Public Values

Preemptive protest against Quebec's budget draws 50,000+

Budget tabling likely to provoke more mass protests.

Protesters gather in the streets of Montreal to speak up for public Adrian Kaats

Montreal, QC — Straight Goods News (March 15, 2011): On Saturday March 12th, more than 50,000 Quebeckers from all over the province converged on Montreal to protest the privatization of and implementation of user fees for public services, expected from the Charest government's budget to be tabled this Thursday. This protest will likely become the first of many as the government has indicated that it will not bow to public pressure demanding the government change its course.

Despite the huge numbers, English language media, unlike the French language media, failed to accurately report on the protest. The Montreal Gazette claimed the protest was organized by students protesting tuition hikes, and in its original four-sentence online article, focused entirely on ten largely preemptive arrests at what was a completely peaceful protest.

As explained in Rue Frontenac, the protest was organized by the Alliance sociale (AS) and the Coalition opposée à la tarification et la privatisation des services publics (COTPSP). Combined, these groups bring together 150 union, community, student, feminist, popular, and ecological organizations, including the largest labour and student unions in the province, and represent over 1.25 million people, only 170,000 of whom are post-secondary education students.

  If Quebeckers thought their voices might be heard, Bachand has clearly told them not to hold their breath.

In a joint press release, the AS and COTPSP "denounce the direction being taken by the Liberal government and its Minister of Finance [Raymond Bachand] in the upcoming budget." The groups are opposed to the government's proposed $200 health tax, an expected doubling of the province's university tuition fees, and a number of budget cuts and spending freezes (most notably those on education and health care). As reported by Métro Montreal, the primary complaint of these organizations is the government's obsession with achieving a balanced budget by 2014 at any cost.

Since its inception, the COTPSP has been calling for a grêve sociale, to oppose the privatization and imposition of escalating user fees on what it believes should remain free public services. Although the government is crying poor, citing its $150 billion debt and $4.5 billion deficit, in 2007 it doled out $950 million in income tax breaks. The Minister of Finance then moved to increase the provincial sales tax and plans to do the same again this year.

Quebec benefits from the lowest corporate taxes in North America. The province has also decimated its progressive income taxation system, reducing the number of income tax brackets from over twenty down to three. Combined with the anticipated increases to hydro electricity rates, tuition rates, and user fees for health care, the AS and COTPSP see these moves as an attack on the lower and middle classes who are being made to pay disproportionately more than their wealthy counterparts for public services of decreasing quality and ease of accessibility.

And what was Finance Minister Bachand's response to the province's first mass critique of his plans? The Montreal Gazette quotes him as saying, "I did not expect to see 50,000 people in the street to congratulate me." If Quebeckers thought their voices might be heard, Bachand has clearly told them not to hold their breath. As tensions mount, the release of the budget will likely ignite mass protests.

Adrian Kaats is an Engineering PhD student at Montreal's McGill University, a columnist for the McGill Daily, and a student activist.

Links and sources
  Manifestation nationale du 12 mars de l'Alliance sociale et de la Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics
  Manifestation à Montréal contre la tarification des services publics
  Une manifestation contre le budget Bachand
  10 arrested in Montreal protest against tuition hikes
  Minister promises 'stay the course' budget

Posted: March 18, 2011

  Public services
  Front lines

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