On my way to class one morning I heard on the radio that driving permits and insurance fees would be on the rise in the next two years. I hadn’t reached the highway before I also heard that the bastion of monopoly, Hydro-Quebec, would be asking for a 5.3 per cent increase in fees.
Later in the day I learned that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) would be proposing a tax on junk food and those new robot-like downtown parking metres would now run me a toonie instead of the traditional twenty-five cent pay-as-you-park donation. I also learned that the Lachine Canal may soon be charging an annual fee of $10 for use of its bicycle paths and jogging trails.
It gets better. Ontario governments are expected to thaw the freeze on university and college fees next year. Quebec is standing by with a-wait-and-see attitude, better to let Ontario face the heat before making any decision, n’est ce pas? Compulsory fees, CSU fees, gym fees and on and on until, poof, I got home that evening and took a deep breath.
Is it just me but are we all becoming a little sheep-like?
Before you answer that one I remind you that at one time in Canada we were like lions. We stood for democracy and power, power of the people. When Brian Mulroney suggested major changes to the pension act, hundreds of thousands of retired citizens marched in Ottawa, and won. The headlines read: A Grey Day for Ottawa.
In 1995, when the Quebec government decided on drastic changes to tuition, 25,000 students marched in the cold, and won. We marched against every form of economic union from the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and recently the World Trade Organization in an attempt to open public dialogue.
In 2003, tens of thousands of us marched through the streets of Montreal chanting “No to the U.S in Iraq” and while we did not win, we showed our force. Again, we were there to fight the good fight.
The good fight as I see it today is little more than a handful of professional activists who cannot motivate a can of Campbell’s soup to stay hot for longer than two minutes. Take for example the march last week against violence. The numbers varied but by all accounts the march was a Sunday afternoon stroll along Sainte Catherine Street. A car was overturned, which made the anti-violent message a mute one.
It isn’t all bad news. In 2002, over 10,000 marchers from New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, including students from the upper Northern states, took to the streets of Montreal to protest the undemocratic negotiations of the FTAA. The march was brought together by the Quebec Federation of Students.
Last December, the march for climate change brought out another 10,000 plus marchers. The aim of the march was to convince the U.S. to support the Kyoto environment agreement. One organizer said it was a beautiful sight to look up Sainte Catherine Street and witness the sea of people.
Whether these marches change anything is another story, but the sea of people spoken so warmly of represents our true power. When people do not come out it demonstrates a sense of apathy and opens the door for every governmental whim, including tuition fee increases.
In the early nineties, the Quebec government decided to play with Quebec tuition fees. Students came out in force and provoked a tuition freeze that for many years has been honoured. That was a time when civil action was a given. Today it seems we tend to be like sheep and shrug off any news of governments toying with our money. Really?
So have we come become like sheep dependant on the herder?
An environmental relations professor once asked me what I thought would be the best way to affect change.
“By using civil action as a means to an end,” I answered.
What I really meant was massive activism, something we are missing today. March on.