Friday, May 18, 2012

May 18: Quebec and spoiled brats

Okay - The Moncton Times and Transcript quickly.

What is in the TandT?

1. Brilliant column by Alec Bruce.
2. disturbing column by David Suzuki.
3. Phony action on shale gas by the NB government.

What's not in the TandT?
1. Ford and Geneal Motors linked to illegal destruction of Brazil rain forest - and to slavery.
    (who would have guessed?)
2. Harper, as part of bill to speed up exploitation of oil and gas regions is going to close down the National Roundtable for the Environment and the Economy. (But don't worry. Alward will watch out to protect us from environmental problems.)

Now to Quebec.

Reaction to the Quebec student strike in the Canadian news media has commonly been what is technically called the "old fart" school of commentary, describing the students as spoiled brats. The Chronicle Herald, in a variation of that theme, says that the law must be upheld. (I don't believe it has ever made such a comment when corporations have broken the law.) Of course, billionaires don't riot in the streets. At least, I can't recall the last time I saw one. That could mean that billionaires are not spoiled brats. Or it could mean something else.....

Maybe the students are spoiled brats.  But that tells us nothing about anything, and has no bearing whatever on what we are facing, and why.  People have reasons for the way they behave. Even spoiled brats have reasons. If we want to solve the problem, we have to understand what those reasons are. Harrumphing about spoiled brats and enforcing the law will have no effect on what the Quebec student strike is really about - and the effect such thinking is soon going to have well beyond the borders of Quebec..

But it can be hard to figure exactly what people's reasons are. We humans are funny creatures. We often  (maybe usually) act without knowing exactly why we're doing whatever we're doing. But if we stand back and forget our urge to make thrunderiing denunciations, we can make some pretty good guesses.

1. Remember the turnout in New Brunswick's municipal elections? In the last federal election? Our democracy is in trouble. Voter participation has been dropping steadily for over fifty years. Canada is led by a paryt that only one-third of us voted for. And that's quite common in the "democratic" world.

Did people suddenly became lazy in the last fifty years? Is there a virus? Possibly. But more likely it's been a loss of trust in politicians and in democracy, itself. Here in New Brunswick, our elected government (which was supposed to listen to us) quite openly listens to corporations instead -and gives them whatever they want. The same is true of the Charest government in Quebec and the Harperites in Ottawa.

Trust in the democratic process is just about dead.  And, as it dies, we can expect to see lots more "spoiled brats" across Canada and, indeed, all of North America.

2. Separatism? Not likely. Separatist leaders, too, have lost a good deal of trust. The separatist movement was based on two, historical myths believed by both French and English. One myth was that the French of Quebec were poor. The other was that the English of Quebec were rich.

In fact, the French working class was generally better off than the English working class, since it had a higher proportion of skilled workers. And there were rich French. (The name Parizeau springs to mind.)  The wealthy French dominated the professions. As for the English, some were very rich, indeed. But the majority, by far, were working class, and at the lowest levels.

 But that started to change in the 1950s.

3. The change was caused by schooling. To understand that, you have to understand that French Quebec has a social structure of something resembling aristocracy and peasantry. The aristocracy were (and still are) the wealthy French. Every premier (and most cabinet ministers) in the history of Quebec have been graduates of a handful of private schools. (Levesque, who didn't graduate from his private school, might be counted the one, partial exception among premiers.)

The French private schools offered excellent and expensive education with oustanding records of producing bilingual graduates. Thanks to the influence of the students' daddies, they also might receive government grants.

Those same daddies also sat on the boards for public schools, the ones for the peasantry. Rich daddies saw no reason to waste their tax money on peasant children. So the French public schools were badly and cheaply run to keep taxes down.  They normally did not qualify students to attend university. Indeed, few would stay past grade nine.

English public schools were based on the Scottish system - with the same programmes for all children, rich and poor. As well, most of the rich English sent their own children to the public schools, so they had a stake in making sure they were good. Across Quebec, Protestant (English) school tax rates were consistently higher than Catholic (French) ones. Few English children would get past grade nine, either - but the system that could do it was in place.

For over a century, that made no great difference at all. Then, in the fifties and sixties there was an explosion of office jobs that required more schooling. The English schools only had to build more classrooms. The French public schools were hopelessly inadequate.  The result, by the 1960s, was the rise of an English middle class. The French certainly fell behind in that period. But the ones who did the damage were their own, upper class leaders.

The separatist movement glossed over that. What it talked about was how it would bring social justice to the French poor. And the earlier separatists may have intended to. But the Jacques Parizeau's soon changed that. They changed it  to a movement to push the English wealthy aside in favour of the French wealthy. And the rich French still use the private school system to retain their advantage.

The Quebec student strike, for all the attempts of the Parti Quebecois to cuddle up to it, is not likely to be taken in. Indeed, the Parti Quebecois is part of the reason for their disillusionment with government in the first place.

And, oh, this is running too long for a single blog - so I'll finish it tomorrow with a look at how Canadian universities are destroying themselves out of pure snobbery, how university for the poor has become simply become a way to spend a lifetime in debt, how Canada is throwing away potential leaders by the million,a look at the consequences for all of us. And then a brief look at how sensible countries are dealing with this.

No comments:

Post a Comment