The myth of $325: Maclean’s and the Quebec student strikes

Okay, so maybe it started with $325.

But over the last two months it’s clear the Quebec student strike has become about much more than this baseline number that has been op-ed fodder for the last two months… and will be capturing the attention of Canadians anew on the upcoming Maclean’s magazine cover (pictured below).

The silver lining is that at least Maclean’s — arguably one of the Canadian political touchstones in Western, Anglo Canada — will finally get people outside of Quebec really talking about a conflict that is years in the making.

But until the rest of Canada reads (multiple sources in English and French) on the issue, how does one succinctly tell friends, relatives and friends-of-relatives while on vacation for a sister’s wedding what the fuck is going on in Quebec? How can you explain, if they haven’t been here, that the determined looking, red-clad, Arab Spring-esq face on Maclean’s is but one of many taking to the streets each night, for a variety of different reasons? How does one break the overly-simplified binary (radical students vs. government) or a fabricated “war?” How do you explain the casseroles?

This is not, and has never been, exclusively about $325. This number is too narrow to really place an accurate value on the nuance of this crisis, what is happening on the streets of Montreal, Quebec City and Victoriaville, or to take full account for the spirited and sometimes violent upheaval that has gripped this province for over 100 days, and 30 nights.

What’s happening in Quebec is a story you can’t just ”get” – or should even attempt to write about – in one sitting – simply because there is currently more than one conflict going on.

Yeah, the student strikers – and their many intergenerational allies growing in numbers in the streets and out-of-province – may have started talking about tuition – but there’s much more they’re also talking about.

The “grève générale illimitée” (#ggi on Twitter) is also, simultaneously, about the tactic of mass arrest; it’s about emergency laws that directly contravene the values of freedom of expression and assembly;

It’s become a debate about budgets and austerity measures raining down around a generation with fewer future prospects, about the value of accessible education, about internal university mismanagement, about alternative possibilities to funding, to curb student debt;

Or, as on April 22, it was about joining with environmental activists and Quebec investing in the controversial Plan Nord;

Over the last 30 consecutive nights, it’s become about police costover-reach and (understandably) exhaustion;

It’s unfortunately about a generational rhetoric war of “entitlement” (also see: ‘boomer hate’ and ‘spoiled students‘), or “mob rule” (see also: ‘Charbonneau Commission’ or this meme.)

And perhaps the largest lead to take on when trying to explain what’s happening in Quebec – which we should also remember is not isolated, as the carré rouge and talk of education reform has shown up in other provinces, states and globally –  is a conversation about equitable, efficient and sustainable ways to fund and run public institutions as we move forward.

This is about far more than $325. It’s time to make the rest cover-worthy, too.

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