The fight over a proposed tuition-fee increase in Quebec is about something else now. It’s about whether decisions made by a democratically elected government can be overcome by force.
The matter of tuition is important, but the crux is whether government can be intimidated, whether policy can be made by persistent window-breaking and injunction-smashing, and whether the ultimate message is that a threatening occupation of public places has a meaningful role to play in public debate.
It would be one thing if the student demonstrators chose civil disobedience, accepted arrest and tried to win over public opinion by attempting to expose injustice. But they are not doing so. They are simply trying to take control of the streets, with violence if necessary. They do not want to let the CEGEPs (junior colleges) open even where there are court orders that the doorways be kept clear for students who wish to go to class. On Tuesday, parents and teachers joined protesters in blocking the doors of Collège Lionel-Groulx in Sainte-Thérèse, in spite of an injunction. The wishes of the 50 students trying to get in did not matter.
Those who feel passionately opposed to the tuition increase have accorded themselves the right to do as they wish. I feel, ergo I can do as I bloody well please. It’s as if a sense of justification borrowed from the Arab Spring merged with the destruction-is-fun atmosphere of the Vancouver hockey riot. And yet Pauline Marois, Leader of the Parti Québécois, wants Premier Jean Charest to offer the students more. A leader who capitulates before thuggish behaviour is no leader.
The hallmark of Canadian democracy is a peaceful settling of conflict. There are a myriad of issues that could draw people into the streets on both sides, and who should win, the side with more rocks in their hands?
Ah, the romance of protest. No one else matters. The Quebec government tried to compromise but the demonstrators were drunk on the illusion of power. Mr. Charest and his new Education Minister, Michelle Courchesne, need to stand up to the minority who would use intimidation and physical threat to set public policy. It is not impossible to talk to someone with a rock in his hand, but it is terribly unwise.