I’ve seen the future, brother…but so has Jean Charest

student protest montreal city hall

You know what’s really scary? I think Jean Charest, Gerald Tremblay and their colleagues actually believe what they’re spinning about the ongoing student strike.

For months I thought that they were merely both cynically toeing party line in hopes of holding out long enough to avoid having to pass the debt they are trying to pin on students onto their rich buddies instead. Charest had his “pay their fair share” angle while Tremblay just kept repeating how we Montrealers need to “take our city back” from the protesters.

But at education minister Line Beauchamp’s resignation on Monday, something looked different about Charest. He looked genuinely upset and determined, like a pissed-off man on a mission.

Could this be true. Did he genuinely feel like he was the victim. Did he think the two offers his government made to the student groups were an actual compromise?

What about the violence? Does he think the police violence in Victoriaville and elsewhere was justified? Is it worth it to let the streets turn into a warzone just to enforce a small tax hike on students when there are clearly other ways to get the needed revenue, namely by listening to proposals like those of the CLASSE that would see a freeze on administrators’ salaries and raised taxes on the banks?

Let’s look at Tremblay. Last Thursday night, he called a press conference to address the coordinated smokebomb attack that prompted a shutdown of Montreal’s metro system earlier that morning. Instead of addressing the specific issue, the mayor spent about fifteen minutes talking about the student protests and the affect they have had on the city.

The problem here, and it’s a big one, is that as the mayor was speaking, there was absolutely no proven link between the incident and the movement. Since, some of the suspects have turned themselves in, but there is still no proof that they were acting on behalf of anyone but themselves and maybe a group that thinks the CLASSE isn’t radical enough.

Even in the unlikely event that a stronger link comes to light, Tremblay’s speech and especially his condescending remark that parents and grandparents should tell their kids to “go back to school” are off-topic at best, uncalled for and offensive. But you could see it in his eyes that he believed what he was saying and felt he was doing the right thing.

For him, there is no validity to this protest, the activists have had their fun and should give up so we can get back to the more serious, grown up matters of commerce, demolishing buildings and banning masks at protests. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one who feels this way.

The usual suspects are all present. Sun News released a “comedy” segment asking if Charest has the balls to stand up to protesters (sidenote: if he had balls, he’d stand up to his corporate and mob buddies and give the students what they want) and only referring to the activists as “student rioters.” CTV Montreal executive producer and guy I’ve agreed with maybe once in five years Barry Wilson went on a diatribe against the students, even blaming them for the police violence in Victoriaville.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Now, following the scare in the metro and constant anti-student talking points in the media, ordinary people, even some whose views I respect on many other issues, are getting on board with Charest and company. I think it has to do with the emotion that those in power are now speaking with.

It is real emotion, too. You see, this is no longer about a few hundred dollars in fee increases. It is an ideological war. On one side you find neoliberal austerity, corporate kickbacks and bureaucratic defense of the status quo. On the other, you find a fairer society, progressive ideas and the voice of the future.

It’s no wonder people like Charest and Tremblay are so passionate about protecting their interests in this matter. Their very authority and way of life are at stake. It’s also no surprise the students are passionate as well. Their future and the global revolution that started with the Arab Spring and spread to North America with the Occupy movement is being challenged here at home. That’s why they won’t cave, no matter how many cops and editorial comments the establishment throws at them.

The time has come for everyone else to take sides. The time has come for everyone else to realize that this isn’t about a few hundred dollars in fee increase. It’s about what kind of future we hope to have.

* photos by Phyllis Papoulias

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