If tonight is “Casseroles Night in Canada,” will any Albertans show their support for affordable education for all – and opposition to the all-too-typical neo-Con restrictions of our fundamental freedoms – by clanking their pots and pans in sympathy with our fellow citizens in the streets of Quebec?
Maybe a few will, for, notwithstanding the best efforts of our Western Canadian media to make it appear otherwise, it is increasingly apparent even here in darkest Alberta that a democratic social movement of startling potency and potential has arisen in Quebec.
After more than three months, the burgeoning social protest by a broad swath of Quebec society has typically been reported here, when it is reported at all, as if it were an effort to skip classes and make trouble by a minority of lazy students, who are greedy, self-interested and violent to boot.
The meaning of nightly eight o’clock demonstrations by dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers who are outraged at the neo-Conservative policies of the government of Premier Jean Charest – and, it is safe to say, at the same polices at the federal level by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – failed to arouse much interest among our media.
Even the totalitarian suppression of Quebeckers’ fundamental rights of assembly, association and free expression, so reminiscent of the imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970, was met with silence or outright support by the Alberta media and those right-wing political parties and their offshoots so influential in this province that tirelessly portray themselves as defenders of our rights.
Where the nightly demonstrations by masses of ordinary Quebeckers were discussed at all, they were typically portrayed in the context of Alberta’s continual whining about its financial contribution to Confederation, as in the ignorant and offensive screed by a Calgary Herald columnist who argued, in effect, that the neo-Con ideologues who run this wealthy province ought to have a veto over Quebec’s social policies
Well, that would make our continual efforts to cry poverty in the midst of plenty less embarrassing, one supposes, but that’s about it.
The reality is it’s all baloney, as even a senior economist for the Canada West Foundation, hardly a liberal think tank, was moved to point out recently. The money for the federal transfer payments the Calgary Herald complains about so vociferously doesn’t come from Alberta revenues, Michael Holden explained more patiently than I would have, it comes from federal taxes collected all across this great big land. They’re even collected in Quebec, a fact that may have escaped the Herald editorial staff’s attention, preoccupied as they must be with their own fading prospects.
“Equalization does not affect the Alberta government’s bottom line,” Mr. Holden explained more gently than the Herald really deserved.
So if we Albertans want to stop feeling so ripped off, the solution is pretty simple – start collecting a reasonable level of taxes and royalties (or even just make the effort to actually collect the ones that are on the books) and build some decent social services of our own.
No matter what the Herald may tell you, it’s not as if Quebeckers are taking something from Albertans. Au contraire! It’s pretty obvious that most of the people in the streets of Montreal and throughout Quebec for the past 107 nights are not just fighting for themselves and their children, they are fighting for all of us, whether or not we have enough sense to recognize it.
The credit for our sense of dismay at our own shabby government and health services amidst all the wealth of this province resides squarely with the Conservative governments at both senior levels of government, the very people we keep trooping back to the polls to re-elect with metronomic regularity.
As Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair said of these Conservatives in the House of Commons yesterday: “Under their policies we are becoming the first generation that will leave less to our children than what we inherited from our parents. … We are one of the richest countries in the world and yet we are one of the countries with the greatest disparity between the richest and the poor.”
The legacy of these Conservatives, said Mr. Mulcair, who is scheduled to visit Fort McMurray and the Suncor plant in the Alberta bitumen sands tomorrow, is “unprecedented attacks on the middle class.”
If Mr. Harper used one of his F-35s to drop an atomic bomb on Alberta, how many of the survivors would crawl out of the rubble to vote Conservative?
Well, a few might not. Tonight some people will gather in Edmonton to bang their pots and pans in solidarity with Quebec. There are signs this respectful but forceful form of protest – which requires no one to venture too far out of their own neighbourhood comfort zone – is creeping across the border into Ontario too.
Who knows, perhaps it will keep growing in places other than Quebec as citizens face down the neo-Cons. Perhaps even Mr. Charest’s conversion to the idea he must seek a deal with the students will not put the genie of this social movement back in the bottle, as the Harper Conservatives must devoutly hope.
As progressive commentator Murray Dobbin wrote recently, “We owe the Quebec students (and their hundreds of thousands of supporters in civil society groups) a huge debt of gratitude for shaking us out of our ideology-induced political torpor.”
Slowly, one clank at a time, the sound of those hundreds of thousands of pots and pans and casseroles in Quebec may be working its liberating way into our stubborn English Canadian consciousness!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.