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One year later: the PQ government

Protesters take to the street in sardonic ‘celebration’

In the early evening of September 4, a group of just over 100 people met at Metro Jarry for a ‘celebration’ of the one-year anniversary of the election of Premier Pauline Marois and the Parti québécois (PQ) government.

“It’s a way to show the PQ that a year after the election, the people are not asleep,” explained Steve, a demonstrator, in French. He also told The Daily that he didn’t see any real difference between the current government and the former. “The PQ has the same politics as the Parti libéral du Quebec (PLQ).”

Judith Barnett, another demonstrator, shared similar sentiments, adding that she thought the government had actually changed for the worse over the past year.

Following St. Denis from Metro Jarry all the way down to Émilie Gamelin Square, the crowd swelled from around 100 to approximately 300 people, many of them banging pots and pans in the casserole style of protest. After speeches at the square, the group marched east on Ste. Catherine before finishing at Ontario and Moreau.

Despite the fact that the protest was declared illegal almost immediately under bylaw P-6 – which allows police to deem marches unlawful if organizers do not divulge their route beforehand – it remained peaceful.

Bylaw P-6 also prohibits protesters from wearing masks, scarves, or hoods that obscure their face. To circumvent the law, protesters put cardboard masks of Marois’ face on their bikes, sticks, or the backs of their heads.

“She couldn’t be here tonight,” one of the protesters, Geneviève, said in French, pulling the mask over her face, “but she is… sort of.”

Protesters waved communist flags, wore red squares, pushed their bikes, and held their children, but all were there for a similar reason: to show the government that they were not pleased. The previous year of the PQ government provided plenty of fodder for outrage – from anti-union legislation, to state-enforced secularism, to tuition hikes. Here’s an overview of some of the most important – and most criticized – issues of the year.

Anti-union legislation

In August, over 175,000 unionized construction workers in Quebec went on strike, citing wages and work conditions as their crucial grievances. While over 98,000 workers managed to negotiate an end to their strike after only a week, over 77,000 workers remained on strike.

When negotiations broke down for the second group of workers after the second week of the strike, the PQ pushed through Bill 54, a highly unpopular piece of back-to-work legislation. If union leaders, employees, and associations did not respect the legislation, they were threatened with fines from $100 for an individual offender to $125,000 for a union or employers’ association.

Both the workers who negotiated an end to the strike and those who were forced back to work received annual pay increases of 2 per cent per year – 1 per cent lower than they initially asked for.

Plan Nord

While Plan Nord was announced by the previous Liberal government in May 2011, it was carried on by the PQ. Plan Nord is a 25 year long, $80 million development and resource exploitation project, touted by the government as an economic booster that will create or consolidate 20,000 jobs per year in Northern Quebec by digging mines, expanding forestry, and damming rivers.

The Plan was heavily criticized by environmental activists, Aboriginal peoples, and labour unions for its destructive potential – not only to the environment, but to the Aboriginal peoples whose communities are on the land. It was also criticized for its lack of transparency and consultation with Quebec’s Aboriginal population.

When the PQ introduced their new “North for All” plan, which will invest $868 million over five years into Northern Quebec, they were blasted for the plan’s similarity to Plan Nord. The PQ admitted that the two plans were similar, but highlighted promises to work more closely with communities on sustainable social and environmental infrastructure.

At the protest on September 4, a demonstrator named Dominic told The Daily he was upset that the PQ, which he believed had run as a socially and environmentally friendly alternative to the PLQ, had simply renamed this environmentally destructive plan instead of shutting it down.

Summit on Higher Education

In February, the PQ held its Summit on Higher Education, a day-and-a-half long summit that involved the government, 61 different organizations, and leaders from student federations. Quickly criticized as being simply for show – Heather Munroe-Blum, then-principal of  McGill, called it a “farce” – many thought the PQ had already made its decisions behind closed doors.

While the PQ government stood in solidarity with students during the student strike of 2011-2012, opposing the PLQ’s proposed tuition hike from $2,168 to $3,793 over five years, the summit saw the government unveil a plan to increase tuition by 3 per cent annually. Although the PQ called it indexation, students and protesters took to the streets to decry what they saw as the government’s empty gesture.

Many of the protesters who attended the demonstration were there to support students. One protester named Valerie stated that she felt that students had been “abandoned” and that she was there “in solidarity with the students arrested during last year’s riots.”

Bill 14 and French language laws

Bill 14, formerly known as An Act to amend the Charter of the French language, saw sweeping legislation introduced into the National Assembly late last year that would amend the use of French in schools and workplaces.

While the Bill has yet to be passed, the debate surrounding it was reignited in the spring when the PQ introduced hearings over the proposed Bill, which was met with fierce opposition from the PLQ.

Amendments proposed included allowing the provincial government to revoke the bilingual status of a municipality if the anglophone population drops below 50 per cent. Another proposed amendment specified that businesses with 26 employees or more needed to make French their everyday work language. The proposed amendments would also give inspectors the ability to seize anything they believe is an offence against the Charter.

Additionally, the Bill could see diplomas denied to CEGEP students if they do not meet a government-approved level of spoken and written French.

Selective secularism

Most recently, the PQ has provoked outrage across Quebec and Canada for its planned Quebec Charter of Values. Before the election in September, the PQ announced it was drafting the Charter, which would prohibit the wearing of religious symbols by public-sector employees in workplaces such as hospitals and schools.

The Charter has come under fire as it proposes a ban on symbols such as hijabs, veils, and kippahs, but does not extend to the crucifix – although it violates the Charter – which the PQ claims is part of Quebec’s history.

Marois was blasted for her comments, published in Le Devoir, that equated what she called the English model of multiculturalism with bombings. Despite outrage across Canada, with many calling the Charter xenophobic in its selectiveness, the PQ still plans to slowly implement the plan in a step-by-step manner.