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Thousands Protest Fee Hikes in Montreal

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April 2, 2010

Thousands Protest Fee Hikes in Montreal

Students, community groups, unions oppose privatization of pulic services

by Stefan Christoff

Students, labour and community groups protest newly introduced fee hikes in Montreal on Thursday. Photo: René Obregon-Ida

MONTREAL—Thousands took to the streets of downtown Montreal yesterday to protest the Quebec Liberal government's 2010 budget. Quebec's grassroots student union l'Association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante (ASSE) joined forces with a wide coalition of community organizations, bringing forward a public critique of a budget that introduces fee hikes for cornerstones of the public sector, including health-care and education.

"This budget is bad because it attempts to introduce major changes to the public nature of Quebec society—a move towards people paying for public services," outlines Marie Blais, vice-President of the Federation nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Quebec (FNEEQ). "Education and health-care are public rights, not products that we purchase as citizens."

Key to the critique of the Quebec budget is a proposed obligatory health-care fee for Quebec residents, fixed to increase annually toward a $200-per-year flat tax by 2012.

"Today's budget rests on the backs of the most vulnerable in Quebec," said Christian Dubois of political party Quebec Solidaire(QS). "The health-care tax is regressive, if you are making $15,000 per year, you will pay the same amount in tax as someone making $300,000 per year—a fundamentally unequal and unjust social equation."

Quebec's public health care infrastructure has faced increasingly tight budgets since the current Liberal government came to power. As waiting rooms in Quebec's major hospitals often remain jam-packed, the government has moved to increase the role of public-private health care partnerships, instead of increasing public spending.

Since coming to power in 2003, Quebec Premier Jean Charest has faced successive protests, the largest in 2005 when an estimated 100,000 students went on strike across the province, staging protests across Quebec and carrying out direct actions in Montreal. The strike marked a major victory for Quebec social movements, helping to end the government's plan to cut $103 million from the student loan and bursaries program.

A tradition of popular protest has played a key role in shaping government policy in Quebec. Social movements exercise street-level democracy rooted in extensive networks of community organizations, workers unions and student federations that that can be traced back to the massive social movements born in the 1960s and 1970s. These groups helped to build Quebec's strong public sector, which cushioned the blow of the recent world economic crisis.

"The economic crisis was created by the corporate sector and now Charest has placed the public sector into a corporate economic vision of privatization that created the global financial crisis," QS' Blais told The Dominion. "It is unacceptable to propose an economic plan that basically considers public institutions within a corporate model."

"We want to ensure accessibility, not privatization. It is simple that with higher fees fewer people in Quebec will go to university and access proper health care."

For more information, visit l'Association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante (ASSE).

Stefan Christoff is a regular contributor to The Dominion and is on Twitter at @spirodon.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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