Austerity measures in Quebec provoke mass protests

Marches gain momentum in the streets of Montreal

A march against government austerity took place in the streets of Montreal on Friday, Oct. 31. An estimated 82,000 people took part in the march, which was organized by a coalition, composed of more than 70 local unions and multiple community groups, called the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatization des services publics (the coalition against the privatization and the taxation of public services).

University students and students of the publicly funded pre-university institution exclusive to the Quebec education system, Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel (CEGEP), went on strike on Halloween.

Among others in the coalition was a student association called L’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ).

The internal affairs secretary for ASSÉ, Virginie Mikaelian Camille Godbout, told the Manitoban that the recent march was not the first anti-austerity protest the association had taken part in. According to Godbout, ASSÉ had organized another anti-austerity protest last April, which gathered more than 15,000 people in the streets of Montreal.

The recent protest was specifically aimed at the austerity measures taken by Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government.

“Couillard keeps on cutting services without really measuring the negative effects of these measures,” said Godbout. She said that the government is determined to go back to zero deficits without really measuring the consequences on the population.

“The Liberal party [in Quebec (PLQ)], like the previous government, has a tendency to consider our public services—and especially education—as a simple commodity that needs to respond to the needs of our economy, thus reinforcing the dominance of profits over people,” said Godbout.

According to Godbout, ASSÉ is focusing on protecting Quebec’s public services, especially its education systems.

“At ASSÉ we believe in an education system free from private business interests,” Godbout told the Manitoban.

University of Manitoba economics professor Robert Chernomas weighed in on the subject of government austerity. He said that “never in Canadian history has there ever been less of a reason for austerity, if there ever was a reason for austerity.”

Chernomas said that he believes Canada has never been in a better position than it is now to spend on improving infrastructure, lowering or eliminating tuition, and on health and education in general.

According to Chernomas, the issue of austerity is especially relevant in Quebec at the moment, because many still remember the Quiet Revolution and what it entailed.

“During the Quiet Revolution, Quebec was very far behind compared to other provinces and countries, and they began to build their public sector – using those revenues to build the universities and keeping tuition low, which has made Quebec a much more advanced economy than in the past,” Chernomas explained.

“We need to fight to maintain the rights acquired by social and student movements in the past. In the last few months, the government and its regressive measures and policies have managed to set us decades back,” said Godbout.

The fight is far from over, according to Godbout.

“October 31 was only a beginning; the government can expect that we will be in the streets if they continue with its austerity project.”