Quebec’s striking students have recently passed the 100 day mark. You can’t say that the student movement in Quebec is losing any of its steam. Quite the opposite: the controversial special law recently adopted by Jean Charest’s government served only to fan the fires. To boot, even as the conflict is entering a new phase, with the new law looming in the background, a hint of empathy is coming in from British Columbia in the form of a march in Vancouver. This is an example of some stirring out-of-town, but nothing compared to what is happening in Montreal.
Unfortunately, the striking students are shooting themselves in the foot. Their position is so unyielding that it is difficult to see how they will be able to claim victory. There might be nothing surprising in their manners, as they are part of what I consider a generation of little kings and queens who have hardly ever been denied anything.
Clearly, the government won’t budge, although it has shown a certain amount of flexibility and has shown signs of modifying its approach. The whole lot was rejected by the student leaders.
To date, Premier Charest has had the support of the majority of the people of Québec. No big surprise there. If they must choose, the people will reject violence and civic disobedience, which too often have turned sour since the start of the student protests. Unfortunately for the more peaceful students several ne’er-do-wells with disruptive agendas join these legitimate marches with the sole intention to bash things in and harass civic society.
However, the people’s support is based on a fragile pact between them and their government. In order to keep up that support, the people must agree that the government’s approach is a reasonable one, which hasn’t been the case so far. So it is surprising to see that the government has suddenly decided to change the nature of the debate with its recently adopted Bill 78. The Bill changes the government’s stance giving a whole section of society reason to move against it.
It was perfectly understandable for the government to use the law in order to protect the rights of those students who wanted to pursue their studies peacefully. However, its actions sent the debate from the strict frontiers of tuition to one encroaching on the fundamental right to protest and assemble in public.
And it’s on this point that the government made, according to me, a mistake and gave the protest movement the possibility to see others rally to its cause who would have not otherwise taken a position in the original debate.
That said, the real test will be when classes start again at the end of the summer. Until then we can bet that the Charest government will ask the people to settle the matter by the only laudable plebiscite: a general election. The results should be quite interesting.