has ignored, belittled, undermined, attempted to divide, and outright oppress the student movement. The Liberal Government of Quebec, in short, has declared organized students to be enemies of the state. Meanwhile, that same government has no problem of working with and supporting organized crime, namely, the Montreal Mafia. In 2010, Quebec, under Premier Jean Charest, was declared to be “the most corrupt province” in Canada. A former opposition leader in the Montreal city hall reported that, “the Italian mafia controls about 80 per cent of city hall.” The mafia is a “big player” in the Quebec economy, and “is deeply entrenched in city affairs” of Montreal, as “more than 600 businesses pay Mafia protection money in Montreal alone, handing organized crime leaders an unprecedented degree of control of Quebec’s economy.” The construction industry, especially, is heavily linked to the mafia. The Montreal Mafia is as influential as their Sicilian counterparts, where “all of the major infrastructure work in Sicily is under Mafia control.” In 2009, a government official stated that, “It’s Montreal’s Italian Mafia that controls what is going on in road construction. They control, from what we can tell, 80 per cent of the contracts.” In the fall of 2011, an internal report written by the former Montreal police chief for the government was leaked, stating, “We have discovered a firmly rooted, clandestine universe on an unexpected scale, harmful to our society on the level of safety and economics and of justice and democracy.” The report added, “Suspicions are persistent that an evil empire is taking form in the highway construction domain,” and that, “If there were to be an intensification of influence-peddling in the political sphere, we would no longer simply be talking about marginal, or even parallel criminal activities: we could suspect an infiltration or even a takeover of certain functions of the state.” Quebec Premier Jean Charest, for several years, rejected calls for a public inquiry into corruption in the construction industry, even as the head of Quebec’s anti-collusion squad called for such an inquiry. An opposition party in Quebec stated that Jean Charest “is protecting the (Quebec) Liberal party – and in protecting the Liberal party, Mr. Charest is protecting the Mafia, organized crime.” After the leaked report revealed “cost overruns totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, kickbacks and illegal donations to political parties,” Charest had to – after two years of refusing – open a public inquiry into corruption. The Quebec mafia have not only “run gambling and prostitution and imported stupefying amounts of illegal drugs into Canada, but they have extended their influence to elected civic and provincial governments, and to Liberal and Conservative federal governments through bribery and other ‘illustrious relations’.” The Federal Conservative Party of Canada, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as its leader, received dozens of donations from Mafia-connected construction and engineering firm employees. The Mafia-industry has also donated to the Federal Liberal Party, but less so than the Conservatives, who hold power. In Quebec, government officials have helped the Mafia charge far more for public-works contracts than they were worth. These Mafia companies would then use a lot of that extra money to fund political parties, most notably, the Liberals, who have been in power for nine years. A former Montreal police officer who worked in the intelligence unit with access to the police’s confidential list of informants was suspected of selling information to the mafia. In January of 2012, he was found dead, reportedly of a suicide. In April of 2012, fifteen arrests were made in Montreal by the police in relation to corruption charges linked to the Mafia. Among them were one of the biggest names in the construction industry, with 14 individual facing conspiracy charges “involving municipal contracts associated with the Mascouche water-treatment plants [that] are connected to big construction, engineering and law firms that have been involved in municipal contracts and politics across the Montreal region for decades. And the individuals have been around the municipal world for years.” One Quebec mayor has even been charged. The Montreal police force has “not been very interested, and it should be,” in helping the anti-corruption investigation. Two of those who were arrested included Quebec Liberal Party fundraisers, one of whom Charest personally delivered an award to in 2010 for his “years of service as an organizer.” All three of Quebec’s main political parties were connected to individuals arrested in the raids. Canada’s federal police force, the RCMP, have refused to cooperate with the Mafia-corruption inquiry in handing over their massive amounts of information to the judge leading the inquiry. Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp, who has been leading the government assault against the students, attended a political fundraiser for herself which was attended by a notorious Mafia figure who personally “donated generously to the minister’s Liberal riding association.” As these revelations emerged, Beauchamp stated, “I don’t know the individual in question and even today I wouldn’t be able to recognize him.” At the time, Beauchamp was the Environment Minister, and was responsible for granting the Mafia figure’s company a favourable certificate to expand its business. Beauchamp claimed she did not know about the deal, but as head of the Ministry which handled it, either she is utterly incompetent or a liar. Either way, she is clearly not fit for “public service” if it amounts to nothing more than “service to the Mafia.” The fact that she is now responsible for increasing tuition and leading the attack on students speaks volumes.  Line Beauchamp, when questioned about taking political contributions from the Mafia, stated, “Now that the information is public and the links well established, I would not put myself in that position again.” Well isn’t that reassuring? Now that it’s public, she wouldn’t do it again. That’s sort of like saying, “I wouldn’t have committed the crime if I knew I was going to be caught.” The notion that Beauchamp didn’t know whom this Mafia figure was who was giving her money is absurd. It’s even more absurd when you note that one of Beauchamp’s political attaches was a 30-year veteran of the Montreal police force. As one Quebec political figure commented about the Liberal Government’s Mafia links: “They refuse to sit down with a student leader but they have breakfast with a mafioso … where is the logic in that?” Indeed. It’s clear that the Quebec government has no problem working with, handing out contracts to, and taking money from the Mafia and organized crime. In fact, they are so integrated that the government itself is a form of organized crime. But for that government, and for the media boot-lickers who follow the government line, organized students are the true threat to Quebec. National newspapers declare Quebec students following “mob rule” when it’s actually the government that is closely connected to “mob rule.” The students are challenging and being repressed by a Mafioso-government alliance of industrialists, politicians, financiers and police… yet it is the students who are blamed for everything. The government gives the Mafia public contracts double or triple their actual value, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars (if not more), while students are being asked to pay nearly double their current tuition. There’s money for the mob, but scraps for the students.

8)            Canada’s elites punish the people and oppose the students: It’s not simply the government of Quebec which has set itself against the students, sought to increase their tuition and repress their resistance, often with violent means, but a wide sector of elite society in Quebec and Canada propose tuition increases and blind faith to the state in managing its repression of a growing social movement. As such, the student movement should recognize that not simply are Jean Charest and his Liberal-Mafia government the antagonists of social justice, but the whole elite society itself. As early as 2007, TD Bank, one of Canada’s big five banks, outlined a “plan for prosperity” for the province of Quebec, and directly recommended Quebec to raise tuition costs for students. Naturally, the Quebec government is more likely to listen to a bank than the youth of the province. Banks of course, have an interest in increasing tuition costs for students, as they provide student loans and lines of credit which they charge interest on and make profits. The Royal Bank of Canada acknowledged that student lines of credit are “very popular products.” Elites of all sorts support the tuition increases. In February of 2010, a group of “prominent” (i.e., elitist) Quebecers signed a letter proposing to increase Quebec’s tuition costs. Among the signatories were the former Premier of Quebec for the Parti Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard.  In early May, a letter was published in the Montreal Gazette which stated that students need to pay more for their education in Quebec, signed by the same elitists who proposed the tuition increase back in February of 2010. Initially, this group of elitists had proposed an increase of $1,000 every year for three years. The letter then calls for the application of state power to be employed against the student movement: “It is time that we react. We must reinstate order; the students have to return to class… This is a situation when, regardless of political allegiances, the population must support the state, which is ultimately responsible for public order, the safety of individuals and the integrity of our institutions.” The “integrity” of institutions which cooperate with the Mafia, I might add. What incredible integrity! The letter was signed by Lucien Bouchard, former Premier of Quebec; Michel Audet, an economist and former Finance Minister in the first Charest government in Quebec; Françoise Bertrand, the President and chief executive officer of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (The Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce), where she sits alongside the presidents and executives of major Canadian corporations, banks, and business interests. She also sits on the board of directors of Quebecor Inc., a major media conglomerate, with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on its board. Another signatory was Yves-Thomas Dorval, President of the Quebec Employers’ Council, who formerly worked for British American Tobacco Group, former Vice President at Edelman Canada, an international public relations firm, was a director at a pharmaceutical corporation, head of strategic planning at an insurance company, and previously worked for the Government of Quebec and Hydro-Quebec. Joseph Facal, another signatory to the letter demanding higher tuition and state repression of students, is former president of the Quebec Treasury Board, and was a cabinet minister in the Quebec government of Lucien Bouchard. Other signatories include Pierre Fortin, a professor emeritus at the Université du Québec à Montréal; Michel Gervais, the former rector of Université Laval; Monique Jérôme-Forget, former finance minister of Quebec and former president of the Quebec Treasury Board, member of the Quebec Liberal Party between 1998 and 2009, was responsible for introducing public-private partnerships in Quebec’s infrastructure development (which saw enormous cooperation with the Mafia), and is on the board of directors of Astral Media. Robert Lacroix, another co-signer, was former rector of the Université de Montréal is also a fellow at CIRANO, a Montreal-based think tank which is governed by a collection of university heads, business executives, and bankers, including representatives from Power Corporation (owned by the Desmarais family). Another signatory is Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, a prominent business organization in Montreal, of which the board of directors includes a number of corporate executives, mining company representatives, university board members, bankers and Hélène Desmarais, who married into the Desmarais family. Another signatory is Claude Montmarquette, professor emeritus at the Université de Montréal, who is also a member of the elitist CIRANO think tank, which as a “research institution” (for elites) has recommended increasing Quebec’s tuition costs for several years. Another signatory was Marcel Boyer, a Bell Canada Professor of industrial economics at the Université de Montréal, Vice-president and chief economist at the Montreal Economic Institute, is the C.D. Howe Scholar in Economic Policy at the C.D. Howe Institute, Member of the Board of the Agency for Public-Private Partnerships of Québec, and Visiting Senior Research Advisor for industrial economics at Industry Canada. At the Montreal Economic Institute, Boyer sits alongside notable elitists, bankers, and corporate executives, including Hélène Desmarais, who married into the Desmarais family (the most powerful family in Canada). At the C.D. Howe Institute, Boyer works for even more elitists, as the board of directors is made up of some of Canada’s top bankers, corporate executives, and again includes Hélène Desmarais. The Desmarais family, who own Power Corporation and its many subsidiaries, as well as a number of foreign corporations in Europe and China, are Canada’s most powerful family. The patriarch, Paul Desmarais Sr., has had extremely close business and even family ties to every Canadian Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau, and all Quebec premiers (save two) in the past several decades. The Desmarais’ have strong links to the Parti Quebecois, the Liberals, Conservatives, and even the NDP, and socialize with presidents and prime ministers around the world, as well as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, and even Spanish royalty. Paul Desmarais Sr. has “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada,” and he especially “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest.” When former French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave Desmarais the French Legion of Honour, Desmarais brought Jean Charest with him. Quebec author Robin Philpot commented that Desmarais “took him along like a poodle,” referring to Charest. The Desmarais family has extensive ties to Canadian and especially Quebec politicians, have extensive interests in Canadian and international corporations and banks, are closely tied to major national and international think tanks (including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderberg Group), and even host an annual international think tank conference in Montreal, the Conference of Montreal. The Desmarais family have had very close ties to Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, and even Stephen Harper, and to Quebec premiers, including Lucien Bouchard, who co-authored the article in the Gazette advocating increased tuition. The Desmarais empire also includes ownership of seven of the ten French newspapers in Quebec, including La Presse. The Desmarais family stand atop a parasitic Canadian oligarchy, which has bankers and corporate executives controlling the entire economy, political parties, the media, think tanks which set policy, and even our educational institutions, with the chancellors of both Concordia and McGill universities serving on the boards of the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada, respectively, as well as both schools having extensive leadership ties to Power Corporation and the Desmarais family. It is this very oligarchy which demands the people pay more, go further into debt, suffer and descend into poverty, while they make record profits. In March of 2012, Power Corporation reported fourth quarter profits of $314 million, with yearly earnings at over $1.1 billion. Canada’s banks last year made record profits, and then decided to increase bank fees. At the end of April, it was reported that Canada’s banks had received a “secret bailout” back in 2008/09, from both the Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve, amounting to roughly $114 billion, or $3,400 for every Canadian man, woman, and child (more than the cost of yearly tuition in Quebec). And yet Quebec youth are told we suffer from “entitlement.” And now banks are expected to be making even more profits, as reported in early May. As banks make more record profits, Canadians are going deeper into debt. The big Canadian banks, along with the federal government, have colluded to create a massive housing bubble in Canada, most especially in Toronto and Vancouver, and with average Canadian household debt at $103,000, most of which is held in mortgages, and with the Bank of Canada announcing its intent to raise interest rates, Canada is set for a housing crisis like that seen in the United States in 2008, forcing the people to suffer while the banks make a profit. The head of the Bank of Canada (a former Goldman Sachs executive) said that Canadian household debt is the biggest threat to the Canadian economy, but don’t worry, Canada’s Finance Minister said he is working in close cooperation with the big banks to intervene in the housing market if necessary, which would likely mean another bailout for the big banks, and of course, hand the check to you! So, Canada has its priorities: every single Canadian man, woman, and child owes $3,400 for a secret bank bailout to banks that are now making record profits and increasing their fees, while simultaneously explaining that there is no money for education, so we will have to pay more for that, too, which is something those same banks demand our governments do to us. When the students stand up, they are said to be “brats” and whining about “entitlements.” But then, what does that make the banks? This is why I argue that Canada’s elites are parasitic in their very nature, slowly draining the host (that’s us!) of its life until there is nothing left the extract.

9)            The student strike is being subjected to a massive and highly successful propaganda campaign to discredit, dismiss, and demonize the students: In the vast majority of coverage on the student strike and protests in Quebec, the media and its many talking heads have undertaken a major propaganda campaign against the students. The students have been consistently ignored, dismissed, derided, insulted and attacked. One Canadian newspaper said it was “hard to feel sorry” for Quebec students, who were “whining and crying” and “kicking up a fuss,” treating Canada’s young generation like ungrateful children throwing a collective tantrum. In almost every article about the student strike, the main point brought up to dismiss the students is that Quebec has the lowest tuition costs in North America. The National Post published a column written by a third-year political science student at McGill University in Montreal stating that, “Quebec students must pay their share,” and advised people to “ignore the overheated rhetoric from student strikers,” and that, “Jean Charest must go full steam ahead.” The student author, Brendan Steven, is co-founder of McGill’s Moderate Political Action Committee (ModPAC), which is an organizing mobilizing McGill students in opposition to the strike. Steven’s organization attacked striking student associations as “illegitimate, unconstitutional shams” and attacked the democratic functioning of other student associations holding general assemblies. Steven complained that the democratic general assemblies “are being invented on a whim.” Brendan Steven not only gets to write columns for the National Post, but gets interviewed on CBC. Steven’s anti-strike group sent a letter to the McGill administration complaining about pro-strike students on the campus, writing, “This group violates our democratic right to access an education without fear of harm,” and added: “We are demanding the McGill administration take action against this minority group before the current conflicts escalate into disasters. They have proven they will not remain peaceful.” As a lap-dog boot-licking power worshipper, Brendan Steven has a future for himself in politics, that’s for sure! Back in January, Steven wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he explained that the reason why CEOs get paid so much is because “they’re worth it.” He referred to Milton Friedman – the father of neoliberalism – as a “great economic thinker.” Back in November of 2011, Steven wrote an article for the McGill Daily entitled, “Do not demonize authorities,” and then went on to justify police violence against protesting students engaged in an occupation of a school building, which he characterized as “an inherently hostile act.” Steven later got an opportunity to appear on CBC’s The Current. Margaret Wente, writing for the Globe and Mail, wrote that, “It’s a little hard for the rest of us to muster sympathy for Quebec’s downtrodden students, who pay the lowest tuition fees in all of North America.” She then referred to the striking students as “the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it.” Wente then attempted to explain the Quebec students by writing: “Now I get it: The kids are on another planet.” Interesting how she used the word “kids” to just add a little extra condescension. But it seems clear that Wente “gets” very little. In an August 2011 column, Wente tried to explain why poor black communities in Britain and America were experiencing riots and gang activity, placing blame on “single-mothers” and “family breakdown,” and explained that, “Rootless, unmoored young men with no stake in society are a major threat to social order.” Explaining this demographic in economic terms, Wente wrote: “They are, quite simply, surplus to requirements.” In another column, Wente argued that helping deliver much-needed humanitarian supplies to Gaza would “enable terrorists.” Wente also wrote an article entitled, “The poor are doing better than you think,” suggesting that it’s not so bad for poor people because they have air conditioning, DVD players, and cable TV. Wente has been consistently critical of the Occupy movement, and suggested in another article that, “the biggest economic challenge we face today is not income inequality, greedy corporations, Wall Street corruption or the concentration of wealth among the top 1 per cent. It’s the increasing failure of young men with high-school degrees or less to latch on to the world of work.” Of course, in Wente’s world, the inability of young men to get a job has nothing to do with income inequality, greedy corporations, Wall Street corruption or the concentration of wealth. In another article criticizing the Occupy movement, Wente managed to argue that it was not Wall Street and bankers that have destroyed the economy and left people without jobs, but rather what she refers to as the “virtueocracy,” blaming unions, single mothers who gets masters degrees in social sciences, and people who want to work at NGOs and non-profits, doing “transformational, world-saving work.” So it’s Wente’s “insightful” voice which is “informing” Canadians about the student movement in Quebec. Other Canadian publications writing about the Quebec student strike have headlines like, “Reality check for the entitled,” repeating the idiotic argument that because Quebec students pay less than the rest of Canada, they shouldn’t be “complaining” about the hikes. Andrew Coyne wrote a syndicated column in which he claimed that, “Quebec students know violence works,” framing the protest at which police almost killed two students as an action “of general rage the students had promised.” With no mention of the student who lost an eye, or the other student who ended up in the hospital with critical head injuries, Coyne talked about a cop who “was beaten savagely” and “lay helpless on the ground.” No mention, of course, of the police truck that drove into a group of students moments later, or the fact that the cop who was “beaten savagely” got away with minor injuries, unlike the students who were shot in the face with rubber bullets. By simply omitting police brutality and violence, Coyne presented the student movement as itself inherently violent, instead of at times erupting in violent reactions to state violence, which is far more extreme in every case. The Toronto Sun even had an article which claimed that the students have employed tactics of “thuggery” and “violent criminal behaviour.” Publications regularly ask their readers if Quebec students have “legitimate” grievances, if they are fighting for “social justice,” or if they are just “spoiled brats.” A syndicated column from the Vancouver Sun by Licia Corbella was titled, “How rioting students help make me grateful.” She discussed her latest visit to church where the pastor advised: “Parents, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them,” and mentioned how parents anger their children by “belittling them, underestimating them and not treating them as individuals.” Corbella then took particular note of how parents provoke and enrage children “when we give them a sense of entitlement.” With the word “entitlement,” Corbella naturally then began thinking about Quebec students, as according to Corbella’s pastor, “entitlement leads to rage.” Corbella wrote that rioting “is, in essence, what a spoiled two-year-old would do if they had the ability.” She further wrote: “In Quebec, these entitled youth, who believe the rest of society MUST provide them with an almost free education or else, have blocked other students from accessing the educations they paid for, burned vehicles, smashed shop windows, looted property and severely beaten up a police officer who got separated from the rest of his colleagues.” Again, no mention of the two students who were almost killed by police at the same event. Corbella quoted someone interviewed on TV, endorsing the claim that the student protests are “starting to resemble terrorism,” though she took issue with the word “starting.” This is the result of creating, according to Corbell, “an entitlement society.” Apparently, the pastor’s lesson about not “belittling” the young did not sink in with Corbella. An article in the Chronicle Herald asked, “What planet are these kids on?” The author then wrote that, “the irony is that these students now want the system to accommodate their desires and for someone else to pay the bill,” and that, “students should stop making foolish demands.” Other articles claim that students “need a lesson in economics.” After all, the fact that the majority of economists, fully armed with “lessons in economics,” were unable to predict the massive global economic crisis in 2008, should obviously not lead to any questioning of the ideology of modern economic theory. No, it would be better for students to learn about the ocean from those who couldn’t see a tsunami as it approached the beach. Another article, written by a former speechwriter to the Prime Minister of Canada, wrote that the student arguments were vacuous and that the youth were in a “state of complete denial.” Rex Murphy, a commentator with the National Post and CBC, referred to the student strike as “short-sighted” and that student actions were “crude attempts at precipitating a crisis.” Student actions, he claimed, were the “actions of a mob” and were “simply wrong,” and thus, should be “condemned.” The CBC has been particularly terrible in their coverage of the student movement. With few exceptions, the Canadian media have established a consensus in opposition to the student protests, and use techniques of omission, distortion, or outright condemnation in order to promote a distinctly anti-student stance.

10)            The student movement is part of a much larger emerging global movement of resistance against austerity, neoliberalism, and corrupt power: In the coverage and discourse about the student movement, very little context is given in placing this student movement in a wider global context. The British newspaper, The Guardian, acknowledged this context, commenting on the red squares worn by striking students (a symbol of going squarely into the red, into debt), explaining that they have “become a symbol of the most powerful challenge to neoliberalism on the continent.” The article also adopted the term promoted by the student movement itself to describe the wider social context of the protests, calling it the “Maple Spring.” The author placed the fight against tuition increases in the context of a struggle against austerity measures worldwide, writing: “Forcing students to pay more for education is part of a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the rich – as with privatization and the state’s withdrawal from service-provision, tax breaks for corporations and deep cuts to social programs.” The article noted how the student movement has linked up with civic groups against a Quebec government plan to subsidize mining companies in exploiting the natural resources of Northern Quebec (Plan Nord), taking land from indigenous peoples to give to multibillion dollar corporations. As one of the student leaders stated, the protest was about more than tuition and was aimed at the elite class itself, “Those people are a single elite, a greedy elite, a corrupt elite, a vulgar elite, an elite that only sees education as an investment in human capital, that only sees a tree as a piece of paper and only sees a child as a future employee.” The student strike has thus become a social movement. The protests aim at economic disruption through civil disobedience, and have garnered the support of thousands of protesters, and 200,000 protesters on March 22, and close to 300,000 on April 22. Protests have blocked entrances to banks, disrupted a conference for the Plan Nord exploitation, linking the movement with indigenous and environmental groups. It was only when the movement began to align with other social movements and issues that the government even accepted the possibility of speaking to students. Unions have also increasingly been supporting the student strike, including with large financial contributions. Though, the large union support for the student movement was also involved in attempted co-optation and undermining of the students. At the negotiations between the government and the students, the union leaders convinced the student leaders to accept the deal, which met none of the student demands and kept the tuition increases intact. There was a risk that the major unions were essentially aiming to undermine the student movement. But the student groups, which had to submit the agreement to democratic votes, rejected the horrible government offer. Thus the Maple Spring continues. Quebec is not the only location with student protests taking place. In Chile, a massive student movement has emerged and developed over the past year, changing the politics of the country and challenging the elites and the society they have built for their own benefit. One of the leaders of the Chilean student movement is a 23-year old young woman, Camila Vallejo, who has attained celebrity status. In Quebec’s student movement, the most visible and vocal leader is 21-year old Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who has also achieved something of celebrity status within the province. Just as in Quebec, student protests in Chile are met with state violence, though in the Latin American country, the apparatus of state violence is the remnants of a U.S.-supported military dictatorship. Still, this does not stop tens of thousands of students going out into the streets in Santiago, as recently as late April. Protests by students have also been emerging elsewhere, often in cooperation and solidarity with the Occupy movement and other anti-austerity protests. Silent protests are emerging at American universities where students are protesting their massive debts. California students have been increasingly protesting increased tuition costs. Student protests at UC Berkeley ended with 12 citations for trespassing. Some students in California have even begun a hunger strike against tuition increases. In Brooklyn, New York, students protesting against tuition increases, many of them wearing the Quebec “red square” symbol, were assaulted by police officers. Even high school students in New York have been protesting. Israeli social activists are back on the streets protesting against austerity measures. An Occupy group has resumed protests in London. The Spanish indignado movement, which began in May of 2011, saw a resurgence on the one year anniversary, with another round of anti-austerity protests in Spain, bringing tens of thousands of protesters, mostly youths, out into the streets of Madrid, and more than 100,000 across the country. Their protest was met with police repression. Increasingly, students, the Occupy movement, and other social groups are uniting in protests against the costs of higher education and the debts of students. This is indeed the context in which the ‘Maple Spring’ – the Quebec student movement – should be placed, as part of a much broader global anti-austerity movement.

So march on, students. Show Quebec, Canada, and the world what it takes to oppose parasitic elites, mafia-connected politicians, billionaire bankers, and seek to change a social, political, and economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Solidarity, brothers and sisters!

For a comprehensive analysis of the Quebec student strike, see: “The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?”

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

The riot police begin their charge

What Really Happened at the Montréal May Day Protest? From Peaceful Protest to Police Brutality

What Really Happened at the Montréal May Day Protest?

From Peaceful Protest to Police Brutality

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published at: The Media Co-op

On May 1, 2012, thousands of students and other protesters took to the streets for the Anti-Capitalist rally in downtown Montréal. I attended the protest with a couple friends, and having read the “news” emanating from the “stenographers of power” (the mainstream media), it’s important to set the record straight about what happened here in Montréal.

The Montreal Gazette reported the events with the headline, “Police respond as May Day anti-capitalist protesters turn violent in Montreal.” This exact story and headline were carried across the English-speaking media fresh for the morning’s papers: with the Vancouver Sun, the Province, the Calgary Herald, the Regina Leader-Post, the Edmonton Journal, and the Ottawa Citizen.

The story, as they tell is, goes like this: it started peacefully just after 5 p.m. (this part is true!), and then it “was declared illegal by police at two minutes after 6 p.m. following violent clashes.” A police spokesperson (who apparently is the only person the media chose to interview for their article) said that, “injuries to a citizen, police officers and vandalism on cars and property were the reasons for declaring the march illegal.” The article then blamed “black-clad youth [who] were seen hurling rocks at store windows,” after which the police began to launch flash grenades, and the riot police moved in after 6 p.m. “using batons to disperse the crowd.” At 7:10 p.m., “a full hour after declaring the demonstration illegal, police announced that anyone who refused to leave would be arrested.”

The CBC went with the headline, “More than 100 arrests in Montreal May Day riot.” CTV reported that of the 100+ arrests that took place, “75 were for unlawful assembly, while the remaining 34 were for criminal acts.”

The first sign of trouble

So, arrested for “unlawful assembly”: what does that mean? It means that when the police unilaterally declare a protest to be “illegal,” everyone who is there is “unlawfully assembling,” and thus, mass and indiscriminate arrests can be made. In Part 1, Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is stated that “[e]veryone has the following fundamental freedoms”: conscience, religion, thought, belief, expression, media, communication, association, and “freedom of peaceful assembly.”

Having been at the protest from its beginning, I can say that it was a peaceful march. While there were individual acts of vandalism (the worst I saw was drawing on a bank’s window with a black marker), if police action were to be taken, it should be to arrest the specific vandal. Instead, they implemented collective punishment for exercising our “fundamental freedoms.”

The protest began in the Old Port of the city of Montréal, and made it’s way down rue Notre-Dame, up St-Laurent, and down to the financial district. The mood was good, people were in high spirits, with music, drums, the occasional fire cracker, young and old alike.

As we entered the financial district, the presence of the riot police became more apparent. When the protest made it to McGill College Ave. – crossing a wide intersection – as the march continued in its consistently peaceful path, the riot police quickly assembled alone the street below us. The crowd quickly became nervous as the protest was declared “illegal.” Before I could even take a photo of the police down the street in a long line, they began charging the crowd. Protesters dropped their signs and began up the street toward McGill University, while another section branched off along the intended direction, and others scattered.

The charge

The march had been successfully split, and the small factions were then being isolated and surrounded. Suddenly, riot police were everywhere, marching up the street like storm troopers, police cars, vans, horses, motorcycles, and trucks were flying by. As one faction of the protest continued down another street, the riot police followed behind, while another massive onslaught of riot police went around to block off the protesters from the other side. When the police first charged, I had lost one of my friends simply by looking away for a moment. After having found each other up the street, we watched as the protest which descended down the street was surrounded by police from nearly every side. It was then that we saw flash grenades and tear gas being launched at the crowd of people. There was a notable smell that filled the air.

As we stood, shocked and disturbed by what had just happened, we made our way toward McGill to see where other protesters were headed when we saw a group of riot police “escort” three young protesters whom they had arrested behind a police barricade at the HSBC (protecting the banks, of course!).

Up the street, and across from McGill, one protester who had run to get on the bus was chased down by several riot police who then threw him face-first onto the pavement, and as a crowd quickly gathered around (of both protesters and pedestrian onlookers), the police formed a circle around the man and told everyone to “get back!” and then they began marching toward us, forcing the crowd of onlookers to scatter as well. The police then took the young man over to where the other protesters were being “collected” at the HSBC.

Young man thrown to the ground

There was one young girl, with the notable red square patch on her jacket (the symbol of the Québec student movement) who had to be taken away on a stretcher into an ambulance. We don’t know what happened to her.

Girl taken away on a stretcher

As more and more police gathered, we decided it was time to leave, walking down the street through which the police had chased the protesters, remnants of signs, red patches, and other debris spilled across the streets; the remains of a peaceful protest ended with police violence.

This has become all too common in Montréal and across Québec, as the student protest enters its twelfth week, having had over 160 protests, an average of 2-3 per day. As the demonstrations take place, the police have used obscure and unconstitutional city by-laws in both Montréal and Québec City which are so vague in their descriptions that any peaceful assembly or march can be declared illegal. Those who are indiscriminately arrested are fined $500, and if arrested again, are charged between $3,500 and $10,500.

It is clear that the State has decided – unilaterally – that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly do not confirm to their specific “by-laws,” and are clamping down on students and protesters in order to quiet and crush the student strike and the emerging social movement which is being referred to as the ‘Maple Spring’. The national media, for its part, has decided to demonize the students, the protesters, and the people; taking the word of a “police spokesperson” over everyone else. Having been at the protest, however, I must question whether these so-called “journalists” were at the same event, because we witnessed two entirely different scenarios.

We entered the march in good spirits, and the police ended it in violence and repression, leaving us standing still, scattered, and disturbed; but our spirits are not crushed, our resolve is only growing stronger, and for each act of violence the police and State impose upon the people, we begin to see them for what they truly are, and thus, what is truly at stake: our very freedom, itself!

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?

The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?

Tuition Hikes, Student Strikes, Police Batons, and Teargas Bombs

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

The following is Part 6 of the series, “Class War and the College Crisis.”

The “red square” symbol of the Québec student movement

Part 1: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

Part 2: The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals

Part 4: Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada

Part 5: Canada’s Economic Collapse and Social Crisis

In Montréal, where I live, and across the Canadian province of Québec, there is a growing and expanding student movement which emerged as a strike in February against the provincial government’s plan to increase the cost of university tuition by $325 per year for the next five years, for a total of $1,625. The students have been seeking and demanding a halt to the tuition hike in order to keep higher education accessible, a concept that the province of Québec alone has held onto with greater strength than any other province in Canada. The government continues to dismiss and deride the students, meeting their protests with batons, teargas bombs, and mass arrests. The universities in Québec are complicit with the government in their repression of students and the struggle for basic democratic rights, bringing in private security firms to patrol and harass students in the schools. While the university administrations claim they are ‘neutral’ on the issue of tuition hikes, privately, the boards of governors are made up of bankers and business executives who lobby the government to increase tuition. After all, in April of 2007 – five years ago – Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank Group), one of Canada’s ‘big five’ banks which dominate the economy, released a “plan for prosperity” for the province of Quebec, which recommended, among other things, raising the cost of tuition: “by raising tuition fees but focusing on increased financial assistance for those in need, post secondary education (PSE) institutions will be better-positioned to prosper and provide world-class education and research.”[1]

The movement is becoming more radicalized, more activated, and is consistently met with more state repression. Almost daily, it seems, there are protests all over the city, drawing in other social organizers and activists in solidarity. The little red square patch – the symbol of the Québec student strike – is adorned across the province of Québec and the city of Montréal and on the jackets and bags of a large percentage of its residents. The city and the province, it seems, are at the forefront of a youth-driven social struggle, a growing and rumbling resistance movement. As the issues spread from tuition hikes to a more broad conception of social justice, the movement has the potential to grow both within and far beyond Québec. If the situation continues as it has until present, already the longest student strike in Québec’s history, with increased activism and accelerated state repression, it is not inconceivable to imagine a growing student-led social rebellion by the end of the summer. As the economic situation in Canada – and indeed, the world – continues to get worse for the people of the world (as opposed to the corporations and banks, who are doing very well!), the momentum behind the current student movement has the potential to spill across Québec’s borders into the rest of Canada, with some people referring to this as the beginnings of the ‘Québec Spring,’ or the ‘Maple Spring.’

Protest in Montréal

Emotions are running high in Québec, and increasingly, the government and the Canadian media are presenting the protesters as violent and destructive, and framing the debate in a misleading context, presenting the students as whining about “entitlements.” The rest of Canada is especially fed a line of intellectual excrement, repeating the same invalid and misleading arguments ad nauseum. This article seeks to present the issues of the strike, and the actions of protesters and the government into a wider context, so that other young Canadians (and youth around the world) may understand what is truly taking place, what is truly being struggled for, what the government and media are doing to stop it, the absurdity of the arguments against the students, and the need for this movement to spread beyond this province, to let this truly be the dawn of the ‘Maple Spring.’

Entitlements and Social Justice: Putting the Protests in Context

The most commonly spewed argument against the student protests – and for the tuition increases – emanating from the ‘stenographers of power’ (the media) and others, is that the students are complaining about their supposed ‘right’ to entitlements for cheap education. Québec has the cheapest university tuition in Canada (for residents of the province), and even with the tuition increases, it will still remain among the cheapest nation-wide. Thus, claims the media, there is no rational basis for the complaints and strike. The argument is, however, based upon the fallacious argument that, “the rest of Canada does it, so why not Québec?” In Québec’s history, however, the claim that “the rest of Canada does it” has never been an argument that has won the sympathy of residents of Canada’s French-speaking province. This argument, however, goes beyond a cultural difference between Québec and English-speaking Canada. The most basic problem with this line of thinking is that what is taking place in the rest of Canada is something to aspire to, that because the rest of Canada has higher tuition costs, this is not something to struggle against. When placed in context, we are left with the conclusion that the rest of Canada should be following the example of the students in Québec, not the other way around. So let’s break down the numbers.

Currently, the average yearly cost of tuition for Québec residents is $2,519. With the projected increases of $325 over five years (for a total of $1,625), the annual cost would reach roughly $4,000. The province of Ontario has the highest tuition costs in the country, which has also increased over the past four years from $5,388 to $6,640, an increase of 23% between 2008 and 2012. Québec’s proposed 75% increase over the next five years would mean that Newfoundland would have the lowest tuition in Canada, at $2,649 per year. Québec, while currently the cheapest in Canada, has already undergone a number of tuition hikes in recent years. While maintaining a tuition freeze between 1994 and 2007, while the rest of Canada had consistent hikes, Québec premier Jean Charest introduced a five-year tuition hike of $100 per year between 2007 and 2012. So the reality is that Jean Charest has undertaken and is attempting to undertake a 10-year tuition hike for a total of $2,125 in additional costs, more than doubling what tuition cost in 2007, prior to the onset of the global economic crisis.[2]

So, what does this have to do with the rest of Canada? Let’s pretend, for a moment, that the argument that “the rest of Canada does it” is a valid one. So let’s look at what the rest of Canada actually does, and therefore, if this is something which should be accepted and promoted, instead of struggled against. An article in the Kamloops Daily News pointed out that the average tuition cost in Canadian schools is $5,000, while Québec currently has roughly half that cost. Thus, stated the author, “despite all the whining and crying coming from post-secondary students in Quebec, it’s hard — really hard — to feel sorry for them.” Describing the students like children throwing a tantrum for lack of getting what they want – “kicking up a fuss” – the author contends that since we’re not in a “perfect world,” tuition has to be increased. This line of thinking is, of course, beyond ignorant. Its premise is that because we don’t live in a “perfect world,” there is no basis for trying to struggle for a “better world.” I suppose that black Americans in a liberation struggle in the 1950s, 60s and 70s should have just listened to those who claimed that, “hey, it’s not a perfect world, accept your place in it!” Or perhaps gays and lesbians should just accept that it’s “not a perfect world,” so, why bother attempting to attain rights? Or, for that matter, just tell women to get back in the kitchen. After all, it’s not a “perfect world,” so there’s really no point in trying to make it better, in trying to achieve even small victories along the way. With this absurd argument out of the way, it is true that Québec has roughly half the tuition costs as the rest of Canada. As well as this, Québec students have less student debt than the rest of Canada, at roughly $13,000, also nearly half as what the rest of Canada has. The author of the absurd article contends, therefore, that the real reason for the strike is that, “like a lot of things in Quebec, the sense of entitlement seems to have become a normal part of the culture.”[3]

Now, think about this for a moment. Let’s put this in its proper context. The average tuition for students in Québec is $2,500, and the average debt for Québec students is $13,000. On the other hand, the average tuition costs for Canadian students is $5,000, with the average debt for Canadian students at $27,000. Is this really something to aspire to? Is this really the type of “equality” that we should want, that we should accept, or adhere to? Is it really a valid argument in stating that since the rest of Canadian students pay excessive tuition costs and graduate with absurd debts, that we should too? Especially important in this equation is the current condition for students and youth in Canada today, where upon graduating with an average of $27,000 (a national average, which, by the way, is kept lower due to Quebec’s lower fees), and “once they complete their degrees, there are fewer jobs around that pay the kind of money that allows grads to seriously whittle away at their debt.” This massive debt for students in Canada “is bankrupting a generation of students,” explained the Globe and Mail. It’s not simply the money which is being borrowed, but the interest rates being paid, varying from province to province at between 5 and 9 percent. Interest rates, more over, are expected to increase, and thus, the cost of the debt will increase, and with that, so too will youth poverty increase.[4]

With tuition hikes to add to that, the debt burden will become greater. So not only will the average interest payments on student debt increase with more student debt required to pay for tuition, but the interest rates themselves will increase. What this translates into is class warfare. Thus, the argument that “the rest of Canada does it, so stop complaining,” is akin to saying, “Everyone else is screwed, doomed to be a ‘lost generation’, so stop complaining that we’re throwing you to the wolves too!” Since debt essentially amounts to a form of slavery, let’s use the example of slavery itself to look at this argument. Let’s build a premise of ten slave plantations, one of which is made of indentured slaves (meaning that they will be freed after a set amount of time), and the other nine consist of absolute slavery (from birth to death). Indentured slavery, while not desirable, is better than absolute slavery from birth to death. So, if the plantation owners begin to change the system of slavery of the unique plantation from indentured to life-time slavery, and the indentured slaves revolt, the plantation owners would then argue, “All nine other plantations operate under that system, stop complaining.” Is this a legitimate argument? So when Québec’s student-slave plantation owners tell us that, “the rest of Canada does it,” what they’re really saying is that they want to enslave us in debt and plunge us into a poverty of future opportunities to the same degree that exists in the rest of Canada. And when we fight against this, they say we are “whining and crying” about “entitlements.”

Québec students, themselves, are not living the easy life, as the picture is often painted. A study from November of 2010 put to shame these notions, based upon surveys of students in 2009, and thus, before the $500 tuition increase that ended in 2012, meaning that the numbers are likely much worse today. Half of all full-time students in Québec live on less than $12,200 per year, significantly below the national poverty line. To add to that, 25% of full-time students live on less than $7,400 per year. This data includes the amounts that students get in government loans, leading the president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (University Student Federation of Quebec), Louis-Philippe Savoie, to comment, “Imagine the disastrous effect that raising tuition fees by the Charest government” would then have on the students. The largest source of finances for students does not come from government loans, but from working: part-time students work more, and have less debt, with their work accounting for 83% of their financing; full-time students have more debt, but still 55% of their financing comes from working, and over 80% of full-time students work an average of 18.8 hours per week. Thus, Savoie noted, “The portrait of the lazy student is totally false.” The second largest source of financial support for students is from parents, accounting for 22%, with 60% of full-time students getting support from their parents and families, while 23% of part-time students get financial support from their parents, accounting for a total of 7% of their total financing. Roughly 60% of full-time students in Québec will go into debt, averaging at around $14,000, with student loans making up the majority of that debt, as 44.5% of full-time students have government loans, 23.4% take out bank loans or credit lines, and 22.1% take on credit card debt. The study further showed that 46.6% of part-time students will even end up in debt, averaging at $11,500. The report concluded that the government should freeze tuition and increase financial assistance.[5] Over one year later, the government announced a 75% increase in tuition costs.

To Strike and Strike Down!

By April 26, 2012, the student strike – the longest in Québec’s history – had lasted 72 days and had a running total of 160 different protests, hundreds of people arrested, multiple injuries, and still the government stands stubborn in its refusal to even enter a negotiation with the students in good faith. As a result of the government’s intransigence to democratic appeals, some have taken to acts of violence and destruction. Bricks have been tossed off a downtown overpass, and onto the tracks of the Montréal metro system, leading to road and metro closures. Cars and businesses in downtown are left with broken windows and shattered debris, the remnants of protests in which police invariably turn to oppression and brutality. As the government and police become more repressive, the issue becomes less and less about tuition, and develops a wider social position. Thus, the nomenclature has begun to change from “student strike” to “Québec Spring” – or “Maple Spring” emblematic of “a broader, international Occupy-style fight for a new economic order.” In French, ‘Maple Spring’ is translated as “Printemps Érable,” with érable being very close to the French word for ‘Arab,’ thus drawing an even closer dialectical connection with the ‘Arab Spring.’ One student commented, “A lot of people have stopped calling it a student movement; now it’s a social movement, and I think that it affects people in a much deeper way than just tuition fees.” Another student added, “the whole protest is against the neoconservative and neoliberal point of view of doing politics… People in Quebec are using this movement as a means of venting against the current government.”[6]

In March of 2011, Québec’s Finance Minister under the Liberal Jean Charest government announced the tuition hikes of $325 per year, over five years. In August of 2011, students began campaigning against the tuition hikes, with a large peaceful rally held in Montréal in November, establishing a “common front” of student groups attempting to apply democratic pressure against the government. On February 13, 2012, the strike officially began, with several student groups voting in favour of a walk out. The decisions in the student group are, after all, made democratically, unlike the decisions of the government.

On February 23, students occupied a downtown bridge, and were subsequently pepper-sprayed by police. During a protest on March 7, one student, Francis Grenier, almost lost an eye due to a police stun grenade. On March 21, student tactics changed – as the government refused to even consider negotiations – and were now seeking to disrupt the economy in order to be heard. One group of students occupied the busy city Champlain Bridge in Montréal during rush hour, leading to each student involved being fined $494. On March 22, a massive rally of students from around the province took place in Montréal, drawing hundreds of thousands of students and supporters. The government again refused to negotiate or even consider changing its position. Line Beauchamp, the Quebec [Mis]Education Minister, had the outside of her Montréal office painted red – the symbolic colour of the protests – as she continued to deride the protests and refuse to negotiate with the students. On April 16, the city’s subway (metro) system was shut down in a number of places as some individuals (who remain unidentified) tossed bags of rocks onto the metro tracks at a number of different stations. On April 18 and 19, over 300 people were arrested in the city of Gatineau, Québec, in a confrontation with police at a local university campus. On April 20 and 21, as Jean Charest was attending a job fair, speaking to an audience of business leaders in promoting his ‘Plan Nord’ (Plan North) which seeks to provide government funds to subsidize multi-million and multi-billion dollar mining corporations to exploit the mineral resources of northern Québec, had his speech interrupted by protests. Outside the convention centre, protesters clashed with police, leading to the arrests of over 100 people.[7]

Francis Grenier, who almost lost his eye

In what was described by the Globe and Mail as Jean Charest’s “Marie Antoinette moment,” as tear gas filled the streets with students fleeing the riot police protecting the comfortable lap-dog-to-the-rich premier inside the convention centre, Charest, speaking at a business lunch with his real constituency (the wealthy elite), joked, “we could offer them a job … in the North, as far as possible.”[8]

Jean Charest, when he paused from making jokes about giving jobs to students “as far as possible” in the North, commented that, “[t]his is 2012, this is Quebec. We have had ministers find tanks of gas on their verandas… Molotov cocktails in front of their offices. There are ministers who have had death threats.” He added, “I find it unacceptable that one student association refuses to condemn violence,” referring to C.L.A.S.S.E (the largest and most militant of the student groups). Meanwhile, as Charest joked and complained, students were being brutalized by police just outside his conference meeting, with tear gas and concussion grenades being tossed at Québec’s youth by riot police. Charest declared social disruption to be “unacceptable,” but apparently state repression and violence is therefore, totally acceptable.[9]

With Jean Charest’s ‘Marie Antoinette moment’ during his conference of congratulating Quebec’s business elite on their new government subsidization from his administration (the latest Québec budget allocated massive funds for mining companies), protests continued outside, with students setting up barricades “made from construction site materials and restaurant patio furniture to impede the circulation of police,” and so of course, the police “responded with stun grenades, pepper spray and batons.” As the violence erupted, Charest was inside making more jokes to his real constituents, stating, “[t]he (event) that we’re holding today is very popular. People are running all over the place to get in.” The crowd of businessmen erupted in laughter and applause. Charest added, “It’s an opportunity for job hunters.” The spokesperson for the student group, CLASSE, replied to the premier’s contemptuous comments, stating, “all my calls for calm won’t do anything… He’s laughing at us. I don’t know if he realizes were in a crisis right now.”[10]

The Schools Side Against the Students

The schools themselves have been participating in the repression of student strikes. Injunctions were issued to protesters, demanding that they permit other students to attend their classes and exams. The legal injunctions declared that those who were not attending classes were not considered to be participating in a legitimate strike. After the injunctions were issued, and two days after the school’s director demanded classes resume, student protesters blocked the entrance to College de Valleyfield, with hundreds blocking the main doors to the school. The school director threatened students that if they did not return to class they would fail the semester. The director, however, canceled the classes in order to avoid a physical confrontation with protesters. Education minister Line Beauchamp then reminded schools that, “they are legally obliged to provide courses.” Premier Charest, who was in Brazil at the time, again serving corporate interests on a trade mission, suggested the possibility of “forcing the schools to open.” He added, “We leave to each institution the task of taking the decisions they must make based on several criteria that include safety as well as the management of their establishments.”[11]

At Concordia University, protesters also blocked the entrance doors, preventing other students and teachers from entering the building during exams. The school responded by calling in the riot police to ‘remove’ the protesters, with fights breaking out between various students, and police then began “intervening” with pepper spray. The University of Montreal won a court injunction which banned protests from assembling on the school campus. The school informed students that, “all individuals must refrain from blocking access to campus buildings, individual classrooms, and even parking lots. Protesters are also banned from taking any action that interferes with classes, campus services or meetings.”[12]

Protest at Concordia University

Striking students at McGill University delivered a letter to University President Heather Munroe-Blum, signed by many students, professors, staff and student groups, asking the school to accommodate striking students with finding alternatives to exams or issuing ‘Incompletes’ for classes. Munroe-Blum was not present to accept the letter, with her chief of staff accepting the letter on her behalf, stating that Munroe-Blum had “University business off campus.” Perhaps she was running errands for the Royal Bank of Canada, whose board of directors she also sits on. Concordia University has also shown significant opposition to the strike. The chancellor of Concordia, incidentally, is also on the board of directors of the Bank of Montreal. Concordia, facing demands from striking students to accommodate the strike, replied: “The university’s position has been the same from the beginning, and it’s not going to change.” Students who are involved in the strike, stated a Concordia spokesperson, are “accepting the risks.” She added, “[t]hose who choose not to attend exams when exams are being held, they know the consequences… There’s just nothing more we can add.” A CLASSE representative referred to the situation of the striking students at Concordia, numbering in the thousands, “Unfortunately, since the start of the conflict [they] have faced an intransigent and undemocratic attitude in their talks with their administration.” Some of the French-speaking schools had been making accommodations for striking students, but none were to be found at the English-speaking schools, where there are fewer strikers and more elitist administrators. The CLASSE representative, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, commented that, “[o]ur coalition and our militants will be there on the campus to help the students, to help the strikers, in order to make their democratic-mandated strike respected.”[13]

Concordia University has also responded to the strike by hiring a private security firm to patrol the school. On March 26, there was a clash between striking students and security guards as the school took a harsh stance against picketing students. Some students were taking part in a sit-in on the 7th floor of the school, while others were being harassed by seven security guards on the 4th floor. Geography students were blocking the entrance to their classroom when security guards showed up, purportedly to ensure “there would be no incident,” while intimidating the students and filming them. One student who was present commented, “What happened at the classrooms so far was very calm and very peaceful. The presence of security guards is creating a really uncomfortable environment on campus. It’s really unnecessary and it feels like students are being prosecuted.” The previous week, the school had sent emails out to all of its students, “warning about consequences for students who choose to continue blocking access to classes, which could include formal charges.” The geography teacher who was supposed to teach the class then cancelled it, telling the security guards that there weren’t enough students to continue the class. The professor commented, “I just think that I’m in a really difficult position because I respect what the students have democratically chosen to do… But the picket wouldn’t permit me to pass through anyway and there weren’t enough students that were in the classroom to hold the class.” Earlier that same day, a student who was filming an argument between security guards and students “was struck in the face by one of the security guards, throwing the camera out of her hands and onto the ground.” The incident was filmed, and after the camera was thrown to the ground, the student asked the security guard for his name “for hitting a student,” after which he walked away.[14]

As it turned out, the security official that hit the student in the face “was discovered not to be in possession of a valid security permit, according to a letter sent by the Concordia security department.” The student who had been assaulted had filed a request for information from the director of Concordia University Security, to which she received a letter response informing her that the assaulting guard – hired by the school from the private firm of Maximum Security Inc. – did not possess a security license, adding, “Given the fact that he is not a licensed security agent [...] we are not legally permitted to release his name.” Concordia Student Union (CSU) VP Chad Walcott commented, “It would be very concerning if we are being blocked access to any information about the assault of a student… Having unlicensed security staff on campus is completely unacceptable.” The student who was hit told the school newspaper that, “[t]hese kind of accidents are likely to happen again… That’s what happens when you start hiring a large number of security guards for political purposes on campus when they’re not trained to do it.”[15]

CSU VP Chad Walcott later commented: “The university told us on [March 30] that this person was under review… Then we found out that he wasn’t even licensed at all, which leads me to believe that the university lied to us, or they themselves were lied to… Every security agent that is on the university premises is supposed to be a licensed individual. These individuals are also all supposed to be providing students with licenses when requested, and to fail to do so is a violation of the Private Security Act.” As section four of Quebec’s Private Security Act stipulates, “Any person operating an enterprise that carries on a private security activity must hold an agency license of the appropriate class.”[16]

Meanwhile, in late April, the Canadian Parliament – with the Conservative Party in power – are attempting to pass a bill entitled, “Bill C-26: The Citizen’s Arrest and Self Defence Act,” which “clarifies” laws around citizen’s arrests, and according to the Canadian Bar Association, “will grant greater powers to private security agencies” which “will give poorly trained ‘rent-a-cops’ greater latitude to arrest Canadians.” An official at the Canadian Bar Association warned that, “Such personnel often lack the necessary range of equipment or adequate training to safely and lawfully make arrests in a manner proportionate to the circumstances.” The only MP in Parliament to oppose the bill was Elizabeth May of the Green Party, who stated that it would be a “very big gift to the private security companies… The constitution of this country is governed by the concept of peace, order and good government… This stuff goes off in a wacky new direction, and it worries me.”[17]

The Concordia University email sent to students declared that it was “no longer possible to tolerate further disruption of university activities by a minority of protesters who refuse to respect the rights of others,” though apparently it is okay to tolerate harassment by private security guards. The university informed students that those who choose to picket will be asked for their IDs by the private security goons, “and will be reported to a panel to face the appropriate charges,” while those who refuse to provide ID “will have their pictures taken in order to be identified.” The school declared that, “[t]he charges will depend on the severity of the case but it could go from a written reprimand to expulsion.” A Concordia spokesperson stated, “[t]he university will only target students who are physically blocking access to classrooms and offices. We received complaints and we need to make sure our community has the liberty of movement. Blocking the Guy Metro building [the previous week] for example was unacceptable.” The Concordia Student Union and Graduate Student’s Association replied to the school’s email, stating, “Students will not be intimidated.” Both organizations referred to the school’s email as “dangerous” and “irresponsible,” presenting picketers as aggressive, when “in reality [their actions] have been consistently characterized by a lighthearted, peaceful, and creative nature, with very few incidents.” A student union official stated, “[t]heir message is calling for a profiling of students and a general discrimination against protesters and picketers. We think that it is highly unacceptable.” The same official added that, “We actually sat with the university administration to tell them that this email would only create conflictual relations between students and the university… We were basically told that the university did not care if things went out of hand.”[18]

Negotiations in Good Faith…? Not With Beauchamp! 

In late April, the [Mis]Education Minister, Line Beauchamp, suggested that the government would agree to discussions with the students. She ensured, however, that the talks would be cancelled before they began, by demanding that the more radical, and most active student organization – C.L.A.S.S.E. – be refused the opportunity to engage in the discussions. Why? CLASSE was branded as “radical” (assuming ‘radical’ is a bad term to begin with) because it refused to come outright in denouncing violence at the protests, though there has never been any condemnation of police brutality and repression from the government, so it’s apparently a contradictory position. Moreover, Beauchamp, accustomed to operating in an authoritarian manner, empty of any notion of democratic governance, demanded that CLASSE do as she said before they could be invited to discussions with a government that had, until late April, refused to discuss the issue with hundreds of thousands of students demanding it. Beauchamp delivered an undemocratic ultimatum, stating that she would only speak with two of the three student associations involved, which together represent 53% of striking students. The student organization, CLASSE, which represents 47% of the 175,000 striking students, held a press conference in response, saying “Beauchamp’s decision was unacceptable and that there can’t be a solution to the dispute without CLASSE’s involvement.” A spokesperson for CLASSE commented, “She can’t marginalize half of the people on strike,” and accused Beauchamp of attempting to “divide and conquer” the student movement. CLASSE was not even involved in the violence that took place, and as the organization acts and makes decisions in a democratic manner, it cannot respond to authoritarian ultimatums from a woman who has no consideration for democratic methods.[19]

Education Minister Line Beauchamp

Despite Beauchamp’s authoritarian ultimatum, the other student groups remained in solidarity with CLASSE and refused to meet with the [Dis]Honourable Beauchamp unless CLASSE was present. CLASSE announced that they could only denounce the violence if the members voted on it, since the leaders of the organization (unlike those of the government) must make decisions based upon the democratic wishes of their constituents, not their personal pandering to the financial elite. Of course, the refusal by CLASSE to follow the immediate demands of Beauchamp incurred the continued denunciation of the organization by the government and its media lap-dogs like the Montreal Gazette, responsible for possibly the most deriding, rag-like, yellow-journalism-inspired newspaper coverage of the protests to date. However, on April 22, CLASSE addressed its constituents (unlike the government) and they took a vote in which they unanimously condemned the violence, stating: “The position we took to last night was to clearly denounce and condemn any act of deliberate physical violence towards individuals… As a progressive and democratic organization, we cannot subscribe to those actions.” The spokesperson for CLASSE added, however, that civil disobedience will continue: “We think that the principle of civil disobedience has made Quebec civil society a little bit more just and little bit more free than other societies.” Beauchamp replied to the announcement, clearly confused about the difference between civil disobedience (the likes of which was praised and practiced by peaceful non-violent leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King) and acts of violence. Beauchamp addressed her own lack of education in stating, “We all need to act in good faith. If social and economic disruptions continue, the students who endorse them will be excluding themselves from talks.” So where previously it was the refusal to denounce violence that would result in exclusion of talks, and since that requirement was met, the demand changed to refusal to denounce “social and economic disruptions,” which is the entire basis of civil disobedience, strikes, and protests. So, essentially, Beauchamp is demanding that the student organizations denounce their cause before they meet… to discuss their cause.[20]

The last strikes that took place in Quebec in 2005 were successfully divided using the same strategy as Beauchamp attempted. However, as her tactical failure was evident, the divide and conquer effort clearly was not working on Québec students anymore, who remained in solidarity with one another. The government then agreed to sit down to negotiations with the student groups in late April. The talks came to a quick end on April 25, as Line Beauchamp admonished CLASSE for sponsoring a protest the previous night which ended in violence, vandalism, and injuries. Beauchamp commented that, “We cannot pretend today that they have dissociated themselves. I consider, therefore, that the CLASSE has excluded itself from the negotiation table.” A CLASSE spokesperson replied, “Madame Beauchamp does not want to talk about the tuition hike… This decision by Madame Beauchamp is obviously another strategy to sabotage the discussions… Madame Beauchamp will not resolve the crisis without the CLASSE.”[21]

On the night Beauchamp threw her hissy-fit and again ended the chances of negotiations, Montréal had a large protest, drawing thousands of students into the streets. When the students reached a police barricade at a major downtown intersection, tempers flared: garbage cans were overturned, windows of banks were smashed, and some rocks were hurled at police cars. It is notable that violence tends to erupt in protests when confronted with a heavy police presence. A protest earlier on that same afternoon was entirely peaceful, as the police did not have a major presence, instead tailing behind the protesters in vans. It is when the protest is cordoned off, and the right to march – the right to freedom of speech, association, and movement – is being curtailed by riot police, blocking off entire intersections like some reinforced line of Storm Troopers, with police tactics aimed at attempting to separate the protesters into smaller groups, that the police presence creates an antagonizing factor. So, as the protest on the 25th of April was confronted by the line of riot police storm troopers, the protest was declared to be “illegal” by the police: as a few acts of vandalism took place, the police waited, and then began firing tear gas into the crowd of students. The crowd began to disperse and students ran, as the police threw concussion grenades and used their batons.[22]

Protest following Beauchamp’s cancellation of negotiations

The following day, all the blame was placed upon the students. In fact, this remains consistent. All the blame for all the events that have taken place is placed squarely upon the students and protesters. When, earlier in April, three out of four of Montréal’s metro lines were shut down due to bags of bricks being thrown on the tracks and emergency stop levers being pulled on the trains, the blame was also put on students, “but the police have not connected this incident to students.” One individual even released a smoke bomb in a metro station on April 18.[23] While the sources of these incidents remain unknown, the sources of the vast majority of violence at protests is quite evident: the police.  It should also be noted that Québec has a bad track record of dealing with protesters and inciting violence, often through agent provocateurs. Back in 2007, at the Montebello protests against North American integration, the Québec provincial police had to later admit that they planted three undercover cops among the protesters, dressed in all black, with their faces covered and brandishing large rocks in their hands as they neared a lineup of riot police. The three men were called out by protesters as being undercover cops attempting to start a riot and justify police repression, and once their cover was blown, they made their way past the police line where they were then “arrested.” Photos of the men show that they were wearing the same police-issued shoes as the riot cops, and the government had to later admit that they were indeed police. Though, the government claimed at the time, their men were undercover “to keep order and security.” No doubt with large rocks.[24]

Emergence of the ‘Maple Spring’

Following the large protests in late April, the Liberal Quebec government – bypassing negotiations – came up with its own brand new “solution” to the protests: increase the tuition even more! Jean Charest and Line Beauchamp gave a press conference on April 27 announcing a six-point plan to end the protests, with absolutely no input from the protesters themselves. Charest began the press conference, speaking to the stenographers of power (the media), stating, “There is an increase in the tuition fees… Let’s not pretend it isn’t there.” The proposal suggested that the government would spread the increases over seven years instead of five, though Charest announced that the government would begin “indexing” the tuition costs in the sixth and seventh years to the rate of inflation, which would mean an annual increase of $254 over seven years (instead of $325 over five), resulting in a total of $1,778, as opposed to the $1,625 over five years. Beauchamp added that, “after factoring in the income-tax credit on tuition fees, the increase is $177 a year, or 50 cents a day.” Beauchamp told reporters, “I invite the students to go to their courses because the solution proposed by the government is a just and equitable solution which ensures better financing of our universities, which ensures a fair share from students, which also ensures access to university and ensures better management of our universities.” Further, Charest and Beauchamp announced that the government would add $39 million in bursaries, the premise of which suggests that it’s fine if the government takes a lot more money from students, so much as they give a small fraction of it back, without raising the obvious question of: why don’t we just keep it in the first place? A student organizer commented that Beauchamp’s “50 cents a day” argument was “very clever,” yet, “It does not touch the nub of the question.” The president of the student organization, the Federation etudiante universitaire du Quebec (FEUQ), Martine Desjardins, commented that, “Quebec families are already heavily indebted,” and the new plan would only increase the debt burden.[25]

An overlooked report from late March by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-economique explained that, “increased student debt from higher tuitions could have severe repercussions on public funds.” The researchers noted that, “the provincial government is creating a precarious situation when it encourages students to incur higher debt, much in the same way banks in the United States created a risky situation when they made it easy to obtain mortgages – a situation that ultimately threw the U.S. economy into a recession when homeowners began to default on their payments.” When interest rates go up, as they are set to do so, “today’s students may well find themselves in the same situation of not being able to pay off their student loans.” One of the researchers commented, “Since governments underwrite those loans, if students default it could be catastrophic for public finances… We are already seeing signs of a higher education bubble like that in the U.S… If the bubble explodes, it could be just like the mortgage crisis… The fact is, there is no need for additional funding for Quebec universities.”[26]

The student movement has now begun the campaign for other social movements, labour groups, and activist organizations to join the protests in a wider ‘social strike’ against the Québec government. The more radical student organization, which represents 47% of the 175,000 striking students in Quebec, C.L.A.S.S.E., issued a press release in late April calling for a “social strike” from the “population as a whole!”[27]

Following a massive demonstration of over 200,000 people on April 22 in Montréal demanding the protection of the environment and natural resources, the message was clear: more than tuition is at stake. A manifesto for a “Maple Spring” appeared and spread through social media networks in late April. The manifesto declared that:

2011 was the year of indignation and revolt. The Arab spring unnerved autocrats, swept out dictators, destabilized regimes and drove many to grant reforms. The images of these Arab peoples deposing their oligarchies went around the world and set an example.

Inspired by the spontaneous occupations of public places in the Arab world, the first Indignados appeared in Spain, when deep-going austerity measures were imposed on the country. The Spanish highlighted the real limits of democracy in that country, strongly affected by the economic crisis, subject to the dictates of the financial markets, with 46 per cent of its young people unemployed. The initiative produced its emulators and the movement spread in Europe and beyond.

The movement extended to North America, and from New York around the Occupy Wall Street initiative. That movement was aimed at the richest 1 per cent, the major banks and multinational corporations, which dictate the laws of an unjust global economy that is mortgaging the future of all of us. The movement then spread to more than 100 U.S. cities, but also to Canada (Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal).

The rebellious Arabs, the European Indignant, or the American occupiers, all have gathered behind the same message of hope: Another world is possible!

This storm of global protest against economic and political elites out of touch with the legitimate concerns of insecure peoples who are always being asked to pay more, to work harder, and above all not to demand anything in return, is now blowing over Quebec. The students’ courageous fight for the right to education now constitutes the spearhead of a profound movement of indignation and popular mobilization that has been stirring in Quebec for several years. The monster demonstration of March 22 launched the printemps érable! [Maple Spring!]

Let us join in this global current of revolt and follow the example of the Icelanders who, in January 2009, forced the resignation of the neoliberal government of Geir Haarde, which had participated in the genesis of the economic and social crisis in which that country plunged in 2008.

It’s Quebec’s turn to bring down its corrupt clique!

Charest, that’s enough! Let us demand the government’s resignation![28]

Among the ‘demands’ that the manifesto made were:

- The right to education for everyone, without discrimination linked to money;

- The right to a healthy environment and the conservation of our natural resources, to protect our water, our rivers, our forests, our regions, and not to yield to the voracious appetite of the mining and oil and gas companies;

- The rights of the indigenous peoples to their aboriginal lands;

- The right to enjoy a responsible and democratic government, serving its people and not some financial interests;

- The right to pacifism and international solidarity, clearly displaying Quebec’s opposition to the militaristic and commercial policies of the federal Conservative government;

- The right to a local, sustainable, mutually supportive social economy that puts humans at the centre of its concerns.[29]

Solidarity for the Québec students has been shown from students and unions and other groups across Canada and indeed, around the world. Students from the University of Ottawa have participated in strikes and protests in Montréal, and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) sent a bus of students to participate in the mass rally of hundreds of thousands of students on March 22. SFUO president Amalia Savva stated, “When it comes to tuition fees in general—when we see a 75 per cent increase in tuition fees over the next five years in Quebec—that’s extremely dangerous for students not only in Quebec, but across the country, to set a precedent like that… Tuition fees are one of the common struggles students have, not only between Quebec and Ontario, but across the country and across the world as well.”[30]

A number of unions from Ontario expressed solidarity with the student strike, stating that, “We stand in solidarity with the student strikers and the professors, campus workers and community members who have supported this movement. Students in Quebec are fighting against the commercialization of education and user pay through tuition increases that create massive barriers to access and student debt that profits the banks while haunting students for years after graduation.”[31]

On April 26, roughly 50 peaceful protesters assembled in downtown Toronto, with riot police assembled nearby, demonstrating in support of the Québec student strike.[32] A progressive think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, had called for the Toronto protest, issuing a press release stating: “Join us for a rally in front of Québec’s Office in Toronto in solidarity with the ongoing student strike. On this occasion, we will be delivering a petition to be sent to the Premier’s office in Québec. With this action, we also want to contribute to bringing this great movement’s democratic and combative spirit to Ontario.”[33] Students, while fighting against tuition hikes around the world, continue to express solidarity with Québec’s strike, including signs of solidarity appearing at a protest against tuition hikes in Taipei, Taiwan, as well as small protests in Paris and Brussels specifically assembled to show solidarity with Québec students.[34]

Solidarity protest in Belgium

Solidarity protest in Paris, France

Student protest in Taiwan, also showing solidarity with Québec

Québec is not the only place where there is a massive student movement developing into a wider social movement. In fact, Chile saw the start of its massive nation-wide student protest movement in May of 2011, roughly one year ago. The movement began as a student protest and evolved into a wider social movement with demonstrations drawing hundreds of thousands of Chileans, often met with the state apparatus of repression, remnants from Chile’s military dictatorship put in power by the CIA in 1973. The student movement has continued into the new year, and on April 25, the same day that large protests erupted in Montréal, Santagio had a protests which drew tens of thousands of students into the streets (between 25-50,000), rejecting the government’s proposed reforms as “too little.” Student leader Gabriel Boric declared, “We will carry on making history… We students will not give up the fight to make education a public right.”[35] Roughly ten days prior to the protests, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Chile seeking to extend “free-trade” agreements for the benefit of multinational corporations. Canada already has the largest investment in Chile’s mining industry. Reportedly, the massive student movement in Chile was not under discussion between Harper and Chilean President Pinera.[36]

So in Québec, the premier is dismissing the students and subsidizing the mining corporations. In Chile, the Canadian Prime Minister is ignoring student movements in both Canada and Chile while seeking to better secure Canadian mining interests. Thus, in the provincial, national, and international arena, Canadian politicians continually seek to protect, support, and expand the interests of multinational corporations while simultaneously undermining, ignoring, dismissing, and repressing massive student movements demanding social, political, and economic justice. This is not merely a Canadian issue, but a global one, making what is happening in Québec all the more relevant in attempting to bring about a ‘Maple Spring.’ Informal acts of solidarity and formal associations and relationships should be established between the two student movements in Québec and Chile so as to further empower and support those around the world who are partaking in a similar struggle.

What the Students are Saying

I had the chance to interview students and youth taking part in the strike and protests here in Québec. While the mainstream media inundates readers with quotes and concerns of the minority of students who do not support the strike, thus giving a very slanted perspective of the events taking place, I felt it was important to provide statements and perspectives from students who do support and have been taking part in the strike. I asked the students to tell me about their experiences, perspectives, and hopes for the strike and student movement, and what their message to the rest of Canada would be, in light of the poor information being given through the media.

Karine G. from Québec City said that her message to the rest of Canada was that, “Québec is not Canada. Our education system, like other specificities in our society, reflects our difference and our values. We are not complaining, simply trying to defend who we are and how we think it should be reflected through our institutions. Democracy supposes that citizens are free to invest in what they value the most; we think education should be a priority.” She added, “No matter what people try to justify with numbers, raising tuition fees is an ideological decision. Even though the Liberals are trying to make us believe – ‘There is no other alternative’ – we are not fools.” She expressed a great deal of frustration in getting others to understand what democracy and strikes actually represent and consist of, and finds a great deal of “ignorance and individualism” as well as apathy among others who criticize or oppose the strike.

Mathieu Lapointe Deraiche from Montréal stated that while the strike began in opposition to the tuition hikes, “I think after 11 weeks of strike, in the middle of one of the greatest student movements in the history” of the province, in both numbers and duration, “the hike of fees is now only a detail.” He added, “It is now a social crisis that [has] revealed an important generational gap (not to say ‘war’) between Quebec’s youth and the children of the ‘Trentes Glorieuses,” referring to the “30 Glorious Years” of growth following World War II, ending in the 1970s. He explained that the “social crisis” has “called into question the role of the police and the media,” such as TVA, the Journal de Montréal, and the Gazette. Referring to it as a “socio-political war between the youth and the government,” Mathieu explained that it has now reached the point where he “couldn’t be satisfied with a cancellation of the fees,” as his “actual disgust towards [the] government… transcends a financial issue.”

Freezing the ‘Spring’: State Repression of the Strike

Andrée Bourbeau, a member of the legal committee for C.L.A.S.S.E., is responsible for organizing funds to pay for the legal defense of those who are arrested at the protests (whether or not they are students), by disputing the tickets and fines which are dispersed to protesters by the police for taking part in the demonstrations. The mass arrests are done through the use of such tickets, using two Québec laws in particular to repress the student protests, which C.L.A.S.S.E. maintains – and rightly so – as being unconstitutional. For example, article 500.1 of du Code de sécurité routière (Québec law) is “unconstitutional,” explained Bourbeau, “because it prohibits any demonstration.” The article states that, “No person may, during a concerted action intended to obstruct in any way vehicular traffic on a public highway, occupy the roadway, shoulder or any other part of the right of way of or approaches to the highway or place a vehicle or obstacle thereon so as to obstruct vehicular traffic on the highway or access to such a highway.” In short, the very notion of a street protest is declared “unlawful” by Québec, which is a very violation of the right to assemble, the right to free speech and movement. Thus, it is unconstitutional. This article has led to the repression of every demonstration in Québec City, where more than 300 people have received $500 fines under this law. If any of those individuals take part in another protest, and receive another fine, the amount increases to between $3,500 and $10,500. Bourbeau told me, “this is outrageous because this is purely political repression of the student movement in Quebec City.” From the beginning of April, demonstrations have been declared illegal by the police, who threaten students that they will be fined if they take part, even if the demonstrations are peaceful, and of course the vast majority of them are.

It’s a stark reminder of the reality of how the student movement is presented in the media that with over 160 protests – with an average of 2-3 per day across the province – the rest of Canada only hears about the few protests that turned violent. Yet, for the nearly 200 protests that have taken place thus far, they are consistently met with a large police presence, fines, police brutality, and other forms of state coercion and repression. But it is the incidents of bank windows being smashed which the rest of Canada hears about. In Montréal, protests are repressed by the police through a bylaw which forbids assemblies that “breach the peace.” Bourbeau explained, “this is so broad it covers every kind of demonstration.” Thus, at each demonstration, the police arrest students and other protesters simply for being present. When some protesters react with violence or vandalism, this is referred to in the media and by the government as a “riot.”

For example, an article in the National Post written by David Frum was entitled, “David Frum on the Quebec student riots.” The first line in the article wrote, “The rioting students of Quebec got scant sympathy even before they started smashing windows and detonating smoke bombs.” He later referred to the student protesters as “a radical fringe,” who do not “deserve any sympathy.” He added: “And besides, they are part of the problem: a richer-than-average tranche of their own cohort demanding support from the taxes of less affluent people.”[37] David Frum, it should be noted, is a Canadian-American “journalist” who was previously a speechwriter for U.S. President George W. Bush, an ardent neoconservative, and was one of the loudest voices calling for the war on Iraq. Frum was also responsible for coining the phrase “axis of evil,” which George Bush first used in a speech from 2002. Hard to imagine that Québec would get fair coverage from the likes of Frum.

The use of bylaws and other unconstitutional ‘articles’ are – explained Bourbeau – aimed at “trying to demobilize the students, to make us fear going out to demonstrations and organize.” Of particular concern for protesters and organizers, she said, was the recently created police “GAMMA squad” in Montréal. In January of 2011, the GAMMA (Guet des activités et des mouvements marginaux et anarchists) squad was created as a special unit of the Montréal police, specifically designed to monitor anarchists and other “marginal political groups.” In short, it is a political policing unit, designed to engage in repression of ideological opposition to the state. These types of “squads” are typical in fascist and authoritarian countries around the world, but it’s new to Montréal. While protest organizers are very concerned about this squad, they have remained virtually out of the national media (though there is some discussion of them in the French media), so very few are even aware of their existence.

In July of 2011, C.L.A.S.S.E. filed human rights complaints against the GAMMA squad after an “unprecedented” wave of arrests, when four members of the student group, three of whom were executives, were arrested as they were preparing to organize a campaign against the tuition hikes. The stated reason for the arrests was for the organizers participating in having organized protests the previous March which resulted in a small injury of a staff member of Québec Finance Minister Bouchard’s office. A CLASSE spokesperson stated that the aim of the arrests was to “break the back” of the student movement before it even began to mobilize. CLASSE is neither an “anarchist” nor a “marginal” organization (due to it being the largest representation of the student movement), which is not to say that monitoring anarchist and other “marginal” groups (however the State defines that) is acceptable, because it is not. The “evidence” against the student organizers was largely provided by an informant for the GAMMA squad.[38] CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois stated, “There is no doubt about the political nature of these arrests… This is clearly an attempt by the [Montreal police] to decapitate the Quebec student movement on the eve of one of its historical struggles.”[39]

Alexandre Popovic, a spokesperson for the Coalition against repression and police brutality, explained that the GAMMA squad represents “police use of social stereotyping to hinder the legal expression of opposition to social and legal policies.” He stated, “It’s ridiculous… They have a stereotypical cartoon image of anarchists,” adding that while anarchists believe in opposing authority (which is a good thing!), they also have families, host book fairs, and engage in intellectual discussions. Referring to the complaints filed against GAMMA to the Québec Human Rights Commission, Popovic stated: “The commission needs to remind the police that we are not in a police state. We have the right to disagree and even have thoughts they might not like.”[40] CLASSE spokesperson Nadeau-Dubois explained, “This squad is really a new kind of political police to fight against social movements.” The GAMMA unit is a branch of the Montréal Police Force’s Organized Crime Unit, which “uses tactics developed to monitor mafia and street gangs in order to keep tabs on political activists.”[41]

Though apparently they don’t do a very good job of handling the Montréal mafia, since the city government they work for has been handing out public contracts to the mafia, who have connections to political parties and the construction industry as well.[42] Back in 2009, a former city government opposition leader, Benoit Labonte, facing corruption charges, stated that the Montréal mafia controls roughly 80% of City Hall, telling Radio-Canada, “Is there a Mafia system that controls city hall? The response is yes.”[43] Mafia-connected construction executives have been involved in election campaigns in municipalities all across the city of Montréal and elsewhere, and have thereafter been awarded with lucrative public contracts.[44] Arrests were made on anti-corruption charges in Montréal in late April, and among the 14 suspects arrested, two of them were Liberal Party organizers, putting Jean Charest’s government further on the offensive. One of those Liberal Party organizers was personally given an award by Jean Charest at a Liberal Party meeting in 2010.[45] Back in September of 2010, Jean Charest’s Québec government was declared by Maclean’s Magazine to be “the most corrupt province” in Canada. Marc Bellemare, the province’s former Justice Minister in the Charest government, spoke out about the rife corruption, favouritism, collusion and graft, with Charest granting Liberal Party fundraisers a say in the appointments of judges, not to mention his government’s deep connections to the overtly-corrupt construction industry. Interestingly, “it costs Quebec taxpayers roughly 30 per cent more to build a stretch of road than anywhere else in the country.”[46] So if Québec really is concerned with “balancing the budget,” perhaps the government – and the police, for that matter – should start with ending corruption in the governments itself (as if that were even possible!). It seems that the government is more interested in supporting organized crime than organized students.

I do not mean to paint Charest as a pawn of the mafia, since he always has been and always will be far more beholden to elite financial and economic interests, specifically that of the powerful Desmarais family (Canada’s equivalent of the Rockefeller family), with its patriarch Paul Desmarais Sr, who treats Charest like a little poodle, and who has established close connections with every Canadian Prime Minister since the 1970s, and all but two of Québec’s premiers in the same amount of time. As one reporter with the Globe and Mail explained, “Desmarais has been personally consulted by prime ministers on every major federal economic and constitutional initiative since the 1970s. Most of the time, they’ve taken his advice.”[47] It was also reported that, “[o]ver the last several years, [Paul Desmarais Sr.] has spun his web to such an extent that it now enables him to call the shots,” especially in promoting his right-wing economic vision, with “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada.” In particular, Desmarais “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest.” Quebec writer Robin Philpot wrote that when Paul Desmarais received the French Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean Charest was in attendance, of which Philpot stated, “He took him along like a poodle.” Philpot added, “It’s a very unhealthy situation for a government to be indebted to a businessman that has his own interest at heart. They get their hands tied.”[48]

Québec Premier Jean Charest (right), with French President Sarkozy (centre), and Canadian billionaire oligarch Paul Desmarais, Sr. (left)

And now Charest is attempting to ensure that future generations of students are themselves beholden to the same interests he is: the bankers and corporations, the political-economic and financial elite who dominate the province and the country.

The Students ‘Spring’ Forward

Following Charest’s announcement of a new “seven-year” program for the tuition hikes (with even more tuition costs added on!), students took to the streets in another night of major protests in Montreal. Student leaders rejected the absurd proposal, declaring, “It’s not an offer, it’s an insult.” When some students in the protest occupied an intersection and sat down in the street, the police responded with tear gas. Then, after two hours of peaceful protest (apart from police aggression and a few projectiles thrown at police in response), the police declared the demonstration to be “illegal” and began arresting people.[49]

In late April, in the eleventh week of the strike, international media have finally taken notice, as the student movement is making its way into the headlines of CNN, the BBC, and Al-Jazeera. Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), one of the main student groups, commented that, “I think we’ve seen that no matter how far reaching the movement is, Charest just isn’t listening… After months of taking to the streets, it’s encouraging and surprising to see the struggle catching on like this. It’s been tiring for students to have to keep marching and striking but this gives us new hope moving forward.” However, despite the general perception of the protests, both student leaders and the police themselves admit that the vast majority of those assembled do so peacefully. Constable Yannick Ouimet of the Montreal Police said, “We know that 99 per cent of the people who show up to protest want to do so peacefully… What we’re seeing now is that the peaceful protesters and their leaders are helping police identify criminals so that they can be removed from the crowd.” Desjardins reflected on the latest “proposal” from Charest, calling it “a smokescreen.” He explained: “the offer was never mentioned when we set down to negotiate with the government. Instead, it was sent above students’ heads as an attempt to win over the general public.” While the media continues to repeat the falling support for the students among the general public – figures which are attributed to the violence – Desjardins felt it noteworthy to point out, “We’re seeing small openings and we’re seeing our support base broadening. It’s not just students out there, it’s parents, teachers, trade unions and different social groups. We don’t want to have gone through all of this and to go back to school empty handed.”[50]

Québec students are increasingly frustrated with the government response to the strike. At a protest in late April, a number of students gave their complaints to the media. “I don’t think there is any class of society that would like to be ignored for three months,” one student explained. She added, “Now, all of a sudden, people realize something is going on because some windows were broken.” Another student, and mother of two, Aurélie Pedron, raised the issue of agent provocateurs being used to demonize the students: “When there are vandals on bicycles, with rocks so huge that you could not find them on Ste. Catherine Street [where the protest was taking place], when it’s a bookstore whose window is smashed, do you really think it is students who do that?.. Don’t take us for idiots.” Another student explained that, “the government approach is to present us as a bunch of vandals.” One political science student explained, “this has become more than a student fight, it is a fight against the government and the state.” Another student at the protest agreed: “The issue is bigger than tuition fees. It is a question of re-establishing democracy. There is no democracy. We are closer to totalitarianism. Decisions are made without listening to the people.” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the spokesperson for CLASSE, elaborated on the increased scope and vision of the struggle of students: “Those people are a single elite, a greedy elite, a corrupt elite, a vulgar elite, an elite that only sees education as an investment in human capital, that only sees a tree as a piece of paper and only sees a child as a future employee.” Thus, he explained, the student strike would be “a springboard to a much wider, much deeper, much more radical challenge of the direction Quebec has been heading in recent years.”[51]

C.L.A.S.S.E. spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois

Andrée Bourbeau of CLASSE told me that, “if Quebec is the province that has the lowest tuition fees and the best system of bursaries, it’s because we fought since the 1960s through organized actions and strikes,” with the current 2012 strike being the ninth one, and the largest of its kind, with the longest duration. She added, in regards to the methods of the student organizations, that, “we have practiced direct democracy through our student general assemblies for several decades now,” and that it is through this ‘direct democracy’ approach that decisions of the students are made before approaching the government. When the government ignores and dismisses the demands of the students, it is through the direct democracy approach of syndicalisme de combat that the students decide to target – through civil disobedience and peaceful assembly – the economy itself. “Transparency is very important,” explained Bourbeau, “Acting with syndicalisme de combat means that we mobilize people, we organize demonstrations and actions. The movement is its members, not an enlightened elite.” I asked her what her message to the rest of Canada was, to which she replied:

I wait for Canadian students to start struggling for their rights, for free tuition and self-governed universities. I don’t think Quebec has to be different than the other provinces in regards to social programs and public services. [I speak] in solidarity with the people of Canada!

The “political police” and its corrupt and elite-beholden government sponsor continues to repress dissent, demonize an emerging social movement, prevent the expression of basic – constitutionally guaranteed – rights and liberties of hundreds of thousands of youth and activists across the province. The government of Québec is attempting to turn a potential ‘Maple Spring’ into a ‘Hopeless Winter.’ But as we here in Montréal can see and feel, winter is on its way out, the temperature is getting warmer, the sun is starting to shine more and more, and spring is sprouting!

Message from Canada’s Youth: We Refuse to be a Lost Generation!

The argument that Québec students are “whining and crying” about “entitlements” is not only wrong, but deeply immoral. What Québec students are doing is finally standing up and saying, ‘No More!’ What Québec students are doing is not a misguided attempt to preserve “entitlements,” but to try to ensure for ourselves a future, a future which is being – year-by-year – stolen from us. My generation of Canadians – and for that matter youth all over the world – are shackled with more debts than any before us, with less job opportunities, with more poverty, and with the burden of beginning our lives under a system which has consistently favoured the rich few at the expense of the rest. We are told to go to school and get a good job. So we go to school, get deep into debt, and graduate into a market with few jobs. With professional degrees, we go work at Starbucks, so that we may pay the interest on our student debts, or the interest on our credit card debts, struggling to pay our monthly rent, or living at home for much longer than any generation before us because we simply can’t afford to move out. Rents are going up, and housing prices are sky-high in an absurd bubble waiting to burst. So then we are told that if we want “a future,” we have to buy property. None of us can afford a $500,000 condominium in Vancouver or Toronto, so we are told: get a mortgage, it’s the “smart” thing to do. So we get a mortgage, because our parents, our banks, and our government said: “It’s the smart thing to do.” And when this absurd housing bubble pops,  our interest payments on our mortgages will skyrocket, and our student debts will skyrocket, and our credit card interest payments will skyrocket, and we won’t even be able to keep up with the increasing costs of food.

We are doomed to poverty before we even have a chance at possibility. We were raised with expectations of a life we could have. For those of us who grew up middle class, like myself, we grew up in a world built on a mirage of debt. The average Canadian household today spends 150% of its income, so that for every $1 they make, they owe $1.50. The average Canadian household is $103,000 in debt, largely due to mortgages, but also as a result of credit card debt, student debt, and other loans. Canada’s big five banks help provide the mortgages, the student debt, tell us to get credit cards, and through the Bank of Canada (our central bank), keep the interest rates low so as to encourage people to get more loans and go deeper into debt. Everyone is told to get an RRSP because “it’s the smart thing to do.” So we save what money we can, and put it into an RRSP account. Yet, if we want to spend that money, we have to do so on property. If we take out the money for anything other than a house or condo (which would still require us to get a mortgage to cover the full expense), then we lose a huge percentage of the money within the account. I took a class in high school where the teacher explained to all the compliant young students that investing your money in an RRSP is “the smart thing to do.”

So now our parents are struggling to pay their rent, meet their interest payments, or even pay for food. They work several jobs, and still we struggle, day-to-day and week-to-week. Our parents see us – their children – also struggling, falling behind and not meeting the social expectations that were set for us: when to move out, when to get an apartment, when to go to school and graduate, when to get a job, when to get a house, when to get married, when to have kids, etc. So our parents, naturally, want the best for us, want us to have what they tried for but are now struggling to even maintain as an illusion. So they tell us: get a student loan to go to school and get a good job, get a credit card, get a mortgage to buy a house. They encourage us to follow their path, when where they currently stand is already dangerously close to the cliff’s edge. Our path, then, is much rougher, much more dangerous, and all the more illusory than theirs. They see only their own children, and want the best. But we, their children, see each other: we see our friends, co-workers, fellow students and compatriots; we see our entire generation and how we all struggle. Our parents see the individual struggles of their own kids. We see and feel the collective struggle of a generation. We did what we were told, and now we are left with massive debt and no jobs, higher rents and fewer hopes. We did what we were told, year after year, because, as they say, “It’s the smart thing to do.” We did everything we were told to “get ahead,” and now we are being left behind.

So what the students in Québec are doing is simply trying to catch up, is simply speaking up and saying that we don’t want to be a “lost generation,” doomed to debt bondage. And now that we – finally! – are awakening to our situation and taking action, we are derided and dismissed, insulted and ‘dissed’, spat on and chastised, beaten with batons, bombed with tear gas. We are told, now, that we are “crying and whining,” that we are spoiled children, demanding “entitlements” and subsidies. We aren’t asking for a free ride through life, all we are wanting… is the chance to have a life.

The future is the world that we are inheriting, and before we can even enter the future, it’s being stolen from us. We are disciplined under heavy debts and higher costs before we have the chance to even reach a true sense of autonomy and independence. We are indebted before we even move out of our homes, before we get our first job. And then we are told we are spoiled and entitled!

It’s time for older generations to move aside, to stop telling us what it is we should want, how we should get it, and then deride us for not doing what they say. If we feel we are ‘entitled,’ it is because we were raised to feel that way. This is partly the fault of our parents’ generation, who have lived a life in debt, and who now instruct us to follow them into the abyss, and dismiss us when we say we want to chart our own course. Well now it’s time for them to move aside. They tried, in the 1960s and early 70s, to civilize society and make a better world – something we are now told is not worth aspiring to – and indeed, achievements were made, but it was stopped short. The elites of our society saw the emergence of social democratization and struggles for liberation and put a finish to it. The system they constructed to strangle the struggle for liberation is what we call “neoliberalism” and debt-domination.

Demonstration in Montréal

Now, all around the world, from North Africa, to Latin America, East Asia, Europe and right here in Québec, the youth are finally standing up against this ruthless global system of exploitation, militarism, racism, and domination. What the students in Québec are doing is joining the global struggle as it emerges around the world, and setting an example for the rest of Canada and North America, who have so far been lagging far behind. We are not preserving entitlement; we are seeking empowerment. If our parents failed to do it, it is left to us. So, for those in previous generations who only want “the best” for their children, it is time to stop telling us to follow their examples, and time to start following ours. It is time to stand with and behind the youth, instead of out in front and above us. It is time to support us where we need it most. What the youth of the world are now saying is that we will welcome your support and encouragement, but if you get in our way, we will push you aside and leave you behind. So if you – like all people of this world should – desire a better world for your children, want to enter a more hopeful future, and create a more equal and fair society, it’s time to step up to the plate and stand behind the vanguard of the revolution: the youth!

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            Press Release, “TD Economics outlines plan for prosperity in Quebec report,” Newswire, 10 April 2007:

http://www.newswire.ca/fr/story/178423/td-economics-outlines-plan-for-prosperity-in-quebec-report

[2]            Claire Penhorwood, “Quebec tuition fight about keeping education accessible, students say,” CBC News, 21 March 2012:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/03/21/f-tuitionfees.html

[3]            Kamloops Daily News, “It’s hard to feel sorry for these Quebec students,” Winnipeg Free Press, 25 February 2012:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/westview/its-hard-to-feel-sorry-for-these-quebec-students-140407073.html

[4]            Gary Mason, “The crushing weight of student debt,” The Globe and Mail, 7 July 2011:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/gary_mason/the-crushing-weight-of-student-debt/article2088760/

[5]            Jacob Serebrin, “Half of full-time Quebec students live on $12,000 a year,” Canadian University Press, 19 November 2010:

http://cupwire.ca/articles/38179

[6]            Stefani Forster and Alexander Panetta, “Quebec Student Strike: Montreal’s Riotous Night Leaves A Mess After Government Talks Break Down,” The Huffington Post, 26 April 2012:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/26/montreal-quebec-student-protest-riots_n_1454679.html

[7]            Canadian Press, “Some key events in Quebec’s battle over tuition hikes,” The Winnipeg Free Press, 27 April 2012:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/some-key-events-in-quebecs-battle-over-tuition-hikes-149265525.html

[8]            Antonia Maioni, “Charest’s Marie Antoinette moment,” The Globe and Mail, 24 April 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/charests-marie-antoinette-moment/article2411573/

[9]            CBC, “Violent Montreal student protest nets 17 arrests,” CBC News, 20 April 2012:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/04/20/students-palais-de-congres.html

[10]            Giuseppe Valiante, “Montreal protest turns violent,” QMI Agency, 20 April 2012:

http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2012/04/20/protest-at-kenney-immigration-speech

[11]            CTV, “Tuition protesters unrelenting, in spite of injunctions,” CTV Montreal, 12 April 2012:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20120412/mtl_valleyfield_120412/

[12]            Ibid.

[13]            Henry Gass, “Students continue striking into exam period,” The McGill Daily, 15 April 2012:

http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2012/04/students-continue-striking-into-exam-period/

[14]            Joel Ashak, “Campus security clashes with students,” The Concordian, 27 March 2012:

http://theconcordian.com/2012/03/27/campus-security-clashes-with-students/

[15]            Joel Ashak, “Agent involved in alleged assault found unlicensed,” The Concordian, 1 April 2012:

http://theconcordian.com/2012/04/01/agent-involved-in-alleged-assault-found-unlicensed/

[16]            Corey Pool, “Scrutinizing Security,” The Link, 3 April 2012:

http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/2917

[17]            Jeff Davis, “Citizen’s arrest bill gives more power to rent-a-cops, police warn,” Postmedia News, 24 April 2012:

http://www.canada.com/news/Citizen+arrest+bill+gives+more+power+rent+cops+police+warn/6512389/story.html

[18]            Joel Ashak, “Campus security clashes with students,” The Concordian, 27 March 2012:

http://theconcordian.com/2012/03/27/campus-security-clashes-with-students/

[19]            Karen Seidman, “Students’ battle against Quebec heats up,” The Gazette, 17 April 2012:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Students+battle+against+Quebec+heats/6468030/story.html

[20]            Sarah Deshaies, “Students, education minister start talks in Quebec,” Canadian University Press, 26 April 2012:

http://cupwire.ca/articles/52659

[21]            Kevin Daugherty, “Tuition negotiations hit a roadblock,” The Gazette, 26 April 2012:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Tuition+negotiations+roadblock/6520106/story.html

[22]            Megan Kinch, “BLOG: Montreal Demonstration “Turned Violent” When Police Shot Explosives at Us,” Toronto Media Co-op, 26 April 2012:

http://toronto.mediacoop.ca/blog/megan-kinch/10656

[23]            Sarah Deshaies, “Quebec education minister reaches out to select organizations as student strikes reach 10th week,” Canadian University Press, 18 April 2012:

http://cupwire.ca/articles/52648

[24]            CBC, “Quebec police admit they went undercover at Montebello protest,” CBC News, 23 August 2007:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2007/08/23/police-montebello.html

[25]            Kevin Dougherty, “Protesting Quebec students reject Jean Charest’s new six-point plan on education,” The National Post, 27 April 2012:

http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/04/27/protesting-quebec-students-reject-jean-charests-new-six-point-plan-on-education/

[26]            Karen Seidman and Kevin Daugherty, “Increased student debt from higher tuition could cost Quebec, report contends,” The Montreal Gazette, 28 March 2012:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Student+debt+could+cost+Quebec+report/6372686/story.html

[27]            CLASSE, “Quebec students appeal for wider ‘social strike’ against Charest government,” Rabble.ca, 27 April 2012:

http://rabble.ca/news/2012/04/quebec-students-appeal-wider-social-strike-against-charest-government

[28]            Various, “Manifesto for a Maple Spring,” Rabble.ca, 26 April 2012:

http://rabble.ca/news/2012/04/quebecs-spring-manifesto-printemps-%C3%A9rable

[29]            Ibid.

[30]            Jane Lytvynenko, “U of O students show solidarity with Quebec,” The Fulcrum, 28 March 2012:

http://thefulcrum.ca/2012/03/u-of-o-students-show-solidarity-with-quebec/

[31]            UWO, “UNIONS ACROSS ONTARIO STAND IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE QUEBEC STUDENT STRIKE,” UWO GTA Union, 25 April 2012:

http://www.gtaunion.com/gta/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=150:unions-across-ontario-stand-in-solidarity-with-the-quebec-student-strike

[32]            James Hamilton, “Toronto rally for Quebec Students,” Toronto Grand Prix Tourist, 26 April 2012:

http://torontogp.blogspot.ca/2012/04/toronto-rally-for-quebec-students.html

[33]            CSJ, “Solidarity With Quebec Student Strike!”, Centre for Social Justice, 26 April 2012:

http://www.socialjustice.org/community/?f_cat=2&arch=3

[34]            Mediaswap, “International Support for the Québec Student Strike Against Tuition Hikes,” 28 March 2012:

http://mediaswap.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/international-support-for-the-quebec-student-strike-against-tuition-hikes/

[35]            Jill Langlois, “Chile: Students protest for free education, reject President Sebastian Pinera’s $700 million funding offer,” Global Post, 26 April 2012:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/chile/120426/chile-students-protest-free-education-reject-president-offer

[36]            Jennifer Ditchburn, “Harper looks to Chile for help in joining lucrative Pacific trade pact,” The Globe and Mail, 16 April 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/harper-looks-to-chile-for-help-in-joining-lucrative-pacific-trade-pact/article2403953/?utm_medium=Feeds%3A%20RSS%2FAtom&utm_source=Politics&utm_content=2403953

[37]            David Frum, “David Frum on the Quebec student riots: Grandpa’s free ride,” The National Post, 27 April 2012:

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/04/28/david-frum-on-the-quebec-student-riots-grandpas-free-ride/

[38]            Vincent Larouche, “Des étudiants se disent persécutés par la police,” La Presse, 18 July 2011:

http://www.cyberpresse.ca/actualites/quebec-canada/education/201107/18/01-4418938-des-etudiants-se-disent-persecutes-par-la-police.php

[39]            Jacob Serebrin, “Student union’s human rights complaint against Montreal police,” Maclean’s On Campus, 20 July 2011:

http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2011/07/20/student-unions-human-rights-complaint-against-montreal-police/

[40]            Max Harrold, “Montreal police unit to monitor anarchists,” The Gazette, 14 July 2011:

http://www.globalmontreal.com/Montreal+police+unit+monitor+anarchists/5109988/story.html

[41]            Christian Macdonald, “Political policing in Montreal,” The Dominion, 9 November 2011:

http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4236

[42]            CBC, “RCMP challenges Quebec request for Mafia evidence,” CBC News, 18 April 2012:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/04/18/rcmp-challenges-quebec-inquiry-request-for-mafia-evidence-cp.html

[43]            CTV, “Mafia ties run deep at city hall: Labonte,” CTV Montreal, 22 October 2009:

http://montreal.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20091022/mtl_poll_091022?hub=MontrealHome

[44]            Linda Gyulai, “Quebec collusion squad casts a very wide net,” Postmedia News, 18 April 2012:

http://www.canada.com/Quebec+collusion+squad+casts+very+wide/6479620/story.html

[45]            Brian Daly, “Two Que. Liberal organizers among corruption suspects,” The Toronto Sun, 19 April 2012:

http://www.torontosun.com/2012/04/19/two-que-liberal-organizers-among-corruption-suspects

[46]            Martin Patriquin, “Quebec: The most corrupt province,” Maclean’s, 24 September 2010:

http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/09/24/the-most-corrupt-province/

[47]            Konrad Yakabuski, Like Father, like sons?, The Globe and Mail, 26 March 2006:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/like-father-like-sons/article170466/singlepage/#articlecontent

[48]            Marianne White, “Author delivers high-voltage critique of Paul Desmarais Sr. — the man behind Power Corp,” Ottawa Citizen, 21 October 2008:

http://www2.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=2e3cff7f-05a2-44fc-afc1-616c5c40f64f

[49]            Christopher Curtis, Roberto Rocha and Max Harrold, “Jean Charest’s new education offer results in huge night of protests,” The National Post, 28 April 2012:

http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/04/28/jean-charests-new-education-offer-results-in-huge-night-of-protests/

[50]            Christopher Curtis, “Quebec student strike makes international news, but “Charest just isn’t listening”,” The Montreal Gazette, 28 April 2012:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Student+strike+makes+international+news/6536473/story.html

[51]            Graeme Hamilton, “Quebec student protests not just about tuition but battle against ‘greedy elites’,” National Post, 28 April 2012:

http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/04/27/quebec-student-protests-not-just-about-tuition-but-battle-against-greedy-elites/

Canada’s Economic Collapse and Social Crisis: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 5

Canada’s Economic Collapse and Social Crisis: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 5

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Hundreds of thousands of students take to the streets in Québec to protest tuition increases

Part 1: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

Part 2: The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals

Part 4: Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada

What are the Spending Priorities of the Government?

In the debate raging over increased costs of tuition in Quebec, increased debt loads of the federal and provincial governments, the need to reduce costs – impose “fiscal austerity” – and find “solutions” to these problems, very little context is given. As students fight back against increased fees, the counter argument simply states that people must pay for their education, that governments must reduce their deficits, and therefore, cuts in spending and increases in tuition are necessary, though undesirable. But how necessary are they? Where is the government putting its money?

The question really comes down to one of priorities and approach. What are the spending priorities of the government, for people in need or for the benefit of the rich? What is the government’s approach to spending in terms of addressing a major social and economic crisis, to treat symptoms or address the cause? A great deal is revealed about the moral, ethical and humanitarian considerations of a state in terms of how and where it spends its money. Canada is no exception.

First, let’s start with Canada’s debt. In October of 2011, it was reported that Canada’s combined federal and provincial debt equaled roughly $1.1 trillion. This raised calls from the business community in Canada stating that, “It’s time for governments across Canada to get more serious about controlling and reducing debt.” In other words: time for fiscal austerity! (i.e., cutting social spending and increasing costs and taxes) This debt load amounts to roughly 58% of government GDP (that is, 58% of yearly tax revenues), as opposed to Greece, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 160%.[1]

An interesting issue to note is that the Bank of Canada (Canada’s central bank) was created in 1934 as a private bank, and it was transformed into a government-owned bank in 1938, and was then able to lend to the government without interest, and thus, “the Bank is ultimately owned by the people of Canada.” The job of the Bank is to manage monetary policy, by issuing the currency and setting interest rates. Canada had a unique central bank, as most other central banks were founded and maintained as private banks (responsible to private shareholders), such as the Bank of England (1694), the Bank of France (1801), and the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States (1913). It was responsible for financing Canada’s war machine during World War II, railways, the St. Lawrence seaway, the TransCanada Highway, schools, hospitals, healthcare, pensions, and social security, all with no interest attached. Between 1940 and 1974, Canada had a national debt below $18 billion. In 1974, all of this changed as Canada sunk into its neoliberal abyss, when private banks (the “big five” in Canada) essentially took over the function of lending to the government, and at high interest rates, with Canada paying over $61 billion per year on interest to private banks alone. Between 1981 and 1995, the Canadian government collected $619 billion in income tax, but because the debt was owed to private banks, instead of being interest-free with the Bank of Canada, during that same period of time, the Canadian government paid the private banks $428 billion in interest payments.[2]

Interest payments on Canada’s debt account for roughly 15% of Canada’s revenues. Statistics Canada provides information up until 2009 on the Canadian government’s expenditures and revenues. In 2009, the federal government’s expenditures amounted to $243 billion, with $26 billion spent on health care, $88 billion on social services, $5.8 billion on education, and $18.6 billion on debt charges.[3]

So, while cuts are being made to social programs and education (fiscal austerity), they are increasing dramatically to the military, defense, and police. In 2000, Canada spent $10 billion on defense, and that rose to $21.8 billion in 2011. In 2008, Canada’s Conservative government set out a plan to increase defense spending over the following 20 years, setting the goal at $490 billion in total defense spending over that period. Included in the plans are the purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, the American war profiteering corporation, to a possible dollar amount of $30 billion or more.[4] So there is money for the war machine, to support an increasingly imperialistic foreign policy, and as the ever-present appendage lap-dog to the American Empire to the south.

And since Canada has its lowest crime rate since the 1970s, naturally the ever-pragmatic Conservative government is seeking to rapidly accelerate the construction of prisons and expansion of police forces. The government’s proposed changes to the criminal system seek to “create a flood of Canadians into the prison system.”[5] The government identified prisons, police, and the purposely-Orwellian classification of “public safety” as the biggest winners in increased budget allocations for 2011, seeking to build more prisons and hire hundreds more police officers.[6] At the same time, the government is slashing benefits to seniors and old-age pensioners. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, prison costs are expected to rise from $4.4 billion in 2011 to $9.5 billion in 2015-16. When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, prison costs amounted to $1.6 billion per year.[7] So while the government spends billions on corporate tax cuts, fighter jets, police and prisons, it is simultaneously planning on cutting spending for old age pensioners and social security programs.[8]

As the government cuts between 11-22,000 federal public sector jobs, the Canadian Forces (military), RCMP (police), and the overall ‘national security’ establishment will not suffer such cuts, and in fact, will gain employees. Ultimately, under the plans of the Conservative government, between 60,000 and 70,000 jobs could vanish across the country to implement $8 billion in spending cuts.[9]

While spending on health care exceeded $200 billion in 2011, it amounted to $5,800 per person in Canada. While this system – of what is often called ‘socialized healthcare’ – is portrayed by Americans as costly and wasteful, it is far cheaper than the American corporatized – or privatized – health “care” system. The average spending on health care for OECD countries – as a percentage of GDP – is 9.5%: Canada spent 11.4% of its GDP on healthcare in 2009, compared to the United States, which spent 17.4% of its GDP on healthcare; with the Netherlands spending at 12% of GDP, France at 11.8% and Germany at 11.6%. In terms of spending per capita (that is, the cost of healthcare spread out evenly to each individual within the country), Canada spends $4,363 (U.S. dollars) per person on healthcare, with the OECD average at $3,223, and compared to the United States at $7,960 per capita. The irony here, of course, is that a for-profit health system is far more costly than a ‘socialized’ healthcare system, despite the common claims to the contrary.[10]

So naturally, the Federal Government, in the midst of – and on the precipice of a far greater – economic crisis, decides that the best courses of action are to increase unemployment by firing tens of thousands of people, reduce social spending so that they are left with less support in their newfound poverty, and continue to privatize everything. Of course, this inevitably leads to social unrest, protests, even rebellion. Quebec is a great example, as it seems that the anti-tuition strikes and protests are getting more dramatic with each passing week. As the reality of our situation settles in over the course of the next year and years, the protests and resistance will exacerbate and grow nation-wide (along with the development of similar movements around the world). Thus, we may properly understand the impetus of the government to increase spending on police, the military, “public safety” (national security/police state) and prisons: as typical state responses to social crises, throw money at the systems, structures and institutions of oppression so that when the people begin to rise up, the state may have the force available to push them down, oppress them, and imprison them.

The Government of Quebec, which is doubling tuition costs over the next five years, has a current debt of $184 billion or 55.5% of GDP.  Quebec’s current budget, released in March of 2012, projects spending of $70.9 billion, with 42.5% of the budget allocated to healthcare and social services, 22.5% on education and culture, 11.6% on debt servicing, 3.5% on families and seniors, and 19.9% on “other.” Total expenditures on education, leisure, and sports amount to less than $16 billion, with $1.3 billion being allocated to Quebec’s corporations, $5 billion going to manufacturing, while $8.2 billion of the budget is going to pay the interest on the debt. Meanwhile, the government was announcing major investments in mining, aiming to produce a surplus, with $1 billion in investments in mining and hydrocarbon industries, as part of Quebec’s ‘Plan Nord,’ The Plan includes the creation of Resources Québec, a new Crown corporation that will oversee a $1.2-billion equity portfolio, designed to “help develop the north and exploit the province’s abundant mineral resources.” The government, in turn, is expecting $4 billion in mining royalties over the next decade. The forestry, tourism, and agribusiness industries are also getting support from the government, creating partnerships between big business, government, and unions. Quebec provides a great deal of corporate welfare. In 2007, Quebec ranked first among Canadian provinces in how much corporate welfare was doled out, at $6 billion, followed by Ontario at $2.1 billion, Alberta at $1.2 billion, and British Columbia at over $1 billion.[11] So, there’s no more money for education, but there’s plenty of money to throw at multi-billion dollar corporations.

For all the screaming and wailing governments engage in over the costs of social programs and benefits for the public, there’s very little discussion over the expenditures of governments which go to corporations, not to mention, tax cuts. Beginning in 2000, under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the Canadian federal government began implementing massive corporate tax cuts, which “allowed Canadian companies to amass some $477 billion in cash reserves,” with corporate taxes going from 28% in 2000, to 21% when the Conservatives came to power in 2006, to 15% at the beginning of 2012. While the tax cuts were supposedly to encourage job creation, in reality, the cuts “allowed companies to hoard cash, pay out larger dividends to shareholders and beef up executive salaries.” For each percentage point in a decrease of corporate taxes, the federal government loses $2 billion in potential revenue. Thus, the total loss from the new tax cuts amounts to $26 billion. A report from the Canadian Labour Congress explained, “The government has been borrowing money to pay for its corporate tax giveaways. Now, to pay for tax breaks, the government is planning to make massive cuts to public services, such as meat inspection, that are essential to Canadians.”[12]

So while students, seniors, and the poor suffer, Canadian corporations are doing marvelously well. Reports from Statistics Canada show that Canadian corporations are “sitting on more than $583 billion in Canadian currency and deposits, and more than $276 billion in foreign currency.” The cash reserves of these companies have climbed 27.3% since 2007, back when Canada’s economy was “booming,” and 9% of the increase in reserves was since last year. Not including financial corporations and banks, Canadian companies saw their cash reserves increase by $33 billion in the last quarter of 2011. While Canadian household debt has doubled since 1990, corporate taxes have been cut almost in half in the same amount of time. Canadian provinces have been lowering corporate taxes as well. Back in 2000, Canada’s combined federal and provincial corporate tax rate was the highest of the OECD countries, at 43%. Today, it’s around the world average of 26%. So while Canadian corporations sit on hundreds of billions of unused dollars, the Canadian government is continuing to give them more money to put in their bank accounts, which then reduces the government budget by billions each year, and the Canadian people are then expected to pay for this corporate welfare through reduced social services, loss of public sector jobs, increased tuition costs and increased debt.[13]

Corporate welfare is dolled out by provincial governments as well. In 2011, the Province of Quebec and Quebec City each provided $200 million to build a new hockey arena for a for-profit hockey team. Ontario is also a corporate welfare haven, as between 2003 and 2005, the province gave $422 million to GM, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler, and in 2009, the province participated in a Canada-Ontario $15.3 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler. The last year that government statistics are available, in 2008, Ontario spent $2.7 billion on corporate welfare, while Quebec spent $6 billion.[14] Between 1991 and 2009, the government of Ontario gave $27.7 billion in tax dollars to corporations.[15] Meanwhile, the Government of Quebec increased taxes in 2010, and the provincial sales tax increased by 2% since then, along with an increased gas tax, and of course, tuition increases.[16]

This system is, by definition, corporatist. A corporatist system (alternatively referred to as “corporate socialism” or “economic fascism”) is one in which profit is privatized and risk is socialized. In other words, the state ensures that corporations profit and become more powerful and dominant, while the people have to foot the bill and suffer for it. As Benito Mussolini reportedly stated, “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism, for it is the merger of state and corporate power.” It is no surprise then, that as the state becomes more supportive to the suckling-pig-like-corporate cancers of our society, they also become more oppressive and totalitarian. The very circumstances demand it.

The Big Five Banks Declare War on the People

In early March of 2012, it was reported that Canada’s big five banks (Royal Bank, CIBC, TD, Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal) have recorded “sky-high profits” of $7 billion in the first quarter alone (from November 2011 to January 2012), an average increase of 5.8% since last year. Much of the profits, especially for CIBC, “were mostly due to higher volumes of personal and commercial loans,” or, in other words: debt for people and corporations.[17] Canadian banks are, on the whole, doing better than ever. They are consistently rated as the “world’s soundest” banks by the World Economic Forum, and are even adding some jobs, while U.S. banks cut theirs.[18]

A recent report released by CIBC stated that corporate Canada is as “fit as a fiddle,” as “a health check on Canada’s corporate sector shows businesses across the country passing with flying colours.” In fact, according to economists from CIBC, Canada’s corporate sector has never been better. The major indices of corporate ‘health’ are: “debt-to-equity ratios, cash to credit ratios, profit margins, returns on equity, returns on capital.” The economists concluded that, “even with public sector retrenchment under way, and indications that consumers may not have the same appetite to spend as earlier in the recovery, corporate Canada could be positioned to pick up the mantle and drive economic growth in the years ahead.”[19] So naturally while Canada’s corporations are as “fit as a fiddle” and the public at large is dominated by debt, the government – both federal and provincial – seek to extend more benefits to corporations (tax cuts and state subsidies), while extending hardships to the majority of Canadians (increased taxes, reduced social spending, increased costs). Again, it’s about priorities.

The banking sector in Canada itself is becoming two-tiered, where the big five banks are vacating the inner cities, and so-called “fringe banks” are becoming the choice banks for poor and low-income Canadians. Professor Jerry Buckland wrote that, “There is something ethically troublesome about a situation where low-income people are paying high fees for low-quality services and middle-income people are paying low fees for high-quality services.” Unexpected fees, bad banking hours, lack of ID, and other constraints have pushed lower income groups away from the big five and toward the ‘fringe banks’ which also charge big fees but are more accessible. However, the combination of the big five leaving the inner cities and the fringe banks charging high fees and interest rates, “exacerbate poverty and create a two-tiered banking system.”[20]

Canada’s big five banks are rolling in money. CIBC reported $835 million in profits for the first quarter, up 9.4% from last year; Royal Bank reported first quarter profits of $1.86 billion; TD Bank had profits of $1.48 billion; Scotiabank had first quarter profits of $1.44 billion, a 15.2% increase from last year; and the Bank of Montreal recorded profits of $1.11 billion, up 34.5% from last year.[21]

So why are Canada’s banks doing so well? It’s simple: because people are in debt, and getting deeper into debt. As the Globe and Mail reported, “Mortgages and credit card spending have fuelled bank profits for years.”[22] So now what? Well, Royal Bank of Canada and TD both announced in March of 2012 that they will begin to increase their interest rates on mortgages, which means that they are seeking to further sap the wealth and deflate the future potential of the average Canadian household. But the increase in interest rates will increase bank profits, so it’s a good thing for Royal Bank and TD, never mind that it’s bad for everyone else. The other major Canadian banks will likely follow suit in raising their interest rates. The chief economist at TD Bank estimated that, “more than one million Canadian households, or about 10 per cent of those that currently have debt, will have to devote 40 per cent or more of their income to making their monthly debt payments if rates rise by two-to-three points to more normal levels.”[23]

A Bubble Waiting to Burst?

So what is the Canadian mortgage and housing market doing? Well, it’s replicating the disaster seen in the United States just prior to the 2008 crash. Canada’s banking regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions warned that Canadian banks were offering mortgages very similar to the U.S. subprime loans and that these pose an “emerging risk” to Canadian banks. Now the regulator didn’t just come out and say this, because that might be helpful. Instead, this information was released to Bloomberg news via a Freedom of Information law request, which revealed that Canadian mortgages “have some similarities to non-prime loans in the U.S. retail lending market.” In 2009, Canada’s housing market began to soar with record-low interest rates on mortgages. This is one of the primary reasons why Bank of Canada governor (and former Goldman Sachs executive) Mark Carney warned that household debt is the greatest threat to Canada’s economic stability.[24]

The state of the Canadian population is abysmal. The average debt for a Canadian household is over $100,000, and the average Canadian household spends 150% of their income. This means that for every $1,000 earned, $1,500 is owed. These debt figures are primarily made up of mortgages, but also student debt, credit card debt, and other lines of credit. A 2011 report indicated that, “17,400 households were behind in their mortgage payments by three or more months in 2010, up by 50 per cent since the recession began. Credit card delinquencies and bankruptcy rates also remain higher than before the recession.”[25]

In March of 2012, the Bank of Canada warned that household debt “remains the biggest domestic risk” to Canada’s economy. While part of the Bank’s role is to set interest rates, it has kept interest rates very low (at 1%) in order to encourage lending (and indeed, families have become more indebted as a result). Yet, the Bank says, interest rates will have to rise eventually. Economists at Canada’s major banks (CIBC, RBC, BMO, TD, and ScotiaBank) naturally support such an inevitability, as one BMO economist stated, “while rates are unlikely to increase in the near term, the next move is more likely to be up rather than down, and could well emerge sooner than we currently anticipate.” The chief economist at CIBC stated that, “markets will pick up on the slightly improved change in tone on the economy, and might move forward the implied date for the first rate hike.” This translates into: the economy is doing well for the big banks, therefore they will demand higher interest rates on debts, and plunge the Canadian population into poverty; the “invisible hand of the free market” in action.[26]

The Canadian housing market is in a major bubble, “with a run-up in prices, high ownership rates and overbuilding.” A majority of Canadian mortgages are financed through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the equivalent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the United States (which both went bust in the 2008 crash). The CMHC has an outstanding balance of $132 billion in mortgage-backed securities, $202 billion in Canada Mortgage Bonds, and last year issued a debt of $41.3 billion (compared to $6.5 billion in 2001). The big five banks generally provide the remaining mortgages (again, just like in the U.S.). A spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association, however, reassured those who somehow still trust bankers that Canadian banks “carefully manage risk in their mortgage portfolios.” Home sales are increasing – another indication of the growing bubble – by 9.5% last year alone, while home prices increased by 7.2%. CIBC reported that Canadian homes are overvalued (that is, their prices are artificially inflated) by 10%, and the heads of the Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank both warned in late 2011 that, “condominium markets in Toronto and Vancouver are at risk of correction,” which is to say, a crash.[27]

The problem is especially large in Vancouver, which was recently rated as the most expensive city to live in across North America, followed Los Angeles and New York. Vancouver is now the 37th most expensive city in the world, whereas just last year it was ranked as 72nd. The average price for a detached bungalow in Vancouver increased by 17% from the previous year to $1.02 million. The average cost of a condominium in Vancouver rose 5.1% to $513,500 and the “average priced home in Vancouver is now 11.2 times the average family income, a figure many economists call unsustainable.”[28] In certain areas of Vancouver, such as Richmond, West Vancouver and the West End, housing prices have soared nearly 80% in the past five years, and 27% just in the past year alone. This has been raising fears of a housing bubble in Vancouver, and indeed it should be.[29]

In January of 2012, Bank of Canada governor warned – in very subtle and vague terms – that Canada’s property market is “probably overvalued,” meaning that it is heavily overvalued. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty also hinted that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, stating, “We watch the housing market carefully and we are prepared to intervene if necessary.” So is it a bubble? Yes! In fact, the Bank of Nova Scotia recently reported that, “At 13 years and counting, Canada’s current housing boom is one of the longest-lasting in the world.” The price of Canadian homes has increased by over 85% since 1998, with a slight stagnant period in 2008, and then continued to rise in 2009, growing by a further 20%. It is no coincidence that household debt has increased as well, with the debt burden of Canadian families at 153% of their income, which is “almost as much debt as American households had at the peak of their bubble.” In fact, the Economist magazine estimated that the Canadian housing market is overvalued by more than 70% (which is to say, it’s probably much higher than that). One of the major American banks, Merrill Lynch, issued a report indicating that the Canadian housing market is rife with “overvaluation, speculation and over supply.” According to an international survey of housing affordability, Vancouver is the second-least affordable city in the world.[30]

It seems that 2012 will be the year the housing market bubble begins to pop, with the economy slowing down, unemployment rising, and job creation has virtually stalled, according to CIBC, which explained that, “the job market is currently weaker than any non- recessionary period.” Canada is not alone, of course, as the United States and Ireland were just the beginning. It is expected that the U.K., Australia, Belgium, France, New Zealand, Spain, and Sweden are all set to follow suit. Within Canada, however, British Columbia and Ontario will be the most affected. But don’t worry, the Canadian banking sector will survive the pop, because it is actually the Canadian government which owns 75% of the mortgages, meaning that this will then pass to Canadian taxpayers, not the poor disadvantaged millionaire and billionaire bankers.[31] Besides, the risk they have will probably be bailed out by our government. As our Finance Minister stated, “we are prepared to intervene if necessary,” which means that they will take all the bad debts of the banks, and then hand them to YOU.

An economist at the Bank of Montreal said not to worry, however, because Canada’s housing market isn’t a bubble, “it’s a balloon,” and therefore, she predicted, “Canada’s housing market is expected to deflate slowly rather than pop.”[32] The argument, however, is one based upon faith: faith that the banks won’t increase interest rates by too much, faith that Canadian household debt won’t inflict as much harm as American household debt, and faith that one can compete in verbal and mental gymnastics in such a way as to convincingly refer to a bubble as a “balloon.” It should be noted that up until the burst of the American housing bubble, all the major players were denying that a bubble even existed.

Patti Croft, a recently retired chief economist from the Royal Bank of Canada warned the Canadian Parliament in January of 2012 that, “the risk of a housing bubble was among Canada’s biggest issues.” The Bank of Canada’s extremely low interest rate (of 1%) has stimulated this growth, just as the Federal Reserve in the United States helped stimulate the housing bubble there through historically low interest rates. The result of such low rates is an excess of speculative actions in the housing market, driving prices up. Croft warned that, “the greater concern is the looming housing bubble that we see, particularly in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, because I think that is where the speculative excesses lie.”[33]

In March, TD Bank warned that Canada’s housing bubble posed a “clear and present danger” to Canada’s economy, and singled out Vancouver as “the market with the greatest risk of a housing price correction.”[34] The effects of the bubble are already evident, as British Columbia is increasingly losing people who are moving to other provinces due to the high cost of living.[35]

It should be noted that, even though this housing bubble in Canada has been inflated since the late 1990s, it is only being talked about, admitted as even existing (though some make absurd claims about magical “balloons”), and acknowledged NOW. This is dangerous. The fact that it is now being acknowledged by top banks, the finance minister, the Bank of Canada and other major international organizations and banks, implies that they are now preparing for it to burst, and are thus positioning themselves to profit from the coming collapse. Remember, this is not a strange idea: during the housing bubble collapse in the United States, all the big banks which helped create it then bet against the market and profited off of its collapse, not to mention, they were then rewarded by the federal government with trillions of dollars in bailouts for their outstanding accomplishments in causing the crisis in the first place. Criminals are rewarded, and victims are punished. That is for a simple reason: government is organized crime.

Canada’s youth are in a major crisis. The youth unemployment rate in Canada is at 14.7%, compared to an overall unemployment rate of 7.4%, with 27,000 less jobs for young Canadians than last year. As one economist explained, “In addition to the fact that youths are facing competition from their own age cohorts, they are now facing competition from people who just lost their jobs during the recession and have 20 years of experience in the workforce.” Further, the economist added, “the whole process of trying to get to where you wanted to be when you got out of university takes years longer than it used to. Taking a lower wage than you were initially expecting has significant repercussions for your long-term career.” A one percent increase in unemployment rates leads to a six-to-seven percent decrease in salary, and thus, “It can take anywhere from 10 upwards to 15 years to close that gap of reduced wages. So your lifetime earnings are substantially lower, for the simple fact that you graduated at the wrong time.” The real rates of unemployed are actually much higher than the stated 14% “because a lot of young people aren’t collecting Unemployment Insurance or welfare.” Thus, it is 14% of Canadian youths who are on Unemployment Insurance or welfare, and the statistics don’t include the rest of the unemployed youth population of Canada.[36]

As for the net unemployment rate of Canadians at 7.4%, this too is misleading, because the statistics don’t include the number of Canadians who have simply given up on the job search, amounting to 38,000 Canadians in the past year. The province of Manitoba created 600 new jobs in 2011, while cutting 10,000 jobs in the same amount of time. The Canadian economy has cut 37,000 jobs just since October of 2011, and it’s only going to get worse. While there are 27,000 less jobs for Canadian youth than there were last year, this number grows to 300,000 less jobs for youth than there were in 2008.[37]

The Canadian federal budget, released in late March, set out the government’s priorities for the coming year. Students and youth, who are among the most in need of help, were basically left out of the budget, naturally, since they are not multinational corporations, bankers, or billionaires. What money is going to schools is marked for industry-related research (i.e., a corporate subsidy), and as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty explained, “The plan’s measures focus on the drivers of growth: innovation, business investment, people’s education and skills that will fuel the new wave of job creation.” Again, it’s important to note that when politicians use the terms “jobs” or “job creation,” what they actually mean is “profit” and “profit creation,” invariably for corporations and banks. In regards to education:

The Conservatives placed a clear emphasis on partnerships between businesses and universities when it came to research funding: among their plans, they intend to dedicate $14 million over two years to double the Industrial Research and Development Internship Program, which currently supports 1,000 graduate students in conducting research at private-sector firms.[38]

While the Canadian government announced funding of “$500 million over five years to support modernization of research infrastructure on campuses through the Canada Foundation for Innovation,” as well as through other research granting councils, the funding will actually be reallocated from other areas of education financing, what are deemed “lower-priority programs,” which means that they do not directly support corporate or industrial profit-making potential. The government will also cut 19,200 jobs from the public sector.[39]

The federal government’s budget estimates a $5.2 billion cut in spending, as well as increasing the limit on Old Age Security from 65 to 67, meaning that older people will have to work longer before getting any benefits.[40] That will give the government just enough time to steal everyone’s pension and hand them to corporations before the people actually need them. So while the government cuts social spending, ignores the needs of Canada’s youth, and fires tens of thousands of workers – this is what economists call “fiscal austerity” – it simultaneously is increasing its spending and support to Canada’s corporations (who are already as “fit as a fiddle”), with “direct spending and incentives to help firms expand, invest and export, as well as measures designed to shed some of the shackles on their growth.” The chief economist at TD Bank stated, “They are trying to create a favourable environment in which businesses can grow.” So while the government provides a meager $50 million to help students find jobs, it hands out billions to corporations. The increased funding for research at universities is also specifically designed to produce products to go onto the market; so again, education funding is being further railroaded into merging business and higher education.[41]

These moves are obviously not taken on the initiative of government alone, but are lobbied for by the corporate and financial elite, whether directly through interest groups, or indirectly through think tanks. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) – formerly the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI) – is an interest group made up of the top 150 CEOs in Canada, and which directly lobbies the government to serve their interests. They played a major role in the efforts to create NAFTA and to pursue the agenda of North American integration, as well as a plethora of other free trade deals. However, their “interests” extend beyond trade, and they seek to lobby the government to serve their interests across the whole society.

The current President and CEO of the CCCE is John P. Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, former Minister of Finance, Industry, and Foreign Affairs. He was the co-chair of a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on the Future of North America (which set the agenda for the Security and Prosperity Partnership and North American integration). He is also on the board of directors of CIBC and a number of other corporations and non-profits. The Vice Chairman of the board of directors of the CCCE is of course, Paul Desmarais Jr. (of the powerful Desmarais family, who essentially OWN Canada’s politicians and Prime Ministers), and other board members include: William A. Downe, CEO of BMO Financial Group; Gordon Nixon, CEO of Royal Bank of Canada; and a number of other leading corporate executives.

The CEOs of the following companies and business organizations are all represented in the CCCE: Air Canada, Astral Media, Barrick Gold Corporation, BCE Inc and Bell Canada, BMO Financial group, BNP Paribas (Canada), Bombardier, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Canadian Oil Sands Limited, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canfor Corporation, Cargill Limited, Chevron Canada, CIBC, CN, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Desjardins Group, Dow Chemical Canada, E.I. du Pont Canada Company, Encana Corporation, Ford Motor Company of Canada, GE Canada, GlaxoSmithKline, the Great-West Life Assurance Company, HSBC Bank Canada, Hudson’s Bay Company, IBM Canada, Imperial Oil Limited, Manulife Financial Corporation, McCain Foods Limited, Microsoft Canada, National Bank of Canada, Pfizer Canada, Power Corporation of Canada, Power Financial Corporation, Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank, SNC-Lavalin Group, Standard Life Assurance Company, Sun Life Financial, Suncor Energy, TD Bank Group, TELUS, TransCanada Corporation, The Woodbridge Company Limited, among many others.

Back in October of 2010, John Manley spoke to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on the issue of making Canada “a leader in the knowledge economy.” Manley stated that Canada needed to ensure that “more of our academic discoveries successfully ‘cross the chasm’ to commercial success,” referring to the need to market what is done in university laboratories. Manley stated that, “there is a need for closer collaboration between post-secondary education institutions and the business community,” as, he explained: “Business-university collaboration is key to Canada’s ability to compete more effectively, to enhance our quality of life and to provide better opportunities for tomorrow’s graduates.” Manley elaborated:

All of us have an interest in achieving stronger partnerships between post-secondary institutions and the private sector, and in overcoming the barriers to commercialization of university research – barriers ranging from “hard” issues of funding and intellectual property ownership, to less tangible considerations such as differences in expectations, culture and behaviour between academia and the private sector.[42]

With the release of the Canadian federal budget for 2012, the CCCE of course praised the budget as “taking steps to promote job creation and business investment.” John Manley stated, “By restraining the growth in public spending, reducing regulatory overlap, improving Canada’s immigration system and enhancing support for business-driven research, the government is helping to build a stronger and more competitive Canadian economy.”[43]

Economists from Canada’s major banks had a good deal to say about the budget. Economists from TD Bank explained that, “When combined, the various measures included in today’s budget are aimed at improving productivity and boosting private sector growth, at a time when public spending is being constrained,” and that, of course, this is a good thing. An economist at CIBC praised “the path towards fiscal balance,” as “the 2012 budget was as much about Canada’s longer term prospects as it was about squeezing spending.” Economists at the National Bank of Canada praised the budget’s decision to raise the old age security pension eligibility from 65 to 67 years, “While it is a step in the right direction, it could have been implemented earlier.” Economists at Royal Bank of Canada stated that the Canadian government “has delivered on its promise of guiding the Canadian economy towards improved fiscal performance in what are generally difficult economic times globally.” Meanwhile, the National Pensioner and Senior Citizens Federation declared that, “Today’s budget tabled by Finance Minister Flaherty confirmed the worst for our children and grandchildren… This government has attacked the retirement security of future generations as it looks years ahead for dollars to finance other priorities… There was nothing for seniors, not even a discarded penny for the poorest living in poverty.”[44]

But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? Why would you seek to help the elderly and the poor and needy when you can help the multinational corporations and global banks, and thus, when you leave government, get a secure position on their boards (as John Manley did), and live the rest of your days as a jet-setting, globe-trotting, high-rolling elite? As a politician, you get no personal benefit or profit from supporting or serving the poor or the majority, you must only serve a tiny elite, and then your place is ensured among them.

Make no mistake: Canada’s Big Five Banks, the corporations they control, and the federal and provincial governments, which they collectively OWN, have declared class war on the people of Canada. The agenda is simple: get the population of Canada indebted, which is to say, enslaved; then, increase interest rates, cut social spending, increase unemployment, increase tuition, increase consumer costs, increase taxes, and at the same time, give more support and money to corporations and banks, and decrease their taxes. Then, build prisons, fund the military and the police and the police state apparatus of surveillance and control, so that when the people wake up to the fact that their future is being stolen from them, you can put them in their place: under the boot.

So the question for Canadian is this: will you acknowledge the class war taking place against you, your friends, and your families and fellow brothers and sisters, and then seek to fight back; or, will you continue to go into credit card debt, further into student debt, get mortgages and passively accept subservience to a system which treats you like a slave, sub-human degenerates, and superfluous, that is, useless and expendable. It is a question of passive acceptance of an evil system, or active resistance to forge ahead and creatively construct a humane society. The question is for all; the answer is yours alone.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            Rachel Mendleson, “Canada’s Public Debt Hits $1.1 Trillion, But That May Not Be As Bad As It Sounds,” The Huffington Post, 3 October 2011:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/10/03/canada-debt-cfib-road-to-greece_n_992480.html

[2]            Bill Woollam And Will Abram, Bank of Canada the answer to tax, debt issue, The Citizen, 23 March 2012:

http://www.canada.com/Bank+Canada+answer+debt+issue/6347095/story.html

[3]            StatsCan, Federal government revenue and expenditures, Statistics Canada:

http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/govt49b-eng.htm

[4]            Brian Stewart, “$30B fighter jets just the start of defence-spending boom,” CBC News, 6 April 2011:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/04/06/f-vp-brian-stewart-navy.html

[5]            Editors, “A tough-on-crime bill that goes too far,” Maclean’s, 25 August 2011:

http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/08/25/a-tough-on-crime-bill-that-goes-too-far/

[6]            David Akin, Prisons, police top feds’ spending priorities, Toronto Sun, 1 March 2011:

http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2011/03/01/17455551.html

[7]            Barbara Yaffe, Prison spending trumps seniors for Harper government, The Vancouver Sun, 29 February 2012:

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Prison+spending+trumps+seniors+Harper+government/6227615/story.html

[8]            Les Whittington, “Federal Budget 2012: Government not backing down on plan for cuts to Old Age Security,” The Star, 2 February 2012:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1125296–federal-budget-2012-government-not-backing-down-on-future-old-age-security-changes-jim-flaherty-says

[9]            Kathryn May, At least 11,000 local PS jobs on line, study argues, Ottawa Citizen, 23 January 2012:

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/least+local+jobs+line+study+argues/6035339/story.html#ixzz1kKdIfxO4

[10]            OECD, OECD Health Data 2011: How Does Canada Compare? Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

[11]            Rhéal Séguin, “Hobbled by debt, Quebec to table budget amid rising public anger,” The Globe and Mail, 19 March 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/hobbled-by-debt-quebec-to-table-budget-amid-rising-public-anger/article2374622/?utm_medium=Feeds%3A%20RSS%2FAtom&utm_source=Politics&utm_content=2374622

Canadian Press, “Quebec 2012-2013 Budget: Read the full document here,” Global Montreal, 20 March 2012:

http://www.globalmontreal.com/Pages/Story.aspx?id=6442604662

Corinne Smith, “Quebec budget curbs spending, explores mining,” CBC News, 20 March 2012:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2012/03/19/quebec-budget-2012-2013.html

Quebec budget analysis, CBC News, 20 March 2012:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/03/19/quebec-2012-budget-analysis.html

Roberto Rocha, “Quebec budget highlights,” Montreal Gazette, 22 March 2012:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/travel/Highlights+2012+Quebec+budget/6331845/story.html

Tasha Kheiriddin, “The new ‘Quebec model,’ same as the old,” The National Post, 22 March 2012:

http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/Quebec+model+same/6340173/story.html

[12]            Daniel Tencer, “Canada’s Corporate Tax Cuts Prompt Companies To Hoard Cash, Not Hire, CLC Says,” The Huffington Post, 25 January 2012:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/25/canada-corporate-tax-rate-canadian-labour-congress_n_1231089.html#s638444&title=1_George_Weston

[13]            Canadian Press, “Businesses Getting Billions In Tax Cuts Despite Rising Corporate Cash Reserves,” The Huffington Post, 4 January 2012:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/01/tax-cuts-corporations-canada_n_1178382.html

[14]            Mark Milke, “How corporate welfare undermines core services,” Troy Media, 25 February 2011:

http://www.troymedia.com/blog/2011/02/25/how-corporate-welfare-undermines-core-services/

[15]            Mark Milke, “Corporate welfare is a costly shell game,” Financial Post, 28 December 2011:

http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/12/28/corporate-welfare-is-a-costly-shell-game/

[16]            Rhéal Séguin, “Hobbled by debt, Quebec to table budget amid rising public anger,” The Globe and Mail, 19 March 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/hobbled-by-debt-quebec-to-table-budget-amid-rising-public-anger/article2374622/?utm_medium=Feeds%3A%20RSS%2FAtom&utm_source=Politics&utm_content=2374622

[17]            Grant Robertson, “CIBC joins big banks’ profit parade,” The Globe and Mail, 8 March 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/cibc-joins-big-banks-profit-parade/article2362579/

[18]            Sean B. Pasternak and Ilan Kolet, “Canadian Banks Gain Jobs, Profit as U.S. Lenders Cut Back,” Bloomberg, 20 March 2012:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-20/canadian-banks-gain-jobs-profit-as-u-s-lenders-cut-back.html

[19]            Tim Kiladze, “Corporate Canada’s finances ‘fit as a fiddle’,” The Globe and Mail, 27 March 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/investment-ideas/streetwise/corporate-canadas-finances-fit-as-a-fiddle/article2382736/

[20]            Mary Agnes Welch, “’Unbanked’ residents of inner-cities paying price, author finds,” The Montreal Gazette, 19 March 2012:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/canada/Unbanked+residents+inner+cities+paying+price+author+finds/6326315/story.html

[21]            “How Canada’s Big Five banks stack up,” The Globe and Mail, 8 March 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/how-canadas-big-five-banks-stack-up/article2363455/

[22]            Grant Robertson, “Lending is a bright spot for Canadian banks,” The Globe and Mail, 4 March 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/lending-is-a-bright-spot-for-canadian-banks/article2358252/?utm_medium=Feeds%3A%20RSS%2FAtom&utm_source=Home&utm_content=2358252

[23]            CBC, “RBC, TD hike 5-year mortgage rates,” CBC News, 26 March 2012:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2012/03/26/rbc-mortgage-rate.html

[24]            Andrew Mayeda, “Canada’s Subprime Crisis Seen With U.S.-Styled Loans: Mortgages,” Bloomberg, 30 January 2012:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-30/canada-s-subprime-crisis-seen-with-u-s-styled-loans-mortgages.html

[25]            CTV News Staff, “Average Canadian family debt hits $100,000,” CTV News, 17 February 2011:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20110217/family-debt-110217/

[26]            Gordon Isfeld, “Bank of Canada says household debt ‘biggest risk’ to economy,” The Leader Post, 9 March 2012:

http://www.leaderpost.com/business/Bank+Canada+says+household+debt+biggest+risk+economy/6274564/story.html

[27]            Andrew Mayeda, “Canada’s Subprime Crisis Seen With U.S.-Styled Loans: Mortgages,” Bloomberg, 30 January 2012:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-30/canada-s-subprime-crisis-seen-with-u-s-styled-loans-mortgages.html

[28]            Peter Meiszner, “Vancouver now the most expensive city in North America,” Global News, 14 February 2012:

http://www.globaltvbc.com/vancouver+now+the+most+expensive+city+in+north+america/6442580994/story.html

[29]            CTV, “Is Vancouver’s housing bubble about to burst?,” CTV BC, 26 September 2011:

http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110926/bc_story_housing_bubble_110926?hub=BritishColumbiaHome

[30]            Erica Alini, “What happens when Canada’s housing bubble pops?” Maclean’s, 26 January 2012:

http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/01/26/what-happens-when-canadas-housing-bubble-pops/

[31]            Ibid.

[32]            Robert Hiltz, “Housing bubble is really a balloon: BMO’s Sherry Cooper,” The Vancouver Sun, 30 January 2012:

http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Housing+bubble+really+balloon+Sherry+Cooper/6073335/story.html

[33]            Derek Abma, “Under-used labour, pending housing bubble, problems for Canada: panel,” Vancouver Sun, 26 January 2012:

http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Under+used+labour+pending+housing+bubble+problems+Canada+panel/6056952/story.html

[34]            CBC, “Housing bubble a danger to economy, TD says,” CBC News, 16 March 2012:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2012/03/16/td-overvaluation-debt.html

[35]            Wendy Stueck, “Storm clouds forming over Vancouver’s real-estate market,” The Globe and Mail, 16 March 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/storm-clouds-forming-over-vancouvers-real-estate-market/article2372362/

[36]            Claire Penhorwood, “Canada’s youth face job crunch,” CBC News, 26 March 2012:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/03/19/f-canada-youth-unemployment.html

[37]            Julian Beltrame, “Jobless picture in Canada grim,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 March 2012:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/jobless-picture-in-canada-grim-142188733.html

[38]            Emma Godmere, “Students largely left out of federal budget,” Canadian University Press, 29 March 2012:

http://cupwire.ca/articles/52529

[39]            Ibid.

[40]            Tamsin McMahon, “Top five things you need to know about the budget,” Maclean’s, 29 March 2012:

http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/29/top-five-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-budget/

[41]            Julian Beltrame, “Federal budget passes the stimulus baton from government to business,” Winnipeg Free Press, 29 March 2012:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/federal-budget-passes-the-stimulus-baton-from-government-to-business-144958375.html

[42]            John Manley, “Notes for an Address by the Honourable John Manley,” The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 27 October 2010.

[43]            CCCE, “Fiscally responsible 2012 budget includes targeted measures to improve Canadian competitiveness, CEOs say,” Canadian Council of Chief Executives, 29 March 2012:

http://www.ceocouncil.ca/news-item/fiscally-responsible-2012-budget-includes-targeted-measures-to-improve-canadian-competitiveness-ceos-say

[44]            Michael Babad, “Jim Flaherty’s budget: Pennywise or attack on our kids’ pensions?,” The Globe and Mail, 30 March 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/top-business-stories/jim-flahertys-budget-pennywise-or-attack-on-our-kids-pensions/article2386823/?from=sec434

Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 4

Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 4

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Part 1: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

Part 2: The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals

There is a process under way in Canada, led by the corporate and financial elite, and directed against the general population, the poor, and the young, intending to provide for the rich and powerful, to punish the poor and steal from the rest, to plunge into poverty, to repress, control, and dominate: this process is called ‘Class War’ and it’s waged by the super-rich against the supposedly superfluous rest. It’s objective is simple: to preserve, protect, and expand the control and domination of the wealthy over the majority.

In Quebec, where the class warfare has taken on a specific assault on the students and youth, there are finally growing signs and actions that the youth are starting to fight back. The provincial government of Quebec – the French-speaking province of Canada – has decided to double the costs of tuition over the next few years. These moves have prompted hundreds of thousands of students across Quebec to go on strike in protest of the increased fees. Since Quebec currently has the lowest tuition costs in Canada for residents, a great deal of the media and commentary on the issue is related to lambasting Quebecers for their concept of “entitlements” and for “complaining” that they have to pay what others pay. The debate is focused around the ‘need’ for the government of Quebec to reduce its debt – balance its budget – framing increased tuition costs as a necessity to be accepted, and when resisted, to dismiss the protesters as unrealistic and petty.

So is it true that Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in Canada? Yes. However, Quebec residents also pay the highest income taxes in all of Canada.[1] One of the major claims by the Quebec government as to why tuition must be increased is the claim that Quebec’s universities are among the most “under-funded” in Canada, and therefore they need to increase their funding so as to increase their “competitiveness.” However, according to the Quebec government itself, total government spending on education (in 2008-2009) amounted to 1.94% of GDP, compared to 1.76% for Ontario, and 1.65% for Canada as a whole. At the same time, total university spending per student in Quebec was at $29,242, compared to $26,383 in Ontario, and $28,846 for Canada as a whole.[2] Thus, Québec’s universities are funded to a greater degree than the rest of Canada, so that argument does not hold weight.

Quebec’s universities are funded more than other Canadian universities, while Quebec residents pay more in taxes than the rest of Canada, so why the increase in tuition? As tuition fees for universities increase, government spending on education decreases. As the Canadian Federation of Students notes:

In the past fifteen years, tuition fees in Canada have grown to become the single largest expense for most university and college students. The dramatic tuition fee increases during this period were the direct result of cuts to public funding for post-secondary education by the federal government and, to a somewhat lesser extent, provincial governments. Public funding currently accounts for an average of approximately 57% of university and college operating funding, down from 84% just two decades ago. During the same period tuition fees have grown from 14% of operating funding to over 34%.[3]

This marks a move “away from a publicly funded model and towards a privatised user fee system,” which has caused “post-secondary education to become unaffordable for many low- and middle-income Canadians.” In the mid-1960s, nearly all of Canada’s university funding was provided by the federal and provincial governments, and tuition fees were either incredibly minimal or non-existent. This process began to change in the early 1980s, with the rise of neoliberalism in the global political economy, which saw moves toward cutting social spending by governments. As government funding decreased, tuition costs rose, and as a result, between the early 1980s and the early 1990s, tuition fees in Canada nearly doubled. In 1995, the Liberal federal government of Canada cut $7 billion in spending for the provinces, leading to “the largest tuition fee increases in Canadian history.” Quebec had, however, resisted the push toward making students pay more, which was taking place in all the other Canadian provinces. In the early 1990s, average undergraduate tuition fees in Canada were $1,464; today the average has more than tripled to $5,138.[4]

So why is this process taking place? Why must government spending on education (and other social programs) be reduced, while personal costs for all of these services be increased? The answer is not in “efficiency” or “balancing budgets,” but rather, in class warfare.

In April of 2007, TD Bank (one of Canada’s ‘big five’ banks which dominate the economy) released a “plan for prosperity” for the province of Quebec, which recommended, among other things, raising the cost of tuition: “by raising tuition fees but focusing on increased financial assistance for those in need, post secondary education (PSE) institutions will be better-positioned to prosper and provide world-class education and research.”[5] In one Canadian province, Nova Scotia, the government hired a former chief economist from the Bank of Montreal, Tim O’Neill, to assess higher education finances, and unsurprisingly, advocated higher tuition fees.[6] Banks, of course, have a major interest in promoting increased tuition costs, because they provide student loans and profit off of the interest on student debt, like some malevolent ever-growing succubus draining the life force and potential of future generations which are doomed to debt slavery. So naturally, our governments take the advice of the banks, because they know whom their real masters are.

It should be noted, as well, that this is not merely a problem in Quebec or Canada. Tens of thousands of students in the United Kingdom are planning a walk out in protest of increasing tuition fees, which “are pricing students out of education.”[7] The Occupy Movement in the United States is moving into universities, as campuses in California experienced demonstrations and protests against “state budget cuts to education and the resulting hikes in tuition.”[8] In Spain, more than 30,000 students took to the streets of Barcelona protesting the ‘austerity cuts’ to education, and were then of course met with state repression.[9] Perhaps most impressive is a mass student movement that has developed in Chile over the past year.

The College Crisis

What is the ‘college crisis’? It’s quite simple: our society is producing more educated, professionalized youths than ever before, who are then graduating into a jobless market, and what’s more, they are graduating with extensive debt. The professional education students receive, in combination with the heavy overbearing debt load and the immense dissatisfaction with the lack of opportunities for them, creates a large, mobile, educated, activated, and very pissed off group of people. This is what is referred to as a ‘poverty of expectations,’ whereby the inculcated expectations of a group or sector of society cannot be met by the society in which they live. In any society, in any period of history, this is a recipe for social unrest, resistance, rebellion, and, potentially, Revolution.

Naturally, the elites of any society fear such a scenario, so they always come up with various methods of managing these increasingly problematic conditions. The solutions, invariably, are always aimed at finding methods and means for undermining the ability and effectiveness of the target group to mobilize and organize for their cause; in this case, students. Cutting education budgets and increasing tuition fees is a very effective means to create more ‘desirable’ conditions for elites. How so? Any form of ‘austerity’ is essentially an act of class war, waged by the upper class against the rest. Austerity means that budgets will be cut and costs will be increased, whether through taxation, direct prices for services and necessities, or more often, both. The stated purpose of ‘austerity measures’ is to reduce debt (spending) and increase profitability (or revenue), with the purported aim of eliminating the debt over time. This is, however, not the true purpose of austerity, and appropriately so, it is never the result. The result is actually to increase debt, and impose a regimen of what amounts to ‘social genocide’: increasing the burden, costs, taxes, and hardships upon the wider population. For the poor, it means despair; for the middle class, it means poverty; and for the rich, it means prosperity and power.

The current crisis stems from developments that took place in the 1960s which saw an increase in activism and engagement among the general population, and especially the youth. Universities were breeding grounds for activism and movements which sought to create social uplift. The elite response to this scenario, in the United States specifically but also across the Western world as a whole, was to declare a “Crisis of Democracy” in which too many people were making too many demands upon the system, in which all forms of authority were under attack, and the legitimacy of those authorities were called into question. Elites of both the left and right saw this acceleration of democratic participation and activism as an assault upon their conception of what “democracy” should be – namely, a state that serves their interests alone. From the right, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – and from the liberal internationalists, the Trilateral Commission – launched a major national and global attack upon the surge of democratic activism in what the Trilateral Commission referred to as an “excess of democracy.” The result of this attack: neoliberalism and debt. The two documents that were most influential in this attack on democracy were the “Powell Memo” of 1971 sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which outlined a detailed program for how big business could reorganize society for its own interests, and the Trilateral Commission’s 1975 report, “The Crisis of Democracy,” which outlined an elite ideology which saw the problem of society being in an “excess of democracy” and that what is required is to correct the balance in favour of elites and increase apathy and passivity among the population. The Chamber of Commerce represents all the major business interests in the United States, while the Trilateral Commission (founded in 1973 by banker David Rockefeller), represents roughly 350 elites in the areas of academia, finance, business, government, foreign policy, media and foundations from North America, Western Europe, and Japan.

The result of this was to decrease government funding for education, increase tuition and other costs, increase debt for students and the general population as a whole (through credit cards, mortgages, loans, etc.), and to merge higher education and big business: the corporatization and privatization of universities.

As part of this process, knowledge was transformed into ‘capital’ – into ‘knowledge capitalism’ or a ‘knowledge economy.’ Reports from the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the 1990s transformed these ideas into a “policy template.” This was to establish “a new coalition between education and industry,” in which “education if reconfigured as a massively undervalued form of knowledge capital that will determine the future of work, the organization of knowledge institutions and the shape of society in the years to come.”[10]

Knowledge was thus defined as an “economic resource” which would give growth to the economy. As such, in the neoliberal era, where all aspects of economic productivity and growth are privatized (purportedly to increase their efficiency and productive capacity as only the “free market” can do), education – or the “knowledge economy” – itself, was destined to be privatized.[11]

Solving the ‘College Crisis’

In February of 2011, it was reported that the average debt for a Canadian family had reached over $100,000, spending 150% of their earnings. Thus, for every $1,000 in after-tax income, the average Canadian family then owes $1,500. The debt figures include mortgages, student loans, credit card debts, and lines of credit. In 1990, the average Canadian family was able to put roughly $8,000 into savings, in 2012, that number was at $2,500. So while the public is constantly told that the ‘recession’ is over, this is simply not true for the general population, though it may appear to be true in the quarterly reports of Canada’s multinational corporations and banks. A 2011 report indicated that, “17,400 households were behind in their mortgage payments by three or more months in 2010, up by 50 per cent since the recession began. Credit card delinquencies and bankruptcy rates also remain higher than before the recession.”[12]

By February of 2012, this rate of income-to-debt had not only failed to improve, but even got slightly worse, hitting a new record.[13] The state for Canadian families is indeed getting worse. More than half of the jobs created since the “end” of the “recession” went to those aged 55 and older, leaving the youth struggling to find jobs, while older workers have to either stay working longer, return from retirement because they can’t survive off of their pensions, and thus, young people are living at home longer and staying in school longer. The slight increases in hourly earnings has not kept up with inflation, and thus amounts to a loss of earnings, and income inequality continues to grow between the super-rich and everyone else.[14]

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada (Canada’s central bank), is also Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, run out of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland – the central bank to the world’s central banks – and which operates under the auspices of the G20. Carney had previously served as Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Department of Finance, and spent thirteen years with Goldman Sachs prior to that.

The Bank of Canada, like all central banks, serves the dominant elite interests of the nation, but also of the international financial elite more broadly. The board of directors of the Bank of Canada includes William Black, former CEO of Maritime Life, who sits on the boards of Dalhousie University, the Shaw Group, Standard Life of Canada, and Nova Scotia Business, Inc.; Philip Deck, CEO of Extuple, Inc. (a technology finance corporation), former managing partner with merchant banking company HSD Partners, and is on the board of a major Canadian think tank, the C.D. Howe Institute; Bonnie DuPont, former Vice President at Enbridge Inc., former director of the Canadian Wheat Board, a current director of agribusiness firm Viterra Inc, UTS, on the board of governors of the University of Calgary, member of the Institute of Corporate Directors, and is past president of the Calgary Petroleum Club; Jock Finlayson, Vice President of the Business Council of British Columbia, former Vice President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (an interest group made up of Canada’s top 150 CEOs), and a member of the Canada West Foundation; Daniel Johnson, a director of Bombardier, IGM Financial, Mackenzie Financial Corporation, Investors Group, and former Minister of Industry and Commerce in the Province of Quebec; David Laidley, Chairman Emeritus of Deloitte & Touche LLP, on the boards of Nautilus Indemnity Limited, ProSep Inc., EMCOR Group, Aviva Canada Inc., the Cole Foundation, and on several boards at McGill University. The rest of the directors of the Bank of Canada are almost exclusively businessmen or former government officials (two women in total), and all of them are white; so, naturally, they truly represent the struggling Canadian family.

In March of 2012, the Bank of Canada warned that household debt “remains the biggest domestic risk” to Canada’s economy. While part of the Bank’s role is to set interest rates, it has kept interest rates very low (at 1%) in order to encourage lending (and indeed, families have become more indebted as a result). Yet, the Bank says, interest rates will have to rise eventually. Economists at Canada’s major banks (CIBC, RBC, BMO, TD, and ScotiaBank) naturally support such an inevitability, as one BMO economist stated, “while rates are unlikely to increase in the near term, the next move is more likely to be up rather than down, and could well emerge sooner than we currently anticipate.” The chief economist at CIBC stated that, “markets will pick up on the slightly improved change in tone on the economy, and might move forward the implied date for the first rate hike.” This translates into: the economy is doing well for the big banks, therefore they will demand higher interest rates on debts, and plunge the Canadian population into poverty; the “invisible hand of the free market” in action.[15] Increased interest rates mean increased payments on debts, which means increased suffering for the indebted, who make up the general population.

As the Bank of Canada warns that interest rates will increase, perhaps as soon as this year, the Canadian people – heavily indebted – will suffer immensely and will likely fail to meet their interest payments. Since such a large majority of the debt and interest is in mortgages, this would potentially cause a major housing crisis, which is already at bubble proportions (especially in Vancouver, now the most expensive city to live in within North America), and will drag the middle class and the rest of the Canadian economy down with it. Even TD Bank has said the housing market is over-valued (i.e., artificially inflated), and warned of a coming “correction” (i.e., economic crisis).[16]

As the gap widens between the rich and everyone else in nearly every OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country, Canada is no exception. The top 10% of Canadian earners make ten times as much as the bottom 10%. The top 1% in Canada saw their share of total income increase from 8.1% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2007, while the top 0.1% saw their share increase from 2% to 5.3%. Tax policies in Canada strengthen the wealth gap. In 1981, the tax rate for the top margin of earners was 43%, and in 2010, it was 29%. As the Secretary General of the OECD stated in December of 2011, “The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries… This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that greater inequality fosters greater social mobility.” Thus, “inequality will continue to rise.”[17]

In a 2008 OECD study, Canada was singled out as one of the countries with the worst rates of widening inequality, stating that, “In the last 10 years, the rich have been getting richer, leaving both middle and poorer income classes behind.” The top 3.8% of Canadian households controlled 66.6% of all financial wealth by 2009, with rates set to increase. As the Conservative government in Canada continues to implement corporate tax cuts, this disparity will increase, with the Harper government providing $60 billion in corporate tax breaks, while maintaining a $30 billion budget deficit (public debt). Despite all the tax cuts for corporations, the money that is not spent on taxes tends to go to shareholders and very little goes toward investments or job creation, meaning that the benefits do not “trickle down,” but rather, as to be expected, trickle up. For Prime Minister Harper’s tax policies and programs, “The higher the income, the bigger the tax break.” The senior economist at the International Trade Union Confederation stated that, “The growing gap between the rich and the rest of us has many causes, including higher remuneration for top earners, much higher profits as a share of the economy, less bargaining power for workers, and less progressive taxes… Conservative tax policies will clearly aggravate the problem.”[18]

The Conference Board of Canada released a study in the fall of 2011 which stated that, “income inequality has been rising more rapidly in Canada than in the U.S. since the mid-1990s,” and on a global scale, “Canada has had the fourth-largest increase in income inequality among its peers.” The President of the Conference Board explained, “Even though the U.S. currently has the largest rich-poor income gap among these countries, the gap in Canada has been rising at a faster rate.”[19]

Among the OECD countries, the one with the highest rates of inequality was none other than the Petri-dish experiment of neoliberalism, Chile, followed by Israel, Italy, Portugal, the U.K., and the United States. While the top 10% of Canadian earners had an average income of $103,500, the bottom 10% had an average annual income of $10,260.[20]

While Canada is often hailed as the most promising nation to come out of the economic-financial crisis of 2008, since its banks were largely left out of the housing derivative market (and thus, were protected), the facts on the ground represent a different reality. As the Economist reported in 2010, of the 31 OECD nations, Canada ranked as the 22nd worst country in terms of child poverty, with one in ten Canadians (roughly 3 million) being poor, 610,000 of them being children. In November of 2010, it was reported that roughly 900,000 Canadians were dependent upon food handouts, a 9% increase from the previous year, with roughly 300,000 homeless people. The majority of the poor are single mothers, immigrants, aboriginal and disabled Canadians. Through the 1980s and 1990s (with the implementation of neolibral policies), welfare payments to these groups were slashed, with British Columbia as the most enthusiastic supporter of exacerbating child poverty, which stood at 10.4% by 2010.[21]

The cost of poverty is quite extensive:

* By 2011, poverty was said to cost the government between $72-86 billion per year;

* In the city of Hamilton, Ontario, there is a 21 year-difference in life expectancy between those who live in high and low-income neighborhoods;

* In March of 2010, nearly 900,000 Canadians had to go to food banks for food, 38% of them being children, an increase of 28% since March of 2008, the “highest level of food bank use ever”;

* In 2010, there were between 150-300,000 “visible” homeless in Canada, with another 900,000 “hidden” homeless, and 1.5 million families in “core housing need” and 3.1 million families in unaffordable housing;

* In 2010, 59% of Canadians (over 20 million Canadians) lived from paycheck to paycheck, “saying they would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque was delayed by a week”;

* In 2009, the average annual income of Canada’s best paid CEOs was $6.6 million, “155 times higher than the average worker’s income ($42,988);

* A third of all income growth in Canada over the past two decades has gone to the richest one percent of Canadians.”[22]

Canada’s Youth: A “Bankrupted Generation”

By January of 2009, Canadian students had a debt to the federal government of over $13 billion, with student loan debt increasing by $1.2 million every day. The Canadian Federation of Students said the obvious answer to this growing crisis was to make education “affordable.” Studies show the effects of student debt, reducing “the ability of new graduates to start families, work in public service careers, invest in other assets, volunteer, or even just take a lower paying job in their own field to get a foot in the door.” On top of the $13 billion owed to the Federal Government, Canadian students owed an additional $5 billion to provincial governments, and the figures do not include debt owed to banks, credit card companies or parents.[23] In short, Canada’s student youth are a “lost generation.”

In September of 2010, the Canadian Council on Learning published a report which indicated that, “students who graduate from college and university with high debt loads are putting off buying a house, having children or investing for the future.” The average debt load of a Canadian university graduate in 2009 was $26,680, and the average debt for college graduates was $13,600. These figures, it should be noted, do not take into account mortgages, credit card debt, lines of credit, or car loans.[24] This represented a doubling in the amount of student debt from 1990, and in 2005, the number of Canadian students needing loans to pay for their education had increased to 57%.[25]

In October of 2011, it was reported that Canadian student debt (to the Federal Government) will surpass $15 billion by 2013, which is the current ceiling set by the government in student loans. Thus, if it reaches the ceiling, the government will no longer (in theory) be able to provide student loans. The solution, according to the Canadian Federation of Students, does not mean eliminating the debt ceiling, which will only make the problem worse, but rather, in reducing the costs of education itself. As the national chairperson of the CFS stated, “The reality is that the job market is grim and students are facing their first interviews with a mortgage-sized debt.” Thus, once they begin work, they do not contribute to the economic growth of the country, but rather merely have to focus on paying interest and repaying debts. The cost of university education in Canada is estimated to be at $60,000, and some studies suggest that this will rise to $140,000 for those born in 2011. The average yearly undergraduate tuition fees were a 4.3% increase from the previous year, reaching $5,366.[26]

In 2011, almost two million Canadians had a student debt totaling $20 billion, and as the chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students stated, “We have an entire generation of people who now more than ever have to complete some form of post-secondary education just to get a job interview, with more than 70% of all new jobs requiring some degree or diploma. We are on the verge of bankrupting a generation before they even enter the workplace.” As job losses continue, and especially as the youth job market continues to decline, the number of full-time students tends to increase, and the availability of part-time work for students continues to decline. A post-secondary education no longer increases a “return on investment” through a lifetime, as it was once assumed. The overall student debt is not the most pressing immediate problem, but rather the “crippling interest rate attached to these government loans” which plunge youth into a deep crisis. So while interest rates are very low (in other lending, as set by the Bank of Canada at 1%), the government is charging 8% interest on student loans. Margaret Johnson, president of Solutions Credit Counselling Service Inc. in Vancouver stated that, “When the loan goes into default, the interest starts to compound. And then you have an absolute nightmare. The average debt I’m seeing is anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000. The payments are so high on some of these loans that the young person cannot live and make a payment. Instead of lowering the interest rate — or eliminating it, which I think is the best solution — the government extended the repayment term to 14 years. The fact that so many loans are in arrears proves this isn’t the answer.”[27]

Some things are worth repeating: the average debt for every Canadian household is over $100,000 and the average debt for a university graduate in Canada is over $26,000; nearly one million Canadians depend upon food banks for their food, poverty and inequality are increasing, homelessness is increasing; the rich are getting richer and everyone else is getting poor or poorer, and there is a horrible job market with few jobs available, let alone available to youth. So the “solution” – we are told – to the supposed “problem” of “competitiveness” in our universities… is to increase the burden, the cost, and the debt of students, families, and the general population; to increase tuition and student debt, to increase interest rates on all debts, and to plunge the population into abject poverty. It seems then, that Canadians, and the Western world in general (as these policies are being pushed throughout the G8 nations on the whole) are about to get a hard lesson in what our countries of the industrialized and supposedly “democratic” north have been doing to the rest of the world (Africa, Asia, Latin America) for decades and, indeed, centuries. What has been done abroad is now coming home to roost.

The conditions, restrictions, programs and policies that our nations have imposed upon Africa, Asia, and Latin America for the past four decades have plunged those countries into poverty, allowed for the unhindered control and extraction of their resources for our corporations, put their nations into the debt of our banks, exploited their populations for cheap labour, and propped up ruthless dictators to repress the people if they ever get wise and want to change their society. While our nations of course continue in their raping and pillaging of the world, now they have also turned their attention – and absolute disregard for humanity – to their domestic populations. The same banks, international institutions, nations, organizations and even individuals who promoted the policies which led to the impoverishment and punishment of much of the world’s population are now telling us that these same policies are the “solutions” to our current crises, just as they told the populations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. If we listen to these same people, submit to the same policies, and accept the same ideologies which have caused so much destruction and devastation around the world, and expect different results at home, we deserve what we get. Naturally, then, we must stop accepting and consenting to the hegemony and power of our elites and their institutions and ideologies. This means that we have to actively create alternatives, not simply protest against their programs, or demand reforms, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The boat is sinking, it doesn’t matter how it looks on the way down. It’s time for a new system altogether. One cannot demand from others to create a new system, but must actively create it themselves.

In the next part of this series, “Class War and the College Crisis,” I will be discussing the coming economic crisis for Canada, which has thus far been hailed as the “safest” nation emerging from the 2008 “recession,” a myth that will soon be broken. As Canada, and much of the rest of the world, begin their rapid descent into an economic depression, the above-mentioned statistics regarding debt, poverty, and inequality will get worse. As the social and economic crisis deepens, our governments will continue to show in whose interests they truly rule: with batons, tear gas, beatings, mass arrests, detention camps, and the growth and development of a police state surveillance society, our governments will reveal that they rule for bankers, corporations, and oligarchs. The democratic façade will wash away. It is within these circumstances that Canadians, and the wider world in general, must seek to create a true democratic system. First, however, we must recognize and understand the system in which we live for what it is: a State-Capitalist society ruled by a power-mad oligarchy. The next part of this series will be taking a look at what this power-mad oligarchy is doing and will be doing to Canada’s economy and society in the coming years. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t benefit YOU!

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            CRA, What are the income tax rates in Canada for 2012? Canada Revenue Agency:

http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/fq/txrts-eng.html

[2]            Finances Québec, “A Fair and Balanced University Funding Plan: To Give Québec the Means to Fulfill its Ambitions,” The Government of Québec, 2011-2012 Budget, page 7.

[3]            CFS, Tuition Fees, The Canadian Federation of Students:

http://cfs.bc.ca/index.php/section/49

[4]            Ibid.

[5]            Press Release, “TD Economics outlines plan for prosperity in Quebec report,” Newswire, 10 April 2007:

http://www.newswire.ca/fr/story/178423/td-economics-outlines-plan-for-prosperity-in-quebec-report

[6]            CNW, “Déjà Vu: O’Neill Report Recycles Dated, Discredited Tuition Fee Myths,” Newswire, 17 September 2010:

http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/673917/deja-vu-o-neill-report-recycles-dated-discredited-tuition-fee-myths

[7]            Alison Kershaw, “Thousands of students to stage walkout protest,” The Independent, 12 March 2012:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/thousands-of-students-to-stage-walkout-protest-7562129.html

[8]            Carla Rivera and Larry Gordon, “Occupy protests bring small yet intense crowds to state campuses,” Los Angeles Times, 1 March 2012:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/01/local/la-me-student-protests-20120302

[9]            Giles Tremlett, “Fighting breaks out in Barcelona as students protest over education cuts,” The Guardian, 29 February 2012:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/29/fighting-barcelona-students-protest-education-cuts?newsfeed=true

[10]            Mark Olssen and Michael A. Peters, “Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Knowledge Economy: From the Free Market to Knowledge Capitalism,” Journal of Education Policy (Vol. 20, No. 3, May 2005), page 331.

[11]            Ibid, pages 338-339.

[12]            CTV News Staff, “Average Canadian family debt hits $100,000,” CTV News, 17 February 2011:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20110217/family-debt-110217/

[13]            Why are Canadian families falling further into debt?, The Globe and Mail, 14 February 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/why-are-canadian-families-falling-further-into-debt/article2337540/

[14]            Tavia Grant, “Financial security ‘elusive’ for many Canadian families,” The Globe and Mail, 22 March 2012: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/daily-mix/financial-security-elusive-for-many-canadian-families/article2377592/

[15]            Gordon Isfeld, “Bank of Canada says household debt ‘biggest risk’ to economy,” The Leader Post, 9 March 2012:

http://www.leaderpost.com/business/Bank+Canada+says+household+debt+biggest+risk+economy/6274564/story.html

[16]            John Morrissy, “Household debt a mounting concern as rates appear set to rise,” The Montreal Gazette, 23 March 2012:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Household+debt+mounting+concern+rates+appear+rise/6347875/story.html

[17]            CBC, Wealth gap widens to 30-year high, CBC News, 5 December 2011:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/12/05/oecd-rich-poor-gap.html

[18]            Les Whittington, “Tax policies may aggravate gap between rich and poor,” Toronto Star, 27 May 2011:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/998648–tax-policies-may-aggravate-gap-between-rich-and-poor

[19]            Tavia Grant, “Income inequality rising quickly in Canada,” The Globe and Mail, 13 September 2011:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/daily-mix/income-inequality-rising-quickly-in-canada/article2163938/

[20]            CTV News Staff, “OECD report finds income inequality rising in Canada,” CTV News:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20111205/organization-economic-cooperation-development-oecd-inequality-report-canada-111205/#ixzz1pycGLl6e

[21]            Poverty in Canada: Mean Streets, The Economist, 25 November 2010:

http://www.economist.com/node/17581844

[22]            CTV News Staff, “Canada Student Loan debt tops $13B, figures show,” CTV News, 21 January 2009:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20090121/student_loans_090121/

[23]            CTV News Staff, “Canada Student Loan debt tops $13B, figures show,” CTV News, 21 January 2009:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20090121/student_loans_090121/

[24]            CBC, “Student debt limits post-grad options,” CBC News, 22 September 2010:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2010/09/22/con-student-debt.html

[25]            QMI Agency, “Student debt doubled over 20 years: Study,” Toronto Sun, 22 September 2010:

http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/09/22/15435176.html

[26]            Sharon Singleton, “Action needed on student debt: CFS,” Toronto Sun, 17 October 2011:

http://www.torontosun.com/2011/10/17/action-needed-on-student-debt-cfs

[27]            Mary Teresa Bitti, Student debt bankrupting a generation, The Financial Post, 4 June 2011:

http://www.financialpost.com/news/Student+debt+bankrupting+generation/4874861/story.html