Two Quebec activists see few lasting gains from the 2012 “Maple Spring” social upsurge

“We have gone from retreat to retreat. In terms of public policies, there is no change.”

No 669 Posted by fw, January 31, 2013

“The Parti québécois [which won with a weak plurality] had promised some progressive but timid reforms. The increase in tuition fees has been cancelled (for the moment), the closing of a nuclear power plant has been announced, some nice measures in the first weeks. And since then we have gone from retreat to retreat. In terms of public policies, there is no change, and the PQ is again demonstrating its inability to be a real political alternative to neoliberalism. It’s sort of a return, not back to square one but not far from that. There is some disillusionment due to the fact that this movement was not immediately able to correct the direction in which Quebec was going.” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois

This post features opening passages from a very long interview with two Québécois — Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of last year’s strike, and Eric Martin, a leader of the 2005 student strike — about the lessons they draw from their experiences.  The interview first appeared in French, in the January 18, 2013 Quebec journal, Contretemps. A translated English account has just appeared, and it is from this version that the opening passages have been selected simply to give a flavour for the tone of the piece and to tempt readers to turn to the complete French and/or English articles. To read the entire English version, click on the linked title below.

The Contretemps interview was conducted by Hugo Harari-Kermadec on December 15, 2012.The English translation is by Richard Fidler.

Interviewees: Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, former co-spokesperson for the CLASSE (the major student organization in the “maple spring”), and Eric Martin, a co-author of Université inc. (Lux Éditeur, 2011), research officer at the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS) and member of the Collectif d’analyse politique (CAP/NCS).

Whither the Quebec left and student movement after the ‘Maple Spring’? translation by Richard Fidler, published by Life on the Left, January 29, 2013

OPENING PASSAGES

Fidler’s endnotes and hyperlinks have been omitted from the following post.

QuestionWhat is the situation in Quebec since the victory of the Parti québécois on September 4, 2012?

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois — Since the election we have been experiencing a certain return to reality, which is difficult for a part of the student movement. There is disappointment, since the mobilization, unprecedented in Quebec history, was not translated in the electoral results which were fairly tepid, with an electorate that was extremely divided by thirds. The Parti québécois [which won with a weak plurality] had promised some progressive but timid reforms. The increase in tuition fees has been cancelled (for the moment), the closing of a nuclear power plant has been announced, some nice measures in the first weeks. And since then we have gone from retreat to retreat. In terms of public policies, there is no change, and the PQ is again demonstrating its inability to be a real political alternative to neoliberalism. It’s sort of a return, not back to square one but not far from that. There is some disillusionment due to the fact that this movement was not immediately able to correct the direction in which Quebec was going.

Eric Martin — From the standpoint of the political consciousness of the youth, the movement launched some seismic waves, the full impact of which is not yet clear; it will be revealed in the long run. But it is the Parti québécois that proved incapable of reaping the harvest that the movement sowed in people’s minds. Thirty years ago, this party purported to carry the historic aspirations of the Quebec people and youth for emancipation, and proclaimed its proximity to the interests of the workers, its “bias in favour of the workers.” But in the end it showed it was incapable of seeing that an historic window had opened with the student movement, that the social crisis is deeper than education and poses the question of the future of Quebec, while the PQ did not even take advantage of what was being delivered to it on a silver plate. On the contrary, they closed the window, made some technocratic reforms, without any debate. And by retreating at the least reaction, because this government is very skittish media-wise. So the government is already discredited, and it will soon fall. What awaits us is the election of a right-wing party, either the return of the Liberals or, worse still, the Coalition Avenir Québec.

Nadeau-Dubois – The big promise of the PQ for education was to stop the fee hike and above all to open a sort of major summit on the future of higher education in Quebec, which would discuss all the options including free education. But what appears is a funnelling to consensus, and we know in advance what will come out: indexation of tuition fees to the cost of living and, worse still, the pursuit of commoditization of the education system with the establishment of quality certification [which guarantees the skills acquired by graduates]. So there will be a deal with the business interests: we don’t increase tuition fees but we will step up the commoditization process. The attack will be directed against costs, but also content.

Martin – The PQ bought into the concept of the knowledge economy in the 1990s, with the performance contracts in the universities. So for this party there is a sort of continuity: “Regardless of what the kids in the street are saying, we take power and we get back to serious business, the paternalist technocrats know what is the right thing.” That’s the fine voice of the OECD. In what way is that party a party of change? No way!

Nadeau-Dubois – Many people were saying there might be some possibility with the conference on education: the last one was in the 1960s, it was time to inquire as to the role of higher education in Quebec. What is even sadder, or frustrating, is that one of the former student spokespersons was co-opted by the Parti québécois and is now telling people that this summit is part of the continuity of the movement. He is selling the movement to the PQ.

Martin — The most frustrating thing is the disconnection between the talk, the discourse, and the functioning of the regime. There may be a major joint effort, with lots of studies on the table to show that it should not be done, but it will proceed anyway. And ultimately, that is what this former spokesman does. In Quebec we cannot express a demand that can be objectified, be translated politically and institutionally. It is blocked by a duopoly, as in the United States.

END OF OPENING PASSAGES

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