Barbara Kay: Quebec’s mindless mobs reflect French/English divide
National Post - Thursday May 24th, 2012
In case you haven’t noticed, the massive protests in Quebec have been rather one-sided, culturally speaking. As the mindless mobs fill the streets day after day, protesting the injustice of having to pay a few hundred dollars more in tuition, you will find that amongst them, almost nary is heard an English-language word.
This is a linguistically schizoid protest. There are 43 francophone CEGEPs in Quebec, of which 28 are on strike. None of the five anglo CEGEPs are. None of those students will miss their year. There are four universities in Montreal: two francophone, two anglophone. At the Université de Montréal, almost a third of the students are officially on strike – 12,000 out of 40,000. Many of them will lose their term. At UQAM, more than half — 27,000 of 40,000 -– went on strike and the campus pretty well shut down.
True, at Concordia, a much more politicized and left-leaning population than the generally more bourgeois constituency at McGill, almost a quarter –12,000 of 45,000 -– were out, but only a small number of actual classes were disrupted, unlike at the franco colleges. In fact, according to veteran columnist Josh Freed of the Montreal Gazette, some Concordia profs who couldn’t access their classrooms were actually teaching out of their homes.
At McGill, the situation is unique. Last week McGill estimated only 40 – yes, forty – students out of 38,000 were on strike and no classes had been disrupted.
You can’t explain the imbalance by class or economics. Of course there are more privileged students at McGill in general than at some of the other universities. But there are also plenty of struggling students, and it isn’t as if the U of M is an inner-city university. Its’ magnificent art deco campus is home to many of Quebec’s franco elites.
And Concordia has traditionally been the working man’s and immigrant’s campus. There are plenty of hard-luck stories there. But the fact that those who wanted to carry on with their studies at the anglo institutions were able to, while the franco institutions virtually shut down is instructive.
Freed attributes the difference to several factors: to pride in McGill as an internationally high-ranking university that has created a uniquely passionate loyalty amongst anglos; to a lack of attachment to trade unions or to the Parti Québécois, both of which have been actively supporting (read “egging on”) the protesters; and anglo dependence on Charest, not much loved but recognized as the anglos’ only lifeline to federalism and partial economic sanity; and in general a greater respect for the practical benefits of education and a wish to get on with their real lives. As Freed also notes, anglos are culturally tuned in to the rest of the country; they are far more realistic than their bubble-dwelling franco peers about the cost of tuition elsewhere.
I agree with Freed that French intellectuals take their political bearings from France and its long tradition of flirtation with revolution and bloodletting. Like France, Quebec is a nanny state. In nanny states, any reduction of entitlements is considered injustice. Grievance becomes a way of life for many radicals, and a little blood in the streets alleviates the boredom of continual protesting with nothing to show for it.
In a way, it is good that the craziness in Quebec is demonstrably unrelated to the alleged cause. No rational liberal believes a few hundred dollars a year of increased tuition fees added to the lowest fees in North America, which still leaves them the lowest, can be justified as a cause for such massive civil disobedience. When political tensions arise, it’s all about culture. Guillotines were a French invention. There’s more than a little nostalgie de la boue in the Montreal air these days.