When I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, I was taught that I had to get an education and that it didn’t matter what I studied so long as I got a DEC and a Bachelor’s degree. This seems to be the narrative Gen Xers and Yers were fed, and many of us went into debt trying to get that coveted degree that would allegedly guarantee us a job when we were ready to enter the market.

Sadly, the reality we encountered was very different when we started looking for work in the early 2000s. Employers questioned us on our degrees and why we chose to study a given subject. Unlike previous eras, many were unwilling to give us on-the-job training that would compensate for any specialized education, and many of us went back to school and into more debt hoping get another degree that would get us a job with a modicum of financial stability.

In spite of how highly educated many of us are, Canada, and especially Quebec, is suffering from a massive labour shortage. This article is going to discuss the labour shortage and why it has happened. Next week I will be going over the controversial issue of the recognition of foreign degrees and qualifications in Quebec.

Quebec needs workers.

During the Quebec election, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume called for more immigration to fill the 17 000 jobs on the north and south shores of the city, telling the CBC he didn’t see any other way to find people for them. In October 2018, Montreal Board of Trade President Michel Leblanc expressed concern over the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government’s plan to cut the number of immigrants saying “we need to have more.”

The newly-elected CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by twenty percent – a clear indication that they feel the solution to the labour shortage is not to bring in more people from abroad. Their platform includes encouraging older workers to stay active as long as possible to address the fact that jobs are not being filled at the rate that the baby boomers are retiring. The boomers did not have as many children as their parents did and the result is fewer native-born people in the labour market.

The CAQ also wants to enhance vocational and technical training programs to fill labour market needs and offer more job-study programs. Whether the labour of students in job-study programs would be paid or not remains to be seen, but it must be addressed as people cannot live on “learning experience” and many young people are reluctant to do them because they cannot pay for living expenses at the same time. Another idea the CAQ has put forward is that of encouraging cooperation between businesses and universities to better tailor education programs to business needs.

Part of the labour problem lies in the mismatch between the degrees people in Quebec are getting and the jobs available. One of the clearest indications of this is the employment offered at Montreal’s most recent job fair.

On October 24th and 25th, 2018, JobBoom.com hosted a massive job fair at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal. The employers present were calling for two types of employees. On the one hand you had businesses calling for highly specialized workers like nurses, accident assessment specialists, engineers, chartered appraisers, accountants, industrial security and safety specialists and so on. On the other hand were employers calling for what my generation was taught were “survival jobs” such as retail, security guarding, telemarketing, customer service, and administrative support.

Employers wanting specialized workers are not seeking people with any old Bachelor’s degree or DEC, but rather people with specific degrees, certifications, and even memberships to professional orders. While there is demand for chartered appraisers, for example, in order to become one in Quebec you need a Bachelor of Commerce with a concentration in real estate, followed by a yearlong internship, interview, and entrance exam, all of which come with their own sets of tuition fees, stage fees, and administration and exam costs. This likely means copious amounts of debt given wage stagnation for survival jobs.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define a survival job as a low paying job in which little experience or education is required. Many born in Canada were taught that survival jobs were meant to be temporary – the kinds of jobs you took to get by until you found a job that fit your education and career aspirations given the low pay and the often mindless, unfulfilling nature of the work.

It must be said that there is no shame in working a survival job. Many of us do not have the luxury of being choosy in employment due to our financial situation and anyone who depends on us for the income we earn. The only thing that’s really shameful about a survival job is how impossible it is to actually survive on the wages they pay due to wage stagnation in Canada. They are also generally the kinds of jobs that immigrants are most willing to fill due to the adjustment period following their arrival as well as the difficulties having their education and credentials recognized in Quebec.

In conclusion, there are jobs to be had in Quebec, lots of them. If you want to invest in higher education to get a good job, in today’s market you need to be very specific about what you study and make sure the program you choose fits a job in demand. If you need to work to survive, there are jobs for that too; they probably won’t be very fulfilling but you might scrape by. Go get ’em!

* Featured image by Brenda Gottsabend, Creative Commons

Philippe Tanguy, a top executive from the multinational oil corporation Total, is set to become the new director of Polytechnique, and more than a few people are concerned. The school board has recommended Tanguy for the job despite the growing pushback and it’s now up to Education minister Hélène David to give the final and formal approval. The minister’s office only stated that they took notice of the recommendation and cannot comment further until a decision is rendered.

A group of students and employees called the Regroupement de Poly contre Total Éducation (RPCT or Poly Coalition against Total Education in English) argue that their beloved engineering school should not be so tightly associated with a company like Total – which apart from being the actual definition of the frightfully influential Big Oil, has a spectacular record of human rights abuses, environmental disasters and tax evasion.

“We fear that this nomination will publicly associate Polytechnique with a corporation that media and authors criticize and accuse of heavy environmental and human casualties,” pleaded the RPCT in an open letter cosigned by multiple environmental groups, as well as Québec Solidaire and the federal and provincial Greens.

Total: A history of scandal

Total, as one of the seven biggest oil companies in the world, has an unsurprisingly long list of scandals. Their most notable exploits include spilling roughly 20 000 tons of oil in French waters and paying bribes to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq through the infamous oil-for-food program. They were also sued for literally using slaves to build a pipeline in Myanmar in the 90s*. Quebec author and authority on tax evasion Alain Denault recently eviscerated the company in an essay entitled De quoi Total est-elle la somme? in which he describes fiscal shams and political power worthy of the best conspiracy theories.

Tanguy started working for Total in 2009 and he is now one of its Vice Presidents. He is expected to resign to become Polytechnique’s director, but that is not enough to appease the critics.

“To some extent, working that long for a company and getting to such a high position means endorsing the company’s methods,” thinks RPCT spokesperson Philippe Bouchard-Aucoin. “And with Total being Total, … It’s very worrisome to have someone who can have this sort of mentality heading a university.”

One too many footholds for the private sector at Polytechnique

The RPCT is not too happy with Polytechnique being directed by someone from the private sector and even less with that someone being from the oil industry. They urge their school to follow the lead of other universities who have started to distance themselves from the fossil fuel industry, including Stanford, Oxford and even Québec’s Université Laval.

“In Quebec, in Canada and internationally the private sector has an increasingly strong hold on universities and the industry has an increasingly strong influence on research,” remarked Bouchard-Aucoin.

He is not wrong. According to IRIS, the private sector’s share in Quebec universities’ financing has almost tripled in the last 30 years, going from 7,5% in 1988 to 21,5% in 2015.

Philippe Tanguy has made it very clear that he wants Polytechnique to continue down this path. Like many other directors, he has nothing but good things to say about public-private partnerships in research. In fact, it was a vital part of his job at Total as VP for Research and Development. In 2015, Total had more than 800 such contracts with various universities across the world.

But having a director so keen on mixing corporate interests and university research has its dangers, underlines Philippe Bouchard-Aucoin:

“If studies don’t go in a direction [that helps the industry] , will they be done anyway? Will they have a budget? Will professors be able to publish the results of a research made for an oil company if it demonstrates that it’s bad?” questioned the physics engineering student.

He admits that there is very little chance that the Minister rarely, if ever, rejects the school board’s recommendations in such cases. Philippe Tanguy is 99% sure of becoming the new Polytechnique General Director.

The RPCT vows to ”make sure that Total doesn’t meddle with the school’s decisions, and that the oil industry doesn’t edge in Polytechnique; make sure that investments in the industry don’t take up the majority of the school’s investments and that the professors still have an intellectual liberty.”

“There will be a lot of us watching Mr Tanguy’s actions very closely, to make sure that our fears don’t become reality,” promises Philippe Bouchard-Aucoin.

*A previous version of this article stated that Total had to settle a lawsuit in this case, but the truth is more complex. It’s their american partner in the project, Unocal, who had to settle in american courts. Total, a French company, was brought to justice in France and Belgium, but the suits had to be dropped in both cases.

* *Featured image by Laurent Bélanger under Creative Commons

The Ministry of Education has revised its criteria for what constitutes an underprivileged school and how much food aid they should get. The Ministry’s food aid program aims to help high schools from underprivileged communities provide subsidized meals and snacks. Although the total budget of $7.7 million remains unchanged, many schools, particularly in outer regions, have seen their allowance plummet or disappear.

The Samares School Board in Lanaudière, for example, went from receiving $190 226 to $7081 in two school years. In the Eastern Quebec, the Chic-Chocs School Board went from $33 090 this year to $5 269 for next year. Chic-Chocs representative Marie-Noëlle Dion called the situation deplorable, particularly for three of their schools that will have to do without food aid all together.

The both the entire Outaouais and Laurentides region are now devoid of high schools providing subsidized meals.

The matter was the subject of a heated debate on Wednesday in the National Assembly where Education Minister Sébastien Proulx tried to defend the government’s policies.

“The money for the food aid program was maintained and indexed,” hammered Proulx, “it is meant for our most underprivileged schools, and that has not changed. If the rules have changed in the last few years, it was to correct inequalities in the sense that in some communities there were privileged schools receiving food aid.”

To which the official spokesperson for education of the opposition Alexandre Cloutier replied: “For the entire region of Outaouais, as of next September, there is zero funding! Are you saying there is not one kid who goes to school on an empty stomach in Outaouais?”

André Villeneuve, MNA of Berthier, piled on: “In Lanaudière, it’s four high schools, it’s hundreds of kids who will go to school on en empty stomach!

Where is the money going?

The Ministry determines the amount of food aid it will give to each school depending on where it ranks on the government’s indexes of deprivation. Those indexes reflect the proportion of students from families who are below the low-income threshold as well as their socio-economic background, which takes into account the level of education of the mother and whether or not the parents are employed.

Minister Proulx said that the calculations have been adjusted to focus on the schools that score 9 or 10 out of 10 on these indexes. At the time of publication, FTB is waiting for specifications from the Ministry about the nature of these adjustments and the number of schools that supposedly benefited from them.

Most of the schools scoring 9s and 10s are presumably in Montreal, where child poverty is particularly glaring. A recent study by Tonino Esposito of Université de Montréal and Catherine Roy of McGill found that sixteen of the 30 neighborhoods with the most underprivileged children in the province are in Montreal. Montréal-Nord is at the very top of the chart.

In any case, many children who were only a year ago considered underprivileged enough to get access to food aid are now considered as fortunate enough to do without it. Professionals and politicians are accusing the government of robbing Peter to pay Paul in education, while they break the bank for lobbies and corporations. Or, As Cloutier put it : How can a Minister who is swimming in budgetary surplus justify this sort of measure?”

* Featured image: École secondaire de L’Île, Outaouais. From HockeyAcademy

On March 23, 2017, M- 103 on “Systemic Racism and religious discrimination” passed in the House of Commons. The motion was introduced by Iqra Khalid, a Liberal MP from Mississauga Ontario and is considered to be Canada’s anti Islamophobia motion, though it has little worth beyond its symbolism.

The motion met opposition on both sides.

On the one hand you had white supremacists using the good-old “slippery slope” argument in which they claimed that passing the motion was one more step towards forcing Canada under Sharia Law. On the other side you had liberal Canadians – secular and religious, white and people of colour – decrying the gesture as being frivolous.

The motion is not a law.

The motion uses convoluted wording demanding that the government “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism, and religious discrimination” when the motion has no power to do so. Believed to be a politically motivated act to get some pats on the back in wake the Quebec City Mosque massacre, the motion is also completely redundant.

Canada has a lot of protections against discrimination, and they’ve been in our legal system at least thirty years.

First, there’s the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the brain child of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau when he repatriated our constitution from Great Britain in 1982. The Canadian Charter is entrenched in our constitution, which means that it has primacy over all other laws in Canada and any law deemed to be incompatible with it can be struck down.

The Canadian Charter lists our fundamental freedoms which include those of conscience and religion, of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It also contains our legal rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, and to equal protection before law without discrimination based on race, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or physical disability.

The Charter only applies to government entities which include everything from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to public schools to hospitals. If a law is discriminatory, the Canadian Charter allows us to go to court to seek redress for the discrimination. Once one side proves the violation it’s up to the government to prove that the law is within reasonable limits as per the Charter’s main failsafe that allows legislation to survive in spite of itself because the ends justify the means.

Then there’s the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Enacted in the 1970s, the Quebec Charter applies to both private and public entities. The Quebec Charter prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, colour, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, disability and the use of any means to ease it.

The Quebec Charter not only prohibits harassment based on those grounds, but also has provisions against discrimination in everything from access to public spaces, employment, and housing. It also prohibits the distribution or publication of notices, symbols, or signs authorizing discrimination. People whose rights have been violated as per the Quebec Charter can also seek redress via the courts and the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

Last but not least, we have the Canadian Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code has laws about hate propaganda and public incitement of hatred. Publicly advocating for genocide could result in a prison term of up to five years. Publicly inciting hatred and willfully promoting it in a circumstance other than in a private conversation could result in up to two years in jail.

Perhaps the most significant way our Criminal Code punishes hate crimes is via its sentencing guidelines. When the court must determine the sentence of an offender, it must consider a bunch of aggravating circumstances in order to decide whether to give the maximum or not. The first of these aggravating circumstances is:

“evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,”

Since our laws already punish hate crimes, what is it that the federal government could do to further fight racism and discrimination?

Here are a few ideas that would have greater impact than any frivolous motion at a time in which Canada’s visible and religious minorities are asking for more than symbolic acts to prove the government will protect them.

First, the federal government should make transfer payments to the provinces for education conditional in part on the inclusion of a history or social studies course at the primary or secondary level about Canada’s different cultural and religious communities and their contributions.

It is widely acknowledged that racism is a learned behavior. Education is the key to enlightenment and such a course could prevent kids from becoming hate mongering adults while giving provinces the funds to create the curriculum and fix existing courses that leave people other than the French and English out of Canadian history.

The federal government should also demand that the Implicit Association Test be mandatory for law enforcement as part of their entrance exams.

The Implicit Association Test was created by Harvard University and is useful for determining people’s hidden biases against, for example, a particular ethnicity or gender. Any candidates shown by the test to have strong prejudices against a particular group should be made to undergo training about the groups they’re biased about as a condition for their admission to law enforcement. This would help to tackle racial profiling and police brutality and weed out some of the racists from law enforcement.

Candidates for judicial appointments should be subjected to the same test as a condition of their appointment. Strong negative biases would result in mandatory training as a condition of their appointment. This would not only help with discrimination towards religious or visible minorities, but would also prevent judges like former Judge Robin Camp from ever hearing a rape trial.

Last but not least, the federal government could increase its support for organizations that actively fight discrimination. The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations would be a good one to start with.

Talk, like that in Motion 103, is cheap. The need for symbolism is over. It’s time the government took real action against hate.

Of all of the Orange Racist Misogynist’s cabinet picks, Betsy DeVos is among the most controversial. Nominated as US Secretary of Education, she was incapable of answering basic questions about education during her confirmation hearings and could not even denounce guns in schools because of the alleged threat of bears.

DeVos was confirmed only because Vice President and Religious Fundamentalist Mike Pence was the deciding vote. She is so unpopular that many parents have protested outside schools she’s visited.

It’s time we talk about the government’s role in education, so today we’ll compare Canada to the US.

In Canada education falls strictly to the provinces.

In Quebec, education is the domain of the Ministère de l’Éducation et Enseignment supérieur.

Originally run by a single minister, the department was split in 2016 and the responsibility of running it is now shared between the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports and the Minister Responsible for Higher Education.

The main goals of the Ministère include promoting research and education and contributing to the scientific, cultural and professional education of the people of Quebec. Its main law is the Loi sur le Ministère de L’Éducation, du Loisir, et du Sport, which in its preamble recognizes that all children have the right to an education and that parents have the right to choose where their kids go to school.

The law also includes the recognition that groups have the right to establish their own independent educational establishments and if said establishments serve the common good, they are entitled to governmental support. This recognition has come under fire in recent years as many religious schools have failed to provide basic education to their students in favour of religious teaching useless outside of their communities. In 2014 a former Hasidic Jew attempted to sue the province because he was taught only Torah (the main text in Judaism) at a school in Boisbriand, claiming the government failed to get him the basic education guaranteed by law.

Despite its guarantees, the Ministère’s own laws undermine its goals for it is also charged with the enforcement of the education provisions of the Charte de la Langue Française, Quebec’ main language law. Though the government is supposed to recognize the right of parents to choose where their kids go to school, the Charte imposes strict rules on whether or not a child can get an English education in the province. The Ministry also dictates course material in primary and secondary schools, and advises the government on Education policy.

Then there’s the Ministers themselves.

Quebec’s Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports is Sébastien Proulx, is an experienced politician and lawyer. Notable highlights from his time in office include investing government funds to refurbish arenas and curling clubs and his refusal to push for more extensive changes in a high school history curriculum developed by the former PQ government. The course has been widely criticized for leaving out the contributions of the Anglophone and Allophone Quebecois.

The Minister Responsible for Higher Education is Hélène David, former Culture Minister and University Professor. In light of recent sexual assaults at the University of Laval in Quebec City, she has pledged to fight rape on campus and sponsor initiatives to teach consent.

It should be noted, however, that while she seems to be doing well, her reputation is hardly pristine. As former Minister of Culture she was pushing the signage debate in 2016 when no one wanted to hear it.

As in Canada, education in the United States is primarily a State and community matter. The US Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and ensure equal access to education to prepare them for global competitiveness. The Department, however, can only do so through scholarships, fellowships, and by demanding accountability of its schools through its budget.

The Department of Education’s main activities consist of distributing federal funds for education and monitoring that money. It gives fellowships to individuals for research into disabilities and rehabilitation and offers grants to schools for low income students to fund their education.

In order to keep parents informed and measure student progress, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires annual state wide assessments. This helps keep schools accountable.

Now let’s talk about Betsy DeVos.

Despite her vacant claim about supporting accountability, the Michigan philanthropist seems to be against it.

She is in favour of Charter schools, which are independently run public schools granted a lot of flexibility in how they operate in exchange for high academic accountability. They can apparently be started by anyone who submits an application to the state and have been widely criticized as being sloppy for-profit establishments.

DeVos has no experience in education and neither she nor her children went to public school. What she has is money and the 200 million she donated to the Orange campaign got her this cushy job.

Fortunately, unlike the Canadian model, the US Department of Education has so little power DeVos is unlikely to do much damage.

* Featured image: FreeImagesLive.co.uk via Creative Commons

Shit just got real. Last week McGill University received a notice of seizure from Kahentinetha, one of the Mohawk woman titleholders, or kahtihon’tia:kwenio, of the land the school sits on, in fact they are titleholders for the whole island of Montreal, which used to be known as Tiohtià:ke.

Montreal’s own internationally recognized English academic institution which has stood for 194 years has done so on land that never belonged to it in the first place. Also, according to Kahentinetha, the school still owes the $1.7 million it borrowed from the Six Nations Trust Fund, though they claim they paid that amount back to the Federal government.

Now the title holders have finally had enough of McGill’s BS and want the squatters out. But why send a seizure notice to this one institution? It makes sense if you look at the school’s history and recent comportment.

Militarism, Experiments and Anglo Dominance

james mcgill statueMcGill University was the brainchild of an illiterate slave owner who wanted the English colonists to dominate the French. James McGill was told that the best way to accomplish his goal was to establish an institution of learning. So he left his fur-trading fortune to do just that.

In the decades that followed, McGill University would serve the interest of Montreal’s Anglo elite, harbour a serial killer in the making and promote militarism.

Ever wonder why the campus gym was originally called the Arthur Currie Memorial Gymnasium and Armoury? Well, that’s because it served as both leading up to World War 1. Ever take in an Als game at Percival Molson Stadium? It’s named for a McGill student from a prominent family who was recruited on campus to fight in a war which killed him.

The evidence of McGill’s military involvement is everywhere on campus. Initial development of the atomic bomb even took place on campus under the supervision of Ernest Rutherford who now has a building named after him

McGill was also used by the CIA in the 1950s. Dr Ewan Cameron conducted secret agency-funded LSD experiments on unsuspecting patients in the McGill-controlled Allan Memorial. Doing acid for fun is one thing, being given it without your knowledge so some so-called doctor can observe you for the CIA is a whole new level of despicable and unethical.

Recent Problems

In recent years, McGill doesn’t seem to have changed its colonialist pro-military tune much. Following hazing scandals (Dr. Broom) and an attempted, unconstitutional ban of protest on campus, it now looks like the University is actively trying to hide any current association with militarization.

Student Cadence O’Neal wanted to know about the University’s involvement with military contractors CAE, Bell Helicopter, Bombardier, Lockheed Martin, Textron, General Atomics and others. She filed an Access to Information request and the case is currently before Quebec’s Commission on Access to Information. McGill is trying to withhold 8944 emails between these contractors and the CFD Lab which specializes in the research and development of 3-D modelling software for the aerospace industry.

Enough is Enough

It’s no small wonder that the actual titleholders of the land have had enough. McGill has been getting away with far too much over the years and refuses to change its ways.

They won’t display the Hiawatha Belt Flag on National Aboriginal Day out of “risk of losing the privilege” of flying the McGill flag but have no problem replacing their colours with the flag of the Queen of England when the Gouvenor General pays a visit. They have also refused requests to move the Hochelaga Rock, commemorating the Mohawk village that once was here, to a more prominent location.

With that level of unwarranted indifference on the small stuff and a history of pretty atrocious big stuff, the time has come for McGill to deal with their landlords.

Legally speaking, I’m not Canadian.

What I am, however, is a university student in Canada. I’ve made the conscious decision to leave my home country behind, and come here so that I could find myself a “better” life, whatever that might be. My reasons are my own, and may not be reflective of everyone’s; but that does not change the fact that I am not the only international student in this country.

The usage of the term “international student,” however, is a form of branding. It separates you from the rest of the population, and hovers over your head as a constant reminder that you do not really belong here. It can be argued that individual universities try their best to make sure international students feel like they belong; but what ends up happening is that you end up feeling like you belong to your university, and not necessarily to your province, let alone Canada.

tuition

The fact that international students are expected to pay more than Canadian students does not help rectify this problem, at all. For instance, at McGill University, the tuition fees for international students are roughly $18 000 per academic year, while Quebec residents pay around $4000.

A Quebecois student could complete four Bachelor of Arts degrees for the same amount of money it takes for an international student to complete a single degree.

Ignoring all the social and cultural impediments that might make international students feel alienated; this simple fact is enough to make international students feel as if they’re nothing more than just another source of income for their universities, if not their province.

Let me get one thing straight, before I go any further. Education is not a privilege, not even post-secondary education. Within the context of the capitalist system, in which not having a university degree is unfortunately the equivalent of being unqualified to work, education has to be a right. Education has to be accessible.

“Why not stay in your home country?” I can almost hear you asking. Not all countries are equal. Not all countries can offer the quality of education that most Canadian universities can. Yet the capitalist system is the same everywhere. Is it not the right of any young person to seek the education that might make them have a shot at a decent life? If they feel trapped, if not suffocated, in their own country, why shouldn’t it be their right to choose a new life?

And no, just because I am an international student, does not mean that I have to pay more. No form of economic dire straits can justify that, but it has been the norm in the past, and it is still the norm. Back in 1996, Quebec’s attempts in increasing student fees failed due to student backlash; however international student fees were still increased.

Mcgill_University_(Arts_Buildings,_closeup)
The Arts Building of McGill University

Another place where you can see the normalization of more expensive international tuition fees is Quebec’s relationship with McGill University. According to McGill, they are required to give more than $50 million of their tuition revenues from out-of-province and international students to the province.

You might say that this is to be expected in the context of the budget cuts, and the general economic crisis that is wreaking havoc across the globe; but that’s a very cheap answer. How do you account for countries that can actually manage to do this? In France, for instance, education may not be free, as students are still expected to pay between €150 to €750 per year, but at least all students are treated equally. It does not matter whether you are French, or Turkish, or Canadian.

France’s economy is not significantly better than Canada’s. In fact, in some aspects Canada is faring better than France. So, how is it that France is able to treat all students equally, while Canada is struggling really hard with this?

Furthermore, because of my status as an international student, I am still hesitant about actively seeking my rights, and in some instances I cannot even do that. Why? Because the only thing that makes me “legal” in this country is a piece of paper attached to my passport. And whatever I can or cannot do in Canada is all written on that little piece of paper.

For instance, on that little piece of paper I’ve just mentioned, it is stated that I need to be a full-time student at my academic institution. Say that I want to run for an executive position at my student union, so that I can be in a position of power from which I can actually have a shot at changing things. As far as McGill is concerned, I have to be a part-time student in order to be an executive at my student union. You can see why that is problematic.

Even if I want to do small things, say create a campaign, or organize a protest or something along those lines; the system makes me hesitate. It is normal that I pay extra. It is normal that I bear the burden of a government’s mismanagement of their budget.

It is normal that I pay extra, because studying here is a privilege that has been bestowed upon me by the benevolent government of Canada.

This is but one of the symptoms of a culture based around the idea that citizenship is a privilege that is earned. “Canadianness” should not be a blessing given by the government, which dictates what rights I can ask for. The irony of asking for permission to live in a “post-colonial” country aside, where I am from should not have anything to do with what rights I have. Does my non-Canadianness destroy the very essence of your nation? If that’s the case, then good.

In New York, the United Nations declared July 12 Malala Day in commemoration of Malala Yousafzai, the young teenage activist from Pakistan who turns 16 today. She survived a bullet to the head last October from Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban for inciting girls in Pakistan to pursue higher education.

Prominent diplomats and UN bureaucrats present included former British PM and now UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Yousafzai presented a riveting 17 minute speech of her triumphant, indomitable spirit and unshaken defiance against her country’s Islamic fundamentalist clerics and Taliban militants.

Although it was Malala’s day, she instead became the voice for the “voiceless boys and girls” and for a right many Canadians have taken for granted: education for women.

Although Pakistan’s president stood beside Yousafzai, in northern and rural Pakistan, girls are prohibited from having an education apart from teachings of the Koran. Pakistan’s official estimates peg the overall literacy rate at 46% but only 26% for girls. Independent organizations, however, contend the overall female literacy rate is closer to 12% when excluding those only knowing how to write their names.

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them… One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

Perhaps the most riveting moment of her speech (see video below) was a cri de coeur in defiance against “the terrorists [who] thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.”

Yousafzai even offered forgiveness for her would-be assassin citing her road was in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She invoked the philosophy of non-violence of Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa.

“And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.”

Although Yousafzai’s lofty mission is indeed worthy of a girl whose bravery and fortitude is equal to that of her cause, Yousafzai herself would be best to lay the foundation for grassroots organizers and institutions to take up her cause. Not only because of immense pressure on one individual but because of the dangers of placing an entire world’s aspiration on one young girl as the symbol of all good changes in Pakistan.

This way, she may have to become Pakistan’s littlest martyr before a paradigm shift occurs in that country. Millennia of persecution of women, including the assassination of Pakistan’s most powerful woman Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, would have to be overcome. It would take more than vacuous UN sentiments to make Malala’s dream a reality.

Yousafazi is flesh and bones, she has already bled for Pakistan and will continue to be a priority target on the Taliban’s kill list. Even an international body like the UN, with its record to protect and defend, cannot guarantee to do so for her and her family.

Malala could soon join ranks with the heroes she has invoked without clear and concrete changes left behind her. Like them, Yousafazi may have to continue making great sacrifices.

Education as Yousafazi insisted is indeed the seed to building a better Pakistan but only vis-à-vis efforts to end violence and corruption in and outside of Pakistan. Pakistan is a pawn in a game between China, Russia and the US. These actors would need to curb their interests which undermine Pakistan’s efforts of development. This means drawing back these nations’ Gulf interests in the region that sponsors perpetual state terror.

The enormity of Yousafazi’s task requires a multilateral solution. One that it is built on peace and compromise, but not without solid bricks and mortar to cement it. A symbol is only effective and indestructible when backed by the pillars of civil society, a defined roadmap strategy with real-time action and the full weight of the international community behind it. This approach proved effective in ending apartheid in South Africa.

Only then will a just and fair society emerge in Pakistan. Should that day come, then Malala Day will serve a dual purpose. But only after the world comes together to end Pakistan’s brutal apartheid against women.

Sign Malala’s petition ending prohibition against girls’ access to education in Pakistan at Change.org.

First Year of Program: Check

Now, here I am. Tens of thousands of dollars into debt, having had a roller coaster ride trying to switch supervisors and legitimately minutes away from joining my student association so I can actually be heard and make some very necessary problems visible to the department and administration.

I’ve seen amazing job opportunities go by, the likes of which I had not seen during my two years outside of the academic system, and I have seriously considered just quitting and continuing on with my career as a community organizer. After months of reflection and considering how much money and time I have invested as well as looking at how much time is left to complete the program, I’ve decided to stick it out and do what I always do in times of strife: stick to my guns, take what I can from the experience, try to make a difference and try as most as I can not to compromise my values in the process.

On a brighter note, I ended up contacting the professor whose class I enjoyed the most and learned the most from and was lucky enough to have her take me on. As a supervisor, I know that she will push me, test me and make me work hard. Great, that’s what I’m paying for! She is also the first person in this whole thing to respond to my research topic positively.

I am not someone who is afraid of hard work, don’t get me wrong here, I love it and grow from complex situations. What I am ranting about is what was and is in some big ways at the core of the latest student strike: how the institutional and capitalistic/corporate culture of universities is overriding the teaching culture and rendering it hostile to the very people who are paying for its services while equity issues remain clearly not addressed.

Things I Learned (The Hard Way) to Keep In Mind:

1. Really ask yourself why you want to go to grad school. Are you really stoked about research? Do you want to become a Professor? Do you need this degree to help with you career’s upwards mobility? Talk to the people who have done what you wanna do. Ask them what it is really like researching/teaching/studying at this or that university. Research the schools you are applying to very carefully and think about making trips to speak with people in that department.

2. Apply to funds BEFORE starting grad school and maybe think carefully about the chances you have of getting ANY funding once you are in. Keep in mind that if you don’t get any funding, you will probably have to go into (more) debt AND work a job that will make focusing on your research harder and perhaps, less of a priority.

Grad_school

3. You think your G.P.A. is good because it’s slightly above the required G.P.A. to apply for the program? Think again, look at funding opportunities and their cut off G.P.A. requirements. Then take a moment to think how far you are from that and if you have gone through the maze-like and sometimes (re)victimizing process of getting documentation for your extenuating circumstances. Still not close enough? STOP. Apply as an independent student and boost the shit out of your G.P.A. They look at the last two years of your studies for grants. Work the system before it works you: into massive debt and angry times.

4. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of supervisors and directors. If you have questions that are met with walls, ask again, ask someone else. It’s not going to affect them at all if you don’t have the answers you are looking for, but it may very well cost you (literally, something like $10 000 per question).

5. Don’t expect anyone to “care” about helping you navigate this whole new system. Even the people whose jobs you think it is to do so are probably not going to without some intense dedication on your part. Actually, watch how the students who did their bachelors in the department end up doing the best at all things grad student related. This is because they know who is who and know the lay of the land. Make friends with one of them maybe and trade secrets. Think about joining the student association, this will give you a chess piece beyond what may be perceived to be a pawn. Maybe now the department will see you as I dunno, one of the horse things and your voice might be heard slightly louder.

6. Don’t be fooled into thinking things operate in the straightforward manner they are “supposed to.” They don’t. This is about who you know, what you know, what you can do for people and most of all, how you use it. For example, I’ve been told four different stories about how to get another T.A. ship and heard some interesting stories about how those are sometimes used. Indeed, at this moment, the union is fighting for more transparent hiring policies. That’s a definite sign of something fishy right there.

7. If your career is seemingly on the rise (as mine was), maybe it’s not time to go to grad school. I’m sure you’ve heard everyone complaining about how many post-graduates don’t have jobs at the moment, how universities aren’t hiring full time staff anymore and T.A. and R.A. ships are on the decline (with unions fighting for better conditions). We all know the story of how most baristas and waiters in Montreal have university degrees; masters degrees included.

8. If you keep getting turned down for funding, grants, bursaries, awards, take a moment and read the letters of references your supporters wrote for you. They believe in you or they wouldn’t have taken the time to write those letters. If you need to, frame them and make a mantra out of what they list as your strengths. This helps fight the crushing feelings of constant rejection.

9. Quitting grad school doesn’t make you a loser. Sometimes, the school, the program, the timing, the finance, is all wrong. Never let the system define how you value yourself. That’s like walking to Mordor and enjoying wearing the cursed ring. The stakes here aren’t the future of Middle Earth and you are not less important than the department, the institution, or the degree. Keep that in mind, always.

*Arts and Social Sciences Graduate Schools seem to operate quite differently in terms of funding than Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, for example. My hypothesis is that this may be in due part to the current government’s attitude towards “committing sociology.”

The following is not an academic critique of the relics of enlightenment and purveyors of colonialist and modernist values that are higher learning institutions in the West. This piece might raise similar concerns but will do so by doing something rather ethnographic: I will tell you the story of my experience with grad school thus far.

pam brownieMy undergrad

That’s me on the right enjoying a free brownie at my Bachelor of Arts convocation. Those brownies were delicious. Even more satisfying was having finally finished my degree and having survived, thanks to some of the privileges I was lucky enough to have, all the obstacles thrown my way throughout those four years where, at times, debilitating disability and trauma tested my ability to pursue my studies with any kind of functionality.

Given all of this, after I graduated (survived), I took a break before diving right back into academia. This break meant working hard at a barely paying job while finding the strength to apply for unpaid internships where competition was incredibly high while clinging to my passions. I finally got a break and landed a decent job based on my experience and commitment to community engagement – all of which had been volunteer based.

Applying to Grad School

Applying to grad school should have indicated some problems right off the bat. There were puzzling requirements like taking standardized tests for institutions that produced my transcript to begin with.

I didn’t get into all the schools I applied to, but I had expected that. It didn’t help that I basically wrote in my letter of intent that my primary goal was that I wanted to learn more about my discipline and did not, as of yet, have a project fully formed in mind but had various strong research interests.

In grad school world, that’s a bad chess move. I suck at poker. Honesty is NOT the best policy in applying to these institutions which are basically looking to have to do as little work as possible to see you write a fully formed thesis that, if it so happens is amazing, they can claim some sort of ownership over.


336440_10100882836001507_257420957_oGrad School Begins 

Grad school began with a rather negative moment. During the first week, it was made clear whom had already obtained grants and bursaries and who hadn’t and that with my low end G.P.A. almost all the doors were slammed shut for any prizes and funding. Hopes crushed.

In that moment, I was also publicly “outed” as the student with the lowest G.P.A. in the room. EQUITY FOUL.

So, being the way I am, when I raised my hand and naively asked: “What does a student do in the case that their G.P.A. is too low to make the requirements?” I was met by what basically amounts to a: “Huh, I don’t know.” At about this time, I think my face turned to permanent grumpy cat expression for the rest of the seminar.

Things seemed to go from bad to worse as I met with my temporary supervisor who basically raised some flags about my plans to continue on towards a career as a professor, alerting me to the decreasing tenure track positions and conditions for part-time staff. As things at my job got really hard and emotionally draining, I found myself thinking about transferring to another school, maybe there the courses would be more interesting, the material more challenging and maybe I’d find a more receptive department.

Not so. I met with a professor who specialized in the research area I came to choose and she met me with the following warning: “My first piece of advice to give you about grad school is don’t go to grad school.” In the context of the conversation, I understood that she was referring to the current institutional environment as well as possible financial and professional opportunities.

So here I was, trying to understand how everything works but having literally zero time to do anything except work, do 1/3 of my coursework and try to you know, keep a sleeping schedule that would keep me healthy. I began applying to the few grants I qualified for and was taken aback that the school didn’t short-list me for ANY of them.

At this point, I am exhausted, disheartened and feeling like no one believes in my abilities and my “smarts.” It became clear to me that this whole G.P.A. thing is a load of crock. While I had been proud of my G.P.A. considering everything I’d been through as an undergrad, here I was being told there was nothing to be proud about.

This system in no way works to select students based on their capacity for producing critical and analytic frontier breaking work. In fact, it suddenly hit me, that if one is planning to go to graduate school, attending an easier and smaller university and obtaining a sky high inflated G.P.A. is far more important than going to a harder and more competitive school.

As I reconsidered what I could have done to boost my G.P.A. and how if I’d had the knowledge and financial resources those more difficult semesters could have been erased, it became increasingly clear that this system supports mainly those who have the resources to work it. This is something I’d always know intellectually, but experiencing it was a whole other thing: here it was, the breakdown of whatever privilege I was once had or thought I had.

I was a liminal student, an undesirable in many ways and couldn’t cut it anymore. Perhaps grad school was the limit of my academic upward mobility.

By the end of our second semester, a large portion of my cohort was seriously considering quitting, not because of self-doubt or fear of intellectual inability, but rather because the program and the funding opportunities were just not cutting it.

This story was broken by Ethan Cox in a rabble.ca exclusive

With a little over a week to go until the Quebec Liberal Party elects a new leader, a leading contender for the post is facing questions over his work at McGill University during a four and a half year absence from politics.

Dr. Philippe Couillard, the neurosurgeon and former Quebec Health Minister widely considered to be the front-runner to replace former Premier Jean Charest, was appointed Senior Fellow in Health Law at McGill University in January 2009, shortly after his resignation from politics in the summer of 2008.

According to sources at McGill, he held that position until April of 2012, a period of over three years, or ten academic semesters. At the time of his hiring, it was announced that he would be joining the McGill Research Group on Health and Law, and his responsibilities would include “teaching, special lectures and research.”

However a search of Minerva, McGill’s electronic registration system, shows that he taught only two courses over his time at McGill, one in the fall semester of 2009 and another in the fall semester of 2010.

This appears to be at odds with Dr. Couillard’s campaign website, which states that he was “appointed Senior Fellow in Health Law at McGill University in January 2009, and taught there from January 2009 to December 2011.” Minerva records show Couillard did not begin teaching until Fall of 2009, and did not teach at all in 2011.

“Here at McGill, we’re seeing budgets being slashed across the university, and these cuts are having a profound impact on students and the quality of our education,” said Jimmy Gutman, a Student Senator with the Student Society of McGill University who researched Couillard’s teaching record.

“If he was doing research he certainly didn’t publish any of it. I think students and taxpayers alike deserve to know what he was paid, and what work he did for the university.”

Dr. Couillard did not respond to repeated requests for comment directed to press secretary Harold Fortin, and did not reply to a request for a list of what duties other than teaching he performed for the university. McGill promised to, then failed to respond to a series of questions submitted in writing.

Wendy Thomson, a faculty member in the McGill Research Group on Health and Law, said that although she did not work directly with Couillard, she remembered him being around and suggested that his case is not comparable to that of Arthur Porter, the former MUHC head who was publicly criticized for drawing a teaching salary without teaching any courses. “[Couillard] taught a course or two on healthcare policy… he was certainly visible and present in the university.”

“For me it’s about transparency,” continued Gutman, who says he will raise the issue at the next meeting of the university’s Senate. “If he was doing something other than teaching, why won’t he or the university tell us what that was? Why won’t they disclose his salary, which is paid out of our tax dollars? If he was paid a significant salary for over three years to teach two courses then I believe that’s a misuse of public funds.”

“The social crisis is behind us.”

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois made that statement yesterday, concluding her party’s Summit on Higher Education at the Arsenal in Griffintown. Later that same afternoon, as teargass reigned down on peaceful protesters at St-Denis near des Pins, it looked more like the social crisis was a few blocks north and a number of blocks east of where she was speaking.

Did Marois really not see this coming? Did she think she could raise tuition and no one would hit the streets?

Well, protesters did take to the streets of Montreal. Estimates had the crowd anywhere between five and twenty thousand.

montreal march feb 26 arial shotThe red squares were back. Anarchopanda was back. This was a festive protest boasting the kind of numbers seen late May 2012 as the Maple Spring was really starting to heat up, only it was a few months earlier and there was snow on the ground. The perfect kind of snow for snowballs.

Turns out snowballs and riot cops aren’t a good mix. When a few protesters, whether intentionally or not, threw their soggy projectiles in the direction of the police, things turned ugly: teargass, noise cannons, billyclubs, arrests and claims that the protest was illegal from the get-go because protesters didn’t provide a route. Now, another well-known element of last year’s Maple Spring was back as well: police repression.

But wait, wasn’t Marois personally offended by Bill 78? Didn’t she promise to repeal it? Well, yes, Bill 78 is no longer on the books, but then again, technically, it was never even enforced. All those arrests last year in Montreal for being at an illegal protest because no route was provided, well, they were officially made under a municipal bylaw that mirrored some of the more egregious elements of 78, not the infamous bill itself (in Quebec City, arrests were made under the highway code).

So Marois was offended by Bill 78 but has no problem using a bylaw that does exactly the same offensive things? Makes sense. After all, she repealed Charest’s tuition hikes on her first day in office as she had promised, then brought in her own tuition hikes a few months later.

But wait, these increases only amount to $70 a year or at least that’s what right-wing media outlets keep reminding us. Really, who cares how much it is, it’s an increase and that’s the point. While the much larger amount Charest wanted to impose all in one shot may have made it easier to mobilize such a massive student base in the early stages, the Maple Spring was, at it’s core, a protest against the very idea of a tuition increase and by extension, austerity.

To put it bluntly, for a politician to give the student protesters what they want, they would have to lower tuition with the ultimate goal being free education. To merely avoid more protests, they would have to, at the very least, maintain the freeze. Just one penny in the wrong direction and people will take to the streets.

That much is clear to me and most casual observers and it should have been clear to Pauline Marois, too. I think it was. I think she knew all too well that people didn’t vote for her so she could pay lip service to what students and their allies were demanding; in fact, they didn’t vote for her at all, but rather against Jean Charest and it looked like the PQ had the best chance of replacing the Liberals.

She might have figured that it would be easy to distract people later on, make them think the PQ came to power because of sovereignty, language or some other issue that Quebec politicians have used to distract the discourse for decades. The problem is that with a game changer protest like the Maple Spring, people aren’t as easily fooled or silenced. To paraphrase one of the signs held up yesterday, people didn’t stay the course and stay in the streets for six months just to accept another hike.

marois charestSure, not all student groups were at the protest yesterday, just ASSE (the largest and most radical group which formed the CLASSE last year). The other groups were at the conference itself, fighting for a freeze. Now that they were denied, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them don their red squares again, despite former colleague Leo Bureau Blouin now sitting as a PQ MNA.

Even if they don’t, the student protesters have the support of unions, teachers and others. Who knows how many more will join?

Hell, maybe even anglo rights activists will realize that the goal of free post-secondary education is a better place to put money than the Office Quebecois de la Langue Francais, wash out the pots they just used to cook pasta and start banging on them in the streets. It probably won’t happen, but hey, a progressive anglo boy can dream.

Now that the old tricks don’t seem to work anymore and the new boss is protested just as quickly as the old boss was, the future possibilities are wide open. Maybe Marois was right and the social crisis is indeed almost behind us, but the social revolution is right ahead.

* Top photo by Iana Kazakova, other images courtesy movementetudiant.info

 

Gabrielle Nadeau DuboisEthan Cox is the Quebec Correspondent for Rabble.ca where this interview with Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the former spokesperson for student group CLASSE originally appeared..

Ethan Cox: You were recently found guilty of contempt of court, for expressing the opinion that picket lines were legitimate in a TV interview. That’s a ruling I know you plan to appeal, so can you tell me why you think the ruling was unjust?

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: Well there are a few things. A problem with the first ruling is that the judge interpreted my words as direct advice to break the injunctions. The point my lawyer and I made is that it was a political opinion I expressed, that those injunctions were not a good way to solve the conflict. I said it was a deception, that those injunctions were used to override the democratic decision to go on strike. That’s one of the main things we are going to focus on during the appeal. I cannot say that I didn’t say what I said. Or that it was not what I meant. I said what I said and I meant what I said. It was a political opinion, not a direct order to tell anyone to do anything. So that’s the main point. It’s very important that we do this, because if the ruling stands, it creates a precedent for other social movements.  It will be one of the first times a spokesperson for a social movement could be found guilty for expressing a political opinion. That’s a precedent we don’t want to see created.

What do you think of the PQ government floating the idea of legislating a right to strike for students?

GND: It’s clearly a double-edged sword. The first thing that is important to remember is that the Liberal government created this debate. For decades in Quebec the right for students to have a political strike has always existed. Everyone, including the Liberals, accepted it politically and socially. Mr. Charest himself recognized this right. I think it’s a debate that has been created to delegitimize the student movement by the Liberals. The student movement has shown in the last few years that it is able to take democratic positions on many issues, and is able to make democratic decisions to go on strike.

I don’t see why we have to change the law that’s already quite clear. It gives a monopoly over representation of students to the student associations. It says they are recognized. We are not workers, but students. Our strike is a political strike. I don’t see why we should limit this fundamental right to strike.

There’s been quite an outpouring of support for your appeal through the website appelatous.org, you’re now over $100,000 in donations towards your legal defence fund. So what’s next?

 GND: We are expecting the sentence any day now. We will then go and appeal. It’s going to be a long battle, a two-year battle to go in front of the appeal court. That’s why we’ve asked for the people’s donations and solidarity.

We were totally surprised by the amount of solidarity we’ve seen. We now have enough money to pay back CLASSE for the expenses of the case thus far. We also have enough to go forward with the appeal process. There will also be enough money to support other students who are in front of the courts. For me it’s very important to show that solidarity towards the other students. It’s a very beautiful surprise for us. I think even if the mobilization isn’t currently as concrete in the streets, the people are still very vigilant about what’s going on. We have gained this huge amount of money in only two weeks, which I think is indicative of the fact the movement is not dead at all.

What do you think of the PQ government’s budget and performance so far?

GND:I think it’s a deception for the left. We were expecting a lot more. Especially in a context where the Liberals have no leader, and everyone knows there is not going to be an election. I think the PQ had a chance to go forward with progressive measures that they had announced during the electoral campaign, measures that were a first step in the right direction. I think it’s a big deception by the PQ, that they claim they aren’t able to turn things around. The education summit that they have announced is the same type of thing. I think that indexation is the only thing that could come out of that. 

I am also preoccupied by the fact that there seems to exist an intention within the Parti Quebecois to continue the privatization of universities that the Liberals started. That’s very disturbing for us. It means we have to be vigilant towards this party. We have to be at this summit, put our positions up front, and be ready to be in the streets if this government does not respect our position.

What do you think the outcome of the PQ education summit will be? Do you think there will be a freeze or indexation? What are your concerns with the commodification and privatization of education? Do you find it hard to communicate this specific problem to students because it’s more abstract than a tuition hike? 

GND: The tuition hike was so massive and abrupt that it was a shock for the students. The mobilization was a lot easier because of that. If the PQ do go for indexation it will be difficult for the student movement to mobilize on that issue and on the issue of commodification of education.

The good news is that we began to talk about these things in the last months of the strike. It’s once again proof that the PQ basically share the same ideological foundation as the Liberal party. I hope it wakes up a lot of Quebecers, and left leaning people who are still supporting the PQ. Those who say the PQ are a little bit better than the Liberals. No, this party is part of the same neo-liberal ideology. We have to break this eternal sharing of power between these two parties.

If bad things come out of the summit, how hard will it be to get students to mobilize again? 

GND: It will be difficult. Students are now dealing with the consequences of their strike. It’s already difficult for them. One thing that’s also going to be difficult is that we are seeing the common front of student organizations dissolve over the issue of commodification of education.

So we aren’t going to see that alliance. We are going to see once again a student movement that is going to be divided. I think it’s for good reason, but it will be hard to mobilize. It will be a huge challenge for the progressive student movement.

There’s lots of speculation about you becoming the co-spokesperson for Quebec Solidaire, are you interested? 

GND: For the moment I have chosen to focus on my studies. I still have a B.A. to finish. I have been very involved in the movement over the last five years. So I feel the need to go back to the books, back to theory. I’m beginning a new degree in Philosophy. I want to focus on that for the moment. I’m still young, I have so many things to do and so many things to learn. It’s not a definitive retreat, only a pause.

I of course will be back in Quebec politics. I’m also writing a book, because I think it’s important to leave something behind and express my own opinions and analysis of the movement. I think it’s important to write about it. It’s a part of history, if we let the mainstream media talk about it, I don’t think they’ll be able to convey the spirit of what the Quebec spring was.

Given the blood on the socialist banner and name in the 20th century, what does a 21st century anti-capitalist movement have to do to be different? 

GND: I think there have been two major problems with the socialist experience: a lack of democracy, and a lack of focus on the environment.

A lot of the alternatives to capitalism that were tried during the 20th century were very authoritarian, and sometimes even more destructive to the environment than neo-liberal economies. I think those are the two main challenges. We have to find a way to do this transition progressively and democratically, and with a focus on the environment.

There seems to be an incredible openness right now in progressive movements in Quebec to working with people in the rest of the country. Why do you think that is? 

GND: It’s sad to say, but I think it’s because of Stephen Harper. By pushing an aggressive neo-liberal agenda on public services and environmental issues, there is a realization of the importance of what is happening in Ottawa. If all the energy we’ve seen in the last months can be redirected towards the Conservatives, it would lend a big hand to the social movements in the rest of Canada.

This new openness is also one of the consequences of the fact that the political debate in Quebec has become a lot more oriented towards left and right issues than the independence issue over the last number of years. But for this to work we need an understanding by the Canadian left of the national issue in Quebec. Come a referendum, other social movements in Canada will have to respect our right to self-determination. That does not mean they have to be in favor of sovereignty, only respect the fact that Quebecers have the right to make their own decisions on their future. If we agree on that I think we have a beautiful opportunity in front of us to build a truly national movement. Historically this was a problem. I hope it’s behind us.

Do you feel there’s a new sense of urgency to go after capitalism? 

GND: I think the ecological crisis is putting huge pressure on our generation. I feel this sense of urgency, and I think many young people do as well. For the first time in history, we have a future for our children that is worse than what we are currently living, in terms of social justice and environmental issues. So I think this sense of urgency is widespread. Now, the challenge is to share this urgency and educate the population. We have to be honest with ourselves. We need systemic change, but have to remember these changes won’t happen in a day. They will happen progressively. We have to begin to democratize and change the structure of our economy. I think that the majority of the population understands that there is something wrong with how things are being done. That there is not enough equality or social rights. Our objective is to take the initiative and say we are the ones who want to change things. This whole idea of “change” is now the slogan of the right wing. The PQ are a good example of that. We need to take back that slogan.

Do you think that building a stronger progressive media capacity is an important part of that popular education? 

GND: Yes. It means having strategies for the mainstream media. Having spokespeople to talk to the mainstream media and population. It means concretely mobilizing in our campuses, our workplaces and our communities.  It also means creating new platforms and new media infrastructures to begin to deliver an alternative message. We can’t only be in the mainstream or alternative media, we need a complementary strategy.

What were your major influences growing up? 

GND: I was raised in a family of activists. My first political mentors were my parents. My father was in the labor movement for years. He was in charge of the environmental issues in one of the major labor unions of Quebec. I was also influenced a lot by activists in Quebec such as Michel Chartrand, Pierre Vadeboncoeur and Pierre Bourgault who were very charismatic activists working with workers and the people to gain rights. They were activists, but also writers and poets.

One of the things that inspired me most in those activists is that they were trying to reach a compromise between the social and national emancipation of Quebec. For me that’s a very big inspiration. I think we have to go back to that influence. Where national emancipation is not only based on a cultural and linguistic level, but also a social level. To present the national independence of Quebec like a political project. That’s what really inspires me in these activists. They were unbelievable speakers and writers, for me they are very big inspirations.

Thanks to Robin Sas for transcription of this interview.

Photos Chris Zacchia


Waiting in line at the PA grocery store on Fort street, in mid-town Montreal, on a busy and fall evening, I see an acquaintance from McGill University. A young lad who just completed his bachelor of arts in psychology with a minor in Religion.

Interesting combination, I note. “What will you do with this?” I ask.

“I use it every day. I studied psychology and religion because I am interested in these fields. I just launched my video filming service. I want to create short films and public service announcements with a social message.”

Impressive young man, and planning to make a damn fine stir-fry by the looks of his grocery basket.

Listening to his confidence, I wonder how and when we stopped studying for the sake of learning. Why must it be an investment? A must? A pressure?

Why must society coerce us in all kinds of things and for who’s benefit?

During the English-language electoral panel co-organised by the Dawson Student Union and the McGill and Concordia University graduate and post-graduate student associations last August (captured in its entirety for your viewing by CUTV and TVMcGill), eight party representatives in the riding of Westmount-St-Louis shared the stage. Education and the fate of students, including international students, dominate the discussion.

A young man stands at the audience microphone: “You talk about the cost of university, what about the purpose of university? What is it for today and onward?”

A stunned panel sits in silence.

Thank you for asking, I feel like telling him.

What is the purpose of education today? Why do we study? Why do we strive to get in to those schools?

“An educated and highly skilled professional force,” some say. “To be part of a civilized society.” “This is what you do, go to university.”

I remember the comments flying in the midst of the intensifying protests in the winter and spring: “It’s the Arts students who are on strike, not the serious Engineering, Business and Science students. How do History, Anthropology, and the like benefit us anyway?”

This said by 20- and 30-something’s.

The practical use of a discipline. The societal return on an educational choice.

Is this where we’re at?

If our history is erased, and no one studies it, and no one wants to study it, how will we know who we are?

*Photo by Concordia University (via Flickr using a CC license).

When I first heard of the Quebec governments plan to raise tuition fees by $1625 a year over the next five years, I had a fairly indifferent opinion. After all, I had never pursued an education at an institution of higher learning and I had been out of school for close to twenty years.

To be honest I never gave the situation the attention that it deserved. I figured at the time that a small hike in tuition fees was probably warranted, I even thought that any protest stemming from the hikes would likely die down soon after it started. Clearly I should have been more inquisitive; if I had been I wouldn’t have been wrong on both accounts.

The student strike and protest is now entering its fourth month, they have spawned more than 160 protests in 72 days in Montreal alone. The protests have now garnered international attention including coverage on CNN and Al Jazeera. In my (new found) opinion, the actions of the students are completely justified.

This whole state of affairs revolves around the Quebec government’s rising debt, but instead of raising taxes on corporations or the wealthy, Premier Jean Charest prefers to take it out of the pockets of middle class students. It’s no wonder the students have used the 99% movement as motivation for the cause.

An education is probably the single most important gift a society can offer its people outside of healthcare, but even without tuition fees, college and university can be damn expensive. Students still have to pay for lab fees, books, housing, food, etc. even with a part time job it’s next to impossible to leave school without racking up debt.

Jean Charest with Education Minister Line Beauchamp

It was only a generation or two ago when the average student could attend university, hold a part time job at MuckDonalds and be virtually debt free when he entered the work force. Students are aware that those days are disappearing quickly and are trying to reverse the present course.

I believe there are two things driving the youth of Quebec to protest so loudly: principal and fear.

The students believe that the protesting of the government tuition hike is a matter of principal. We live in one of the wealthiest developed nations on earth, why should they be punished for pursuing a higher education? Quebecers are proud of their low cost, high grade education system and would prefer to mirror the Scandinavian model where tuition fees are nonexistent.

The trepidation I referred to is a fear the students have of the Quebec educational system slowing moving in the direction of the United States and the rest of Canada. In the US, total student debt has risen above a trillion dollars, more than the country’s total credit card debt. The average tuition fee for a public university is roughly $8000 (four times more than Quebec), but the average total cost of a four year program is close to $28 000 a year.

I’ve heard critics of the protests calling the students “unfocused,” “deadbeats” and “moochers,” simple responses from people not in the students’ position. If they’re deadbeats they wouldn’t be in school, if they’re unfocused they wouldn’t be protesting 24/7 and they aren’t mooching anything more than the person using his or her Medicare Card.

So what is the solution? The students are not about to pack it up and call it a semester. The question I have to ask is who, aside from the students, benefit the most from their education? The answer is simple; the people that hire them afterward. No one profits more from an educated populace than the companies who hire them.

An educated man can lead a good life with a good job, but chances are he’ll never be wealthy; he will be far too busy making the company or corporation wealthy. It seems only logical to me that the people profiting off of this man’s education should be the ones helping to pay his fees.

Don’t give in boys and girls.

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