Andrew Coyne, (always a great read, I do give him that), has devoted his last few columns in the National Post to the English Canadian media's new favourite sport, which is calling the student strikers in Quebec either pathetic losers, dangerous terrorists, violent extremists, or spoiled children, take your pick.
The three month strike finally is winding down. Premier Jean Charest now will of course have to be vilified in his turn, for "capitulating" to "intimidation". He should have stood firm and showed those rotten little entitled scoundrels who is boss, the sheep agree. Except that no one really paid attention to what the protesters were saying. It wasn't "Give us what we demand right now!" It was "Why do you have oodles of money for nonsense like x, y, and z, yet think you can get away with scamming this couple hundred million out of our pockets?"
And the Premier knew, as anyone who understands Quebec's economy knows, that faced with this argument, he was standing on some pretty shaky ground. Quebec, in the grand francophone tradition, is a dirigiste economy. That means a crony or oligopoly-based economy in English. The dirigistes who benefit from the operation of the economy are your usual suspect captains of industry and hotshot CEOs, yes, but they are also whoever has the government's ear at a particular time and manages to convince them that they will invest in an area, create jobs, etc. The same promises that the usual suspects brandish in the government's face whenever they need money/grants/preferential tax treatment, and the like, get any businessperson what they need in Quebec: taxpayer money.
As a result, la province du Québec subsidizes everything from construction sites to asbestos mines, from arenas and amphitheatres for billionaires to video game companies, up to plane engine factories and down through electric cars and film and television studios. I am not kidding. So why should students pay 131$ million to a government that is also willing to hand $59 million over to keep an asbestos mine open here, or $400 million to build an amphitheatre in Quebec City there, with a guy (PKP) whose personal fortune is estimated at $521 mil?
You see? In a society more inspired by Ron Paul or Friedrich Von Hayek, the protesters would elicit less sympathy because everybody would be self-made. In a society where most people's standards of living are due to one form or another of government pork, the con-job is buck naked for all to see. So the students basically said, "Oh, so all these people in these diverse sectors who got their free training and safety net and bread and butter from the government guaranteed forever now want us to pay more because they f------ up. The interest group that gets picked on is the one with the least economic clout and the least political leverage Well, isn't this just so convenient and great for us. Actually, no. F you, Charest."
Before you jump on your high horse, dear reader, and insist that the English language we share instills an economic superiority within us that ensures our English Canadian society would never tolerate such dirigiste shenanigans, let me remind you that we, too, live in a dirigiste economy. Me and you, English Canadian friend. As such, in my fine province of Ontario, there are three supermarket conglomerates that control about 75-80% of the grocery market: Loblaws, Metro, and Sobey's. There are two Drug Store chains with decent market share: Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall. Wal-Mart and Costco, two more US-based retailers, combine these drug store and grocery services with department stores to elbow the shit out of the Food/Drug oligopolies' margins as well as crush what's left of our pathetic department store market (Zellers and the Bay, both owned by Americans). There are four insurance companies based in Ontario that control over 75% of the Canadian market. There are five banks ("chartered" to steal money by the Bank of Canada/Fed Gov) based in Ontario that have approximately 95% Canadian consumer banking market share between them. Media is the saddest example. Two companies, Bell and Rogers, control 99% of the Phone service, Cable/Satellite service, Personal and business internet service, Mobile/Data phone networks, TV Stations, Radio Stations, Newspapers, and Sports teams in Ontario. Telus is here too, but whatever. The CEOs of all these companies, who are so profitable because the government ensures there's no competition, make millions of dollars in salaries each year.
The average Ontarian, making 50K if he's lucky, forks over hundreds a month to the dirigiste cause in car insurance (highest in the country, thanks to insurers' cozy relationship with government who lets them raise the rates). He spends hundreds for telecom packages that have the highest rates in the world for the services included. He pays bank fees to the bank oligopoly making record profits every quarter. He can scarcely buy food/drug/retail goods without stepping into the oligopoly matrix. And of course, Visa and Mastercard do pretty good business skimming fees from consumers and merchants on all of this (no competition there either). Suddenly you understand where all that 1% vs. 99% talk came from last summer.
And where does this tie in with tuition? Well, in Ontario we have the highest tuition in the country. Does that sound like a coincidence in the society I just described? I graduated in 2006 and tuition has already jumped almost 50% since then. What do people in Ontario have to say about that? Absolutely nothing, of course. We've all got to roll up our sleeves and do our part in Uncle Dalton's austerity world. Doesn't matter that Dave Johnston collected a cool million a year for being president of the University of Waterloo, then was on the sunshine list for a $600,000 salary at UW last year even though he wasn't working there any more. He had already moved on to his next job of Governor General of Canada, which also pays $600,000 per year tax free. Ah, the vice-regal. But his lectures full of empty bromides on the nobility and benefits of public service are sure worth it, and now you know why. He should know more than anybody!
Derwood McSquinty, to his credit, rolled back the tuition with a 30% tax credit, something he was admonished for by austerity-architect Don Drummond. Still way out of line with what Quebec students are being asked to pay, though, after rebates, and here there's no turmoil. So what gives?
An incredibly underwhelming answer, I'm afraid. It's the other main point brought up often by the anti-strike folk in the media, which is that two-thirds of the students aren't even striking. So it is not the whole province's student body causing trouble, but rather a minority of anthropology and sociology-studying miscreant deluded marxist-lites, scared by their lack of job prospects in the future. They are right about the minority part. Because most Quebec students are not all that different from Ontario after all. Sure, raise my rates, they say. Just please leave me alone so I can go about my business of watching stupid crap on tv and becoming a debt slave and bring addicted to weed, booze, cigarettes, and painkillers, because I can't face what a sad insignificant powerless cog I am in this oligopoly/capitalist system. Not the global one, the one in Canada, the "best country on Earth", that says I'm very nice and gives me rights and freedoms and hospitals and schools and all that, while grabbing me by the throat and telling me these things are why I am not allowed to complain about being the government/crony/dirigiste cartel's personal ATM. Yes. Quebecois people, on the whole, are passive, consenting, subservient proles of the state just like the rest of Canada. Except not quite as much. Which is why we say "Holy shit, they've got $7 day care! Why can't we have that? Oh, nevermind, I just felt the government stamp on my fingers."
Rob Carrick did a series in the Globe this week about how median incomes have barely risen since 1984 (My wife and I, two university educated parents, make less than the Canadian median family income in 1984), yet inflation has at least doubled everything and house prices have sextupled (Yes. Sextupled) in Canada since then. I wouldn't care about the low income if everything wasn't so damn expensive. Yet here we are, generation Y, in for the biggest economic con-job of our lives. Our parents protested war and racism (good for them), but with their high wages and low levels of education failed to grasp economic matters. As such, they thought a senile eighty year old actor spouting such economic wisdom as "Deficits don't matter" was a political and macroeconomic genius, so much so that he is the saint whose memory the USA Republican Party is praying will lead them to victory in November. What happened in the USA happened in Quebec and Ontario: The Baby Boomers, who outnumber us by about 3:1, have their health care, pensions, and bubble priced real estate. Our lives are okay for now if we don't compare them to theirs, but they won't be when we're being asked to make good on this ponzi.
So the Quebec students, in their naiveté, in their offensiveness, in their stubbornness and extreme intransigeance, at least stuck their thumbs in the eyes of the baby boomer establishment for three months straight. I know the student union leaders are political opportunists. I also know many of my fellow 20-somethings in this country who should have their eyes wide open and be living within their means are instead aspiring to the boomer ponzi of suburbia and car-loans, 100% compound-interest funded by the big bank cartel. I'm way madder at them then at boomers; we have huge challenges ahead and need all hands on deck, not occupied with debt slavery. In the end, it comes down to one thing: We will only have true freedom and personal responsibility again when this bloodsucking dirigiste system is weaned off the government teat and forced to fend for itself. With McGuinty's musings about throwing more public money away on the auto sector today, the charade is showing no signs of coming to an end in Ontario. Quants aux étudiants, je salue votre audace