Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Consequential Protest

As a backgrounder to my position on the Quebec student protest, I agree with Emmett Macfarlane and Andrew Coyne.

There's the reasoned analysis. Here's my emotional response: WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MY COUNTRY?????

Now matter how I look at this, I cannot escape the conclusion that the student "strike" is an unreasonable response to reasonable legislation. And then unreasonable responses kept piling up and the whole situation has spiraled into a shithole where things will not end well. The irony of this 100 days (and counting) of protest is that the policy debate around tuition has become irrelevant. This thing has a life of its own and no one knows how or where it will end.

I've always believed that the burden of evidence requiring large-scale civil protest be set very high. The price paid by the current social order of a successful public protest is a costly affair. The ultimate protest, full scale revolution, is almost always a bloody painful affair for everyone involved. There is a high price to be paid for overthrowing or cowing governments into submission.

If the Quebec protests succeed, what price will we pay? We already have a problem where our governments run shit scared of the polls and change policies more often than most of us change clothes. Change is always unpopular with one group or another, but change is necessary. If the status quo were perfect, we wouldn't need legislatures at all. Ever. But since change is unpopular, and unpopular means losing elections, governments are afraid of making tough choices, and refuse to make that choice or make action irrelevant out of "compromise". What the Charest government tried to do with raising tuition was not an earth shattering policy move. And as a result of a minor policy implementation (in the larger scheme of things), we have riots in the street.

So how do governments push through changes then? Hello omnibus bills! Cram so many changes into a single piece of legislation and you fracture your opposition. To avoid public debate, you stifle it in its infancy.

Democracy has evolved into a schizophrenic creature where either the government is furtive and secretive to kill debate or when debate does happen it involves only screaming, shouting and namecalling. What happened to reasoned analysis? What happened to letting governments set policy and for society to observe the results and judge them during elections?

Over a year ago I wrote: "The train we are riding will lead to some sort of popular uprising at some point. Whether it will be mass protests storming parliament hill, or a full out armed insurrection I do not know. But once Canadians stop feeling secure in their day to day lives, there will be an abrupt change in mood in this country, and it will be ugly."

Ugly. There is an ugly mood in this country, and if I look at the student protests through that lens, it makes more sense. People are fed up and angry and they are lashing out. But it all seems so illogical. And maybe that's what I understand but still can't grasp; angry fed-up people are not logical.

But there are still prices to be paid, consequences to be felt. Is Quebec an isolated incident or a turning point for the whole country?

I'm not sure I want to know the answer to that question.

1 comment:

Ken Breadner said...

" Is Quebec an isolated incident or a turning point for the whole country?"

The former, I think. The government and most of the media are framing this as a bunch of spoiled brats doing what spoiled brats do, and enough people believe that to stifle any copybrats elsewhere in the country.

However.

Should the government do something drastic with the Internet -- if the SOPA opera continues, I mean -- you'll see protest spread like wildfire in Blackwater Bay. It's almost embarrassing to say something as cosmically trivial as a CISPA or SOPA would actually see barricades manned and womanned...but I really do believe that would do it.