The kids are not alright: why we need existential crises

How spirituality and mental health intertwine

We’ve heard Premier François Legault say it enough times: implementing secularism in our province’s legal framework was an “important moment” that “doesn’t go against the freedom of religion.”

Whether a state’s democracy rests on its relationship with religion is a debate as old as time. Throughout history, people have gone to war because of the power of religion over the state and over other religions.

This is a contentious issue that no one has an answer to, but one of the expected consequences of secularizing a state is that of having a society that doesn’t think of religion as having an integral role to play in the way our country is run.

Our secular society tells us that it’s unbecoming to talk and think of religion as anything other than a private, individual matter, and that other social aspects of politics should take precedence over it. Legault wasn’t wrong in saying his Bill 21, which banned religious symbols for public workers and mandated that one’s face must not be covered in order to receive some public services, was an “important moment” in Quebec.

Instead of making it a norm to see people practice their religions, we’re pushing people to foster their own religious beliefs within their own homes, on their own, away from their community, which is the complete opposite perspective to how most religions have been structured.

Young people are raised not to think about questions central to religion with as much seriousness as past generations. For some time now, the percentage of the population who are religiously committed has been declining, while the proportion of Canadians who are “spiritually uncertain” or who simply reject spirituality have been escalating. Even those who have faith in religion don’t practice it nearly as much anymore.

On the other hand, our country is going through a mental health crisis, and one which disproportionately affects young people.

We can’t dismiss the downward trend in adherence to faith as being completely disconnected from the rise in mental health issues in the country. The cosmogonic theories and ideologies that religion is so good at starting conversations about, and that science so often leaves open-ended, are quintessential to the human experience.

It’s not a coincidence that every single civilization that has existed has created a system of beliefs to explain where things come from and what the universe is. Since we’ve become sentient and self-aware beings, it’s been a natural instinct of ours to look for answers and to rationalize the world we live in beyond sensory perception.

It’s also no coincidence that all religions have traditions and habits that centre around bringing people together: we know that community is a basic human need. Living beings don’t do well with loneliness; it’s instinctual to want to build relationships with those around us.

It’s not surprising to see the attempts by a government to reduce religions down to something we can leave at home ends up making its population more depressed and less grounded. Our leaders have such a key role to play on culture, and they’re now building one where fraternity and existentialism are considered peripheral to self-reliance and science.

Maybe what we need isn’t a more secularized state but a more spiritual and inclusive one. Human beings weren’t made to let go of their desire to understand the unknowns of the universe.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

The government’s well-kept secret on letter writing

One of the few ways citizens can preserve democracy is to write to the government

Communicating with our political leaders is an essential part of our political system. This is what makes a system a democracy — politicians act on the voice of the people, and they need to hear those voices to accurately reflect them.

Politicians are more accessible than ever, with email addresses, phone numbers, and office locations readily available at the end of a quick internet search. So why aren’t we reaching them?

It may feel overly complicated, futile, or just plain intimidating, and that’s a failure of our political structure. It should be as easy and inviting as possible to communicate to our representatives, but it’s not. So, in lieu of a functioning education system that incorporates Civics 101, let’s go through the basics of our political structure.

There are three levels of government — federal, provincial, and municipal. We elect representatives at each level, and each level is in charge of different matters of governance. For example, did you know that provinces are entirely in charge of all levels of education? There is actually no education branch of government at the federal level.

To communicate to our representatives, we need to know who is representing us. When we elect someone to any of the three levels of government, we are their constituent, and in that relationship, they are obliged to hear our voices.

Even if you didn’t vote for the person representing you, if they were elected by your district at any of the three levels of government, you are entitled to communicate to them, and they are obliged to take your feedback.

If you feel strongly about a certain incident, decision, or plan made, you need to do a little research to find your elected representative, and reach out to the appropriate branch of government, and the appropriate representative.

Writing to the government is instrumental to our democracy. It’s one thing to talk to friends over coffee or rant on Twitter — and it’s definitely relieving — however, contacting our representatives serves a specific structural function.

If people don’t communicate their opinions directly to officials through official channels, then there is no official record of these opinions. This means that when journalists or researchers look for information on, say, how favourable the population is of decriminalizing cannabis, there will be data for them to gather.

Essentially, this allows watchdogs to hold governments accountable for their actions.

Once you find the person you wish to reach, and their contact information, the next step is to construct your argument.

When writing to officials, it’s important to be firm, and to show them you know the law, their role and duty, and the details of the issue you care about. Communicate your argument in concrete terms. Tell them what you want to see them do. Cite your sources, give examples, and quote from past legal cases. You can find the contents of many Canadian legal cases here.

Here are some examples to get started:

It is your duty to represent my best interest as I convey it to you.

I need to know in concrete terms what you plan to do about __. 

In order to represent my best interest and voice, it is imperative that you immediately issue a public statement denouncing __, supporting __, funding __, defunding __.

Talk in real terms. Be literal, be clear, and explain the solution you want to see in practical steps, and if you don’t see it happening, follow up. Write again. Call and leave messages. Tell them you expect a response to questions you have.

Hold these cozy politicians accountable, and make it hard for them to get around corners! Keep it polite and stay firm, and remind them of their duties.

Here’s a few examples:

In order to preserve a legacy of honour, you must conduct yourself honourably when yielding the power that you have. These are the moments that dictate whether an honourable political representative sits in your seat. Please do the right thing and__.

“In order to honourably represent my values, it is imperative that __. By law, you are charged with the task of representing me, and I believe you are capable of it.

The stakes are high, and we have an obligation to take the debates going on in our society seriously. They don’t impact everyone firsthand, but that only means that our system needs reform. While the system we operate in is highly flawed, it is the one we have. We need to operate within these parameters, and make it as inconvenient, difficult, and exposing as possible for politicians to bend to corruption, manipulation, and deceit.

It can be confusing and complicated, but don’t let that discourage you. To help you get started, here are some links to our sitting members of government. You can find the federal liberal cabinet here. You can find Quebec’s CAQ cabinet here. You can find Montreal’s city council here. With their name and position, you can find contact information of the relevant representative with a quick internet search.

If you’ve never been much involved in politics, right now is the best time to start. If you’re a seasoned petition signer, but haven’t taken a crack at writing letters or making calls, right now is the best time to start. It’s about creating momentum and keeping it going.

It’s 2020. Let’s do this.


Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab

En français, s’il vous plaît!

The Charter of the French Language, revisited

A recent Journal de Montréal report has reignited the evergreen debate about the use of English in Quebec’s businesses. Even more than that, it has reignited the flood of articles crying shame upon those whose primary language isn’t French, and has even initiated talks in the provincial parliament to bring reforms to the controversial Bill 101.

This report, aimed at exposing how prevalent English is in the city’s establishments, stated that one out of every two businesses don’t greet customers in French, and some even have workers who are unable to speak it. This conclusion, of course, fails to note that the downtown area’s high concentration of immigrants, tourists, and international students have heavily skewed their results.

Don’t get me wrong — contrary to many who attend anglophone universities, I don’t disagree with the concept of imposing the teaching of French on those who grew up here. I’m not totally opposed to the idea of preserving a part of our culture that makes us stand out from the rest of the country. Learning French is incredibly useful, and I find myself lucky that I was raised in a country that promotes multilingualism in this way.

Further than that, I don’t think English should become an official language of our province. We have built a culture around our language, which still represents a core part of our heritage — and I’m saying this even though both my parents are immigrants. To me, Quebec wouldn’t be Quebec without the dominance of French.

This being said, the war between languages can still be quite problematic in some aspects. I’ve conveniently compiled some definitions of commonly used terms to help you navigate all the articles you may come across when reading up on this debate.

Loi 101


Also known as Charte de la langue française, this legislation asserts French as Quebec’s sole official language. Its articles outline specific rules, such as:

  • the use of French on product labels, packaging, and instructions manuals (Article 51);
  • the use of French on advertisements, public signs, coupons, receipts, and job application forms (Articles 57 and 58);
  • the requirement of sending children to primarily francophone schools, with the exception of those who have at least one parent who is a Canadian citizen and who has received most of their education in English (Article 73).

Many articles of this bill have been challenged on grounds of xenophobia and racism. Not only has it been widely used to assimilate children from ethnic backgrounds and discourage them from speaking their parents’ mother tongue, some consider it to create a lot of division among newly arrived immigrants.

Office québécois de la langue française


Provincial organization that aims to enforce the use of French as the official language in Quebec. Over the past year, it has processed 3665 complaints relating to the observance of Bill 101, and whose inspectors ensure the proper punishment of offenders, such as a small bakery owner who used the word ‘espresso’ and a family restaurant named Kitchen 73, which contains an English word.



Greeting used by many service workers to ensure the representation of both languages in their workplace. Also the root of a continuous debate about the prioritization of French in businesses that has caused many to support making English greetings illegal in the province, a decision which was ruled out in favour of public awareness campaigns.

I hope these definitions will help as you scroll through the Journal’s home page and find yourself impressed with their pro-Charte rhetoric. Though important, Quebec nationalism isn’t as ideal as they make it out to be.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Poli SAVVY: Bill 40 passed under closure? So much for democracy, Legault!

Authoritarianism can have many faces.

We tend to depict it with extreme images such as slavery, dictatorship and oppression––but not all forms are as explicitly visible. And one of the worst kinds is silencing the opposition.

This rigid tactic is starting to be the trademark of Prime Minister François Legault and the Coalition Avenir––the current centre-right Quebec Government.

Last week, I wrote about Britain’s lack of urgency when it comes to dealing with Brexit—well, over here, we have a government that’s dangerously in a hurry. When it comes to passing bills, the CAQ is a bulldozer.

Late Friday night, it invoked closure for the fourth time in less than eight months, to pass Bill 40. The procedure allows the government in power to limit debates over legislation, even though some National Assembly members who wished to speak haven’t had the time to do so.

Despite severe critics coming from the educational system, 60 over 35 voted in favour of Bill 40, abolishing Quebec’s francophone and anglophone school boards. Additionally, in a last-minute decision, the original transition period of two weeks was eliminated, immediately kicking many commissioners out of their elected positions.

It was widely reported that school boards, teachers’ unions and English-language lobby groups, among the opposition parties condemned the government for rushing into an intense reform that needed more time and more consultation.

What was Legault’s response to evoking closure? “The opposition was ‘obstructing’ the passage of the law,” he said while speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

Yet, this is the entire purpose of the opposition: balancing powers and ensuring democratic debates over issues such as this one. Why was the CAQ quick to act so undemocratically?

Well, simply take a look at another controversial bill that was passed under closure; when Bill 21––the secularism law—was voted in last spring. The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has since been one of the loudest opposition voices, in challenging Bill 21. If the board that’s challenging Legault’s precious laicity law doesn’t exist anymore, can the fight continue?

“Faire d’une pierre, deux coups,” they say—and the CAQ is striking hard.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Anti-PQ anger on the eve of election

Protesters don’t mince words over PQ policies

Activists and politicians assembled Friday afternoon at Premier Pauline Marois’ doorstep on the corners of McGill College and Sherbrooke Street to show their anger and disappointment at what they consider the rising state-sanctioned exclusion against Quebec’s religious, linguistic, and ethnic minorities.

Conceived by Canadians for Coexistence (CfC), a group advocating for full Canadian inclusion, only a handful of the planned 200-some individuals came out to brave the wind and the rain. Although the weather might have chilled bodies it certainly failed to dampen the fiery rhetoric.

“We’re a group that believes in diversity in inclusion and the PQ is against our beliefs. They’re a group that very clearly believes in exclusion and division,” said founding member Norma O’Donnell, highlighting in particular the rights of Quebec’s religious and anglophone minorities.

When asked on her thoughts as to why anglophone rights aren’t more visible, she said there were many reasons; from sympathetic francophones who remain quiet because of social pressures, to an inability to connect with students.

“It’s seems like students in Quebec are more concerned about their tuition than their rights and freedoms, which is extremely disappointing,” she said about the number of youth protesters, and referring to the recent Charter of Values which would prohibit ostentatious religious displays and clothing by government employees, and last year’s failed Bill 14, which would have strengthened the primacy of the French language.

“We’ve spoken to students, we’ve encouraged them to participate in these rallies. Students don’t seem to be interested … and that’s where we have to try and bring the two together.”

Photo by Keith Race

Though interviewed well before Monday’s elections, O’Donnell said that one way or another, whoever wins, her group’s ambitions were only just beginning.

“Canadians for Co-Existence, as well as several of our other groups, are very much going to be working alongside these politicians … because we don’t plan to accept the same-old, same-old. We plan to see that whichever party gets into power, that things will be very different. We’re not going to be the same old Anglo groups who sat by quietly and let this happen.”

Echoing O’Donnell’s sentiments was Montreal’s Reverend Darryl Gray, former Kansas state senator and head of English rights group, Alliance Quebec, and current pastor of the Imani Family and Full Gospel Church.

“The reality that there needs to be a stronger voice in the anglophone community is something that concerns me. I think there are those who acknowledge that the PQ government has failed the anglophone community, it has failed communities of faith, it has failed students, it has failed people in ethnic and cultural communities. I think that somebody needs to show up and stand up and speak up,” said Gray.“I’m not concerned about the Bills themselves. It’s about the mindset that would create such a thing.”

Gray, who says he has supported civil rights movements for decades, was careful to draw distinctions and not paint everyone with the same brush.

“There are many people in the PQ … that do not submit or believe in the policies and the behavior and the attitude of their leadership. I think that it’s important to say that. But, having said that, the leadership too often reflects and speaks on behalf of the body — and that is unfortunate.”

“I’m not here to represent the Liberals, or the Green Party, or the NDP. I’m here to represent the person who best speaks to the human condition. Mrs. Marois will have to understand that she’s going to have to stop running away from Montreal, that she’ll have to embrace Montreal for the diversity that it is. I’m here because I need to be here, I’m here because I want to be here.”

Additional speakers included, amongst others, Green Party leader Alex Tyrell and Muslim community activist, Salman Shabad Saidi, who organized Montreal’s first World Hijab Day back in February and has been, like Tyrell, a very vocal critic of the Charter.

“When they introduced the ban on religious symbols, I began to see what direction they [the PQ] were headed,” said Saidi of his motivations. “They were […] laying out the platform for the right demographic — and by right demographic, I mean white, purlaine, speaking the same language.”

Saidi calls the PQ tactics cheap attempts at raising division for political reasons, and mocked Marois’ vision of Quebec.

“We have our own ideas that are based on tolerance, intelligence, diversity, and productivity,” Saidi said, adding that his strong words were necessary to reflect the very real undercurrents in Quebec which are only now beginning to be voiced.

“They’ve unleashed a campaign of hate and intolerance against minorities, [ and these tactics] never embodied any true Quebec values and went against much of the tolerance that this province has been showing.”


Your voice counts, regardless of the language

Why everyone should take the opportunity to vote in the upcoming election

Provincial elections tend to bring out the beast in everyone, encouraging debate and unwanted political advertisements wherever one looks. For the first time in recent memory, however, a political candidate has questioned who should be allowed to decide the future of the province in which they reside.

On March 22, at a news conference in Rivière-du-Loup, Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois, went on record as stating that they are concerned that non-Quebecers will be deciding the fate of our province. The concern, according to Mme Marois, is due to an “abnormal” number of anglophones and allophones who have registered to vote in the greater Montreal region. At this time, it is unclear what figure “abnormal” represents. According to Le Directeur Général Des Elections du Québec (DGE) there have been no abnormalities concerning voter registration.

According to the DGE, anyone above the age of majority, who has lived in Québec for more than six months, and intends to stay in Québec long term has the right to vote.

At a press conference two days later, the Parti Québécois sided with their leader by questioning if the anglophones and allophones registering intended to stay within the province at all. This is a very dangerous line of thinking to pursue, especially given that the DGE has admitted that some names were taken off the electoral list since the last provincial vote.

Voting is a right, regardless of the individual’s primary language. It is risky for any candidate to state otherwise. Allophones and anglophones are Quebecers just as much as French speakers within the province.

What you can do:

1) Register: If you are eligible to vote be sure to register with the DGE. The deadline to register to vote is April 3 at 2 p.m..

2) VERIFY: If you have voted in previous elections, verify to make sure you’re still on the list. Those on the electoral list should have already received voting instructions in the mail. If you have not, please visit the DGE website to verify your voter registration.

3) GET INFORMED: All news services will have a recap section appearing in the next week summarizing all political platforms. Even if you do not have the time to follow what the candidates are up to daily, try to keep abreast of big issues which appear in the media.

4) VOTE: Be sure on April 7 to make your voice heard. These individuals will be directly affecting your life through the legislation passed. Be sure to take 30 minutes out of your day to make your voice heard.

5) GET INVOLVED: Politics don’t stop after the election. If any elected official does something which you disagree with there is always public discourse. Let them know through email, petition, or protest.

Exercise your right to vote. Send the message that ALL Quebecers will stand and be heard. If any politician says that certain citizens aren’t really Quebecers they will find that they are wrong.

À Mme Marois: Je suis fière de la culture Québécoise accueillante et libre. J’ai honte de votre vision de notre province, où le vote n’est pas un droit mais seulement un autre cible a être utilisée dans vos enjeux politiques.

To Mme Marois: I am proud of our unique and welcoming Quebec culture. I am disgusted by your vision of a Quebec where voting is no longer a right but a target to be used in your personal game of politics.

For all information concerning voting visit



No classes on April 7 means no excuse not to vote

Students might be missing a day of class but they’re gaining a great opportunity

On April 7, all classes and institutional activities will be canceled as required by the Quebec Election Act. This gives students the chance to familiarize themselves about the candidates and election issues, if they haven’t already, as well as give them no excuse for not voting.

If for some reason students aren’t able to make it back to their riding on April 7 to vote, they can take advantage of the advance polling stations that will be set up in the atrium of the Library building, March 28, April 1 and 2, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m..

In sum, all students who are eligible to vote will have the time and opportunity to do so whether they live in Westmount or Longueuil.

Furthermore, who can be upset with a day off from school? Voting isn’t an all day affair so in fact it’s almost like a three day weekend.

However, it’s important that everyone who can vote, does vote. It is also important that these votes be informed.

Election campaigns are hectic and there is always a flurry of activity and media coverage and it can be difficult to keep up. Still, when it comes to deciding who is going to be your voice in provincial decisions you should know as much as possible about the person and party that your vote is supporting. Therefore take the opportunity of a class-free Monday to read about the candidates in your riding and inform yourself about the parties running.

Full-time workers are granted only three hours to vote, whereas students have an entire day; this is a privilege that should be taken advantage of.

Given the number of people who complain that not enough students come out to vote and because students often complain that the people in power don’t address student needs, students should be especially motivated to make a strong appearance at the polls.

According to an article published by the Montreal Gazette, “Liberals hope to court youth vote,” Feb 23, 2014, barely 40 per cent of voters aged 18-24 voted in the last federal election. This may explain why the federal budget took so little consideration of student needs. If the government doesn’t think young people are interested or will get involved they won’t bother to cater to them.

Now is the chance to prove all the people who believe that young voters are indifferent and can’t be bothered to vote that they are wrong.

There’s no excuse to miss the polls, go out and vote.

More information on Concordia’s polling booths:


Summary: Quebec provincial debate

Relatively even-toned, debate had surprises and a few fiery moments

Two hours was all the leaders of Quebec’s provincial parties had to sway voters to their particular vision of the province’s future, as the first provincial elections debate was held on March 20.

Broadcast by Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec in French with live English translation and moderated by journalists Anne-Marie Dussault and Sébastien Bovet, Parti Québecois’ (PQ) leader Pauline Marois, Coalition Avenir Québec’s (CAQ) François Legault, Québec Solidaire’s (QS) Françoise David, and Liberal leader Phillipe Couillard did their best to buttress their agendas and undermine the policies and track records of their opponents.

From the get-go, Couillard set up his party as the alternative to the present status quo when he bluntly asked viewers whether they wanted a referendum or a focus on the economy, health services, and education, alluding to the PQ’s stance on sovereignty.

Marois, especially combat- ive during the night, fought back throughout the debate by assailing the failings of the “Liberal years” before her party came to power, and painted the CAQ and QS as being out of touch.

Legault’s consistent stance was for lower taxes, privatization, and more ‘wiggle-room’ for the average Quebecer.

Though a healthy middle class, both economically and socially, was agreed to by all candidates as a criti- cal benchmark for Quebec’s growth, different ideas were touted as the way forward.

David insisted on green development and social care and, while she was perhaps the most composed candidate, she bared her teeth on more than one occasion, as when she pointed out the PQ’s reliance on petroleum was a blatant backtracking on their previous “ecologi- cal commitments.” This in turn allowed Marois to paint David as the leader of an environmental party and against job creation.

Ordinarily humourless, there were moments of levity. Marois claimed that, in addition to creat- ing jobs and restarting the economy, her party had “the best economic team…Quebec has ever seen in all its history,” to which Legault later pointed out that as the sole candidate with any business experience (having been a businessman before entering politics) only he could claim to have directly created jobs.

Sovereignty and the charter, the most headline-grabbing topics of late, were raised last. Here Marois toned down her outspoken views, perhaps as a calculated reaction to its oversaturation in voters’ minds.

However, continually cornered on the issue, Marois was finally forced by Legault, when he point- edly asked, “You have a duty to an- swer clearly: yes or no, will you call a referendum in the next mandate?” to respond with, “No [there will be no referendum]…as long as Quebecers are not ready.”

The second major part of the national identity issue concerned the Charter of Values; a proposal by the PQ that would see ostentatious religious displays by govern- ment employees, such as jewelry or headwear like hijabs and turbans, amongst others, banned. The PQ leader called it a guarantee of state secularism and human rights and a simultaneous preservation of religious equality, while her opponents called it needlessly discriminatory and an attempt at wedge politicking.

Overall, while the traditional crossfire between the heavyweights in the province — the Liberals and the PQ — took center stage, there was plenty of room for the newer parties (with less to lose, compara- tively) to score major points with blunt stances.

The debate marked the half- way point of the elections that end with a vote on April 7, 2014. The next and final debate is set for Thursday, March 27.


Quebec’s struggle to embrace bilingualism

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Quebec, for many years, has been a melting pot of various cultures, languages and customs. There was even a time when Francophones were justifiably worried they would lose their language and culture as time went on.

However, Quebec has instead grown to accept herself as a true bilingual state. Although still aware of her need to protect the French culture, she accepts her English side as well.

And yet, there are still political parties set on making language an issue once again.

Apart from tuition fees and ensuing riots, recent news in Quebec revolves around the notorious “pastagate” and the effects Bill 14 will have on our society if the PQ government successfully passes it through the National Assembly.

Colin Standish is a third-year law student at Université de Laval. He is president and Editor-in-chief of the Revue Juridique des étudiants et étudiantes de l’Université de Laval. Last week, Standish was also on the popular Quebec television show Tout le monde en parle to speak out against this bill.

‘‘Bill 14 is an amendment to the Charter of the French Language. But the government is not actually protecting French, it’s taking away the rights of other groups,’’ said Standish to The Concordian.

For example, one of the proposed laws is to strip the bilingual status of those Quebec municipalities and boroughs that are composed of 50 per cent or less Anglophones.

The mayors of these municipalities decided they would not go down without a fight. Last week, Pierrefonds-Roxboro got the majority of the Union of Quebec Municipalities to help defend its bid to remain bilingual. Even Francophone mayors supported the decision.

Longueuil is considered a PQ stronghold but it too is backing Pierrefonds-Roxboro. It is also actively supporting its own borough, Greenfield Park, in its quest to remain bilingual.

Ironically enough, the bill also has legislation that would hinder Francophones.

The bill proposes to base the CEGEP application process on the language spoken by the students’ parents. Anglophone CEGEPS will have to accept all Anglophones applying before considering Francophone applications.

‘‘The application process will not be on academic merit anymore and so this will reduce the quality of education in Quebec,’’ said Standish.

According to him, another highly contentious aspect of the bill is the right it will give to the Office Québécois de la langue française to search and seize ‘‘anything from your business without warning’’ if they find it objectionable.

After “pastagate” blew up in the OQLF’s face, other businesses came forward to recount their run-ins with them. The general idea was that even ‘‘on/off’’ labels for light switches needed to be changed to French. Does that mean the proposed seizures would include anything remotely English?

Twitter erupted with both English and French speaking Quebecers mocking the OQLF over the pasta debacle.

This unity of voices alone shows that there is solidarity between Francophones and Anglophones in Quebec, despite what seems to be an effort by the PQ government to create new divisions between them.

The PQ is wrong in thinking that French will die off in the future if we don’t take strong action today and expand Bill 101. According to Statistics Canada, new immigrants seem to be eagerly adopting French as their main language in 2011. It is actually their use of English that is waning.

The PQ government is trying to reinforce their base of Francophones for the coming elections, but Bill 14 is not achieving its intended objective. Rather, it will only appeal to those few xenophobic cells that still persist in a largely accepting Quebec.

Francophones in general will not rally behind them as they once would. Instead, they’re rallying behind the Anglophones and fighting back.


The means to an end

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

Quebec’s long-awaited summit on higher education came to a largely inconclusive end last Tuesday as students returned to flooding the streets in protest.

The two-day conference, intended to address unresolved and lingering issues from the student movement last spring, left a bitter taste in many student leaders’ mouths.

The Parti Québécois proposed an indexation of tuition fees by roughly three per cent annually for an indefinite amount of years much to the outrage of Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec President Martine Desjardins.

The indexation, compared to former Premier Jean Charest’s proposal of $325 per year over a five-year period, hit a sore point for both university rectors and student leaders. Those governing universities feel it will only delve Quebec post-secondary education deeper into financial despair, while Desjardins cried foul on not providing accessible education.

“I’m telling you there will be an impact,” said Desjardins, who called the proposal “disappointing.”

However, Premier Pauline Marois simply stated that her hands are tied and that “a decision had to be made,” so she made one.

A new council

The summit, while still contentious in its final outcome, did shed some light on other issues concerning university governance and financing.

A formal council will be created to supervise and review the governance and financial management of universities. Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne promised the Conseil national des universitiés would improve the efficiency of the universities while remaining independent and largely for consultation. However, details remain under wraps for now.

Investments and cuts

The provincial government also announced several investments including additional positions for staff. Additional employment will involve an extra 1,000 support staff, 2,000 teaching assistants and 1,000 professors.

Starting in 2014, Marois also promised that the provincial government would pump $1.7 billion into universities over seven years. The PQ stated that approximately $15 million would be invested into special projects between universities and CEGEPs.

However, universities will still suffer a loss of $250 million in funding cuts for the next two years — a decision that has become a source of stress for rectors who say Quebec’s institutions are already underfunded, overwhelmed and strapped for the future.

What’s next for Concordia?

According to a statement released by university president Alan Shepard, a main concern for Concordia is the slash to university funding over the next year including a shortfall of $26.4 million. Shepard emphasized that the cut put the university in a tight spot and forced administration to “make some difficult decisions.”

In an interview with The Concordian, Shepard said that what concerns him the most is ensuring that Concordia remains competitive and does not become a second-tier university despite the budget cuts.

“We want to provide a nationally competitive education,” said Shepard. “This can’t be done on the cheap.”

Shepard said that a two-day summit led him to a “complex reaction” because it was so intense. While Shepard said he was happy with some aspects of the summit, he added that two days doesn’t provide enough time to discuss the policy of higher education in Quebec.

“You can’t expect to get to the heart of the matter,” said Shepard. “No one walked away feeling like they won the lottery.”

Shepard added that while he believed the summit was well organized, there is still a much larger discussion to be had and that a plethora of issues were not addressed including e-learning and attracting older students who want to reshape their skills.


Student leaders slam Léo Bureau-Blouin

Photo by Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft

Léo Bureau-Blouin, former student leader and current Member of the National Assembly for the Parti Québécois, has come under fire following the provincial government’s announcement of an increase tuition by three per cent in line with the cost of living next year.

Bureau-Blouin, who first came to prominence as the president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec during the student protests last year, has stood by the decision of his party to index tuition by roughly $70 a year, a stance that has not pleased his former colleagues.

Martine Desjardins, president for the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, told The Concordian that she was disappointed when Bureau-Blouin chose to support the indexation proposal, but that she was not surprised.

“Personally, when he decided to go up front and support the inflation proposed by the government, it was a shock,” said Desjardins. “But at the same time it’s easy to understand why because he’s like, you know, a deputy and he needs to follow the line of the party,” she said.

Desjardins explained that students felt deceived when Bureau-Blouin went against his initial position for a tuition freeze, something he advocated for as a student.

“There’s no surprise but there’s a lot of deception,” said Desjardins.

Following the announcement of the increase, Bureau-Blouin’s Facebook page became a place for students and protesters to vent their frustrations over his decision to support the indexation. One poster called Bureau-Blouin a traitor and demanded he resign, while another accused him of letting down a generation of students. Conversely, others voiced their support for Bureau-Blouin and congratulated him for his work.

The day after the education summit, Bureau-Blouin wrote that he had received threats and attacks but would still attend a monthly event to meet with his constituents on March 16.

When reached for comment, Bureau-Blouin’s office said that he would not comment on the threats on Facebook but did, however, call the situation “deplorable.”

On Facebook, Bureau-Blouin defended the increase by stating that by the 2015-2016 academic year students would be receiving an average of $1,140 in additional bursaries.

However, Desjardins called into question the suggestion that additional money for financial aid programs would help offset the increase claiming that not all students are eligible for bursaries.

“We know that there are a lot of problems with the financial aid program,” she said. “Actually it’s only 40 per cent of the students that have access to the financial aid program, so what are we doing with the other 60 per cent?”

On the Facebook page for the monthly meeting, critics promised to attend in order to face Bureau-Blouin and demand answers. Spokesperson Camille Robert for the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiantes, the student group in favour of free tuition, asked if he would be using his salary to help cover the cost of the indexation.

Simon-Pierre Lauzon, VP external for the Concordia Student Union, said he was not surprised that Bureau-Blouin’s interests had shifted from those of a student to those of a politician. He hoped, however, that the former student leader would push for student’s interests from within the PQ.

“He cares about his position within his new political context, and at the same time we should stop looking up to him as a peer,” Lauzon said. “He no longer is a FECQ representative, and we should treat him as such,” he said.

Lauzon believes students are now divided between those who see indexation as a realistic compromise and those who are in the streets again because they reject any increase.

“We went in the streets in significant part because we had no seat at the table, and our voices fell on deaf ears,” he said. “With the PQ, although we might not have every single thing we ask, we still have a measurable influence. Our leverage is still very potent, and while the printemps érable is in the PQ’s short term memory we will act to get as much as we can.”


An ideological divide

Photo by Catlin Spencer

The highly anticipated summit on higher education organized by the provincial government began Monday morning, where Premier Pauline Marois clarified that the two-day conference would “establish an open dialogue” on post-secondary learning but would likely not reach a solution.

Following a whirlwind provincial election, the Parti Québécois announced the summit in September in an effort to appease all sides in the student movement crisis that rocked Quebec for months last spring. The minority provincial government cancelled the tuition fee increase of $325 per year over five years, and later $245 over seven years, imposed by the Charest Liberals upon taking office, effectively freezing tuition for the time being.

The conference was initially pegged to resolve the issues at the core of an ideological impasse over higher education.

Heavily guarded by the Montreal police, guests had to pass through three checkpoints before entering Arsenal gallery on William St. in Griffintown.

Day one

During the first day, Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne offered three proposals in relation to post-secondary education: create a provincial council to oversee universities, a law that would provide a framework for universities and a plan to hold institutions accountable for financing and budgeting.

In a meeting that lasted over 12 hours, multiple issues were discussed: the development of post-secondary funding, research, quality of education and accessibility.

While various concerns were voiced by participants, the most contentious issue of the day was the issue of tuition.

The PQ announced later in the evening that they plan to index university tuition at approximately three per cent annually, meaning that tuition will rise by $70 per year leaving student representatives feeling deceived.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, said that indexation would “punish” students and send the wrong message. “I’m telling you there will be an impact,” said Desjardins.

However, Duchesne said that the province can simply no longer afford the same rates and that a freeze would force Quebec into a crisis.

Lowering the expectations

The summit has been the subject of backlash the last few weeks, with university rectors only receiving invitations 10 days before the start of the summit. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum of McGill University blasted the provincial government, citing disorganization and poor planning before calling the conference “a joke.”

Concordia University is waiting on the results of the provincial conference to know when the additional funding promised by the PQ is coming — something that was promised to the university in the wake of the tuition freeze.

Protests throughout the day

Peaceful protests marked the first day of the summit, with a small contingent gathering outside Arsenal gallery in the early morning during guest registration. Approximately 30 protesters passed through the streets of Griffintown calmly without ever accessing the highly guarded building.

Similarly, a gathering of 20 demonstrators including professors, students and civilians congregated on Notre-Dame St. to reiterate their position on accessible education. The protesters did not mobilize, choosing instead to read poetry and sing in support of students in front of the building.

In the afternoon more than 1,000 protesters marched through the streets of downtown Montreal, leaving from Cabot Square. The protest was promoted by the Association pour une solidarité syndicate étudiante, the student association that backed out of the conference since free education would not be part of the discussion.

“We feel sort of betrayed by the Parti Québécois,” said Concordia University student Serge Del Grosso. “They say they support the student movement and are against the hikes and then they say they will index it.”

Del Grosso went on to say that those present didn’t want tuition to rise and genuinely believe free education is a possibility.

Protesters headed south before arriving at the summit, where police officers from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal and provincial police guarded the building. There was no intervention before demonstrators resumed their march east toward the downtown core.

The protest, though declared as illegal from the start, was largely peaceful. The SPVM reported two arrests. Police claimed that projectiles were launched and flags from some downtown hotels were removed by student protesters.

By 6:30 p.m. protesters had made it to Ste-Catherine St. and McGill College St. but by 7 p.m. most of the protesters left after tear gas was deployed. Several demonstrators met at Parc Émilie-Gamelin heading east but dispersed close to Beaudry Metro station.


Earlier Monday, several buildings were vandalized with red paint including the offices of Duchesne and of former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin. The Ministry of Education building located on Fullum St. was also covered in red paint.

Vandals wrote in white outside the offices of the minister responsible for Montreal, Jean-François Lisée, and several windows were also broken.

No arrests have been made in relation to those incidents.

With files from Robin Della Corte and Matthew Guité.

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