Around 400 concerned Quebeckers from across the province assembled Saturday afternoon at Phillips Square to protest the austerity policies proposed by the Parti Québécois government, including a hike in Hydro-Québec electricity rates.
The protest was organized by the Coalition against public service fees and privatization – an amalgamation of over 85 independent organizations from grassroots movements – in response to Hydro-Québec’s demand that electricity prices be raised, on average, 5.8 per cent by April 2014.
This demand comes after a 2.4 per cent rate increase was granted to Hydro-Québec by the provincial energy board in April 2013. The utility claims the newest hike is needed to fund new wind farms and keep up with both inflation and rising commercial and residential demands for electricity.
According to CBC, a 5.8 per cent hike would see the average homeowner in Quebec pay about $72 more each year.
At the protest, social activist Mostafa Henaway told The Daily that these hikes were uncalled for.
“[Electricity] is a publicly accessible good; there is no reason to increase the rates. It is simply out of a profit margin, as opposed to the actual necessity [of raising] them,” said Henaway, adding that increased rates will decrease the affordability of housing.
The march, peaceful throughout its duration, wound its way from Phillips Square to Hydro-Québec headquarters, and finished off at Square Victoria. The protest was escorted by a small contingent of police on bicycles despite not being declared illegal.
There was a heavy police presence when the crowd stopped outside of the Hydro-Québec building, but this didn’t stop organizers from giving speeches from the steps.
“The government has the impression that these rate hikes are only numbers, only numbers on paper,” yelled organizer Marie-Éve Rancourt to the paused crowd in French.
The percussion group Kumpa’nia provided the constant rhythm of drums that echoed throughout the protest. Some signs, held by protesters and written in French, opposed the installation of Hydro-Québec smart meters, while others labelled the proposed hikes as part of a “budget of austerity.”
“Hydroelectric prices directly attack the power of households, and their ability to eat well,” Philippe Viel, a protest organizer, told The Daily in French.
This feeling was shared by others at the march. “How will they pay for their hydroelectricity?” Patrick, a protester, asked in French. “It will cost a fortune.”
“Government [officials] have decided to look to the pockets of citizens to erase the deficit […] this in the end isn’t acceptable,” he added.
While the protest itself was focused around increased rates, many groups present expressed concerns with social issues and government cutbacks.
“They say cutback,” the crowd chanted outside of the Hydro-Québec building during the organizers’ speeches, “We say fuck that.”