Activists gathered outside the Tour de la Bourse early Wednesday morning to protest the Quebec government’s austerity program. Organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) student union federation, the demonstration was part of a planned week of “disturbances against austerity,” which included surprise protests and occupations of bank and government offices across Quebec.
Protesters attempted to block the entrance to the Tour de la Bourse, but were forced away by the police within minutes.
Steve, a student at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), told The Daily in French that he had come out to draw attention to the fact that “austerity favours economic elites.”
“We want the equitable sharing of wealth,” he continued. “We’re here to protest austerity, but also to symbolically protest the economic elite. We need actions that are both symbolic and concrete, like coming to the Tour de la Bourse, like occupying offices.”
Other protesters pointed to the disparity between taxes on businesses and taxes on people.
“One of the principal sources of revenue the government could look to is to go and tax capital, the banks,” said Charles, one of the protesters, in French.
He said further that he considered provincial austerity an “aggressive measure that attacks the population,” and called on the government to “find money where there is money,” namely by taxing financial institutions more heavily.
“We need actions that are both symbolic and concrete, like coming to the Tour de la Bourse, like occupying offices.”
The Quebec Liberal government eliminated capital gains tax in 2011. According to ASSÉ documents, reinstating the capital gains tax at a rate of 1 per cent for banks and 0.5 per cent for other corporations would increase revenue by $600 million per year.
Katia, a self-described ‘federal employee’ who was canvassing pedestrians near the demonstration, spoke to The Daily.
“This profits a group who are qualified, in good health […] and who are often subsidized,” she said in French, referring to businesspeople. “Now they’re going to tell us that normal people have to tighten their belts? I’ve had enough.”
“We’re here […] against the financial elite that our government listens to. They don’t listen to the population, they listen to the financial elite,” she continued. “They’re destroying all our social benefits – it’s horrible.”
One activist spoke to the different burdens placed on the working population and corporations over a loudspeaker.
“While there are hydroelectric power outages, while one in ten people spend 80 per cent of their wages on rent, while condo developments are destroying working-class neighbourhoods, and while the Indigenous community does not have access to fundamental needs, like electricity or drinking water, these tie-wearing gangsters hide their millions in tax havens,” he said in French.
Following a series of speeches, the crowd marched around Victoria Square, obstructing traffic and shouting slogans. There were minor scuffles with police who tried to move protesters onto the sidewalk. After one tour of the square, organizers ended the protest, but with calls to keep the momentum over the following weeks.
“All week there are symbolic actions,” said Charles. “It’s only February at the moment, but it’s time to start mounting the pressure.”