On today’s 100th day of protests by Quebec students, Journal de Montreal columnist Richard Martineau offers a scabrous depiction of his province.
Citing former Laval University professor and labour relations specialist Rejean Breton, Martineau renders Quebecers as infantile, self-obsessed fantasists suckling upon the Nanny State.
“The two (sides) of Quebec are corruption and revolution,” he quotes Breton. “On one side, we have those who exchange brown envelopes. On the other, we have those who dream of revolution. These are the principal characteristics of a banana republic.”
Martineau himself uses equally harsh vocabulary. He notes students will be massing to again disrupt Montreal’s city centre this afternoon just as the Charbonneau commission begins hearings on construction industry corruption.
“Today, Quebec will tear off its shirt and expose with pride its two ideological teats,” Martineau writes. “On one side, a clique of politicians, Mafioso and business people plotting to butter their bread on both sides at the expense of taxpayers. On the other, a clique of trade unionists who are using anarchists and anti-capitalists to destabilize the government in order to protect their own privileges.”
It is, he writes, a depressing dichotomy in which ordinary Quebecers are caught between gangsters who rob them of their tax dollars, and powerful unions that block all efforts at reform.
“Corruption, revolution, alienation. Desolation,” he concludes.
Intriguingly, also transformation. For in Quebec’s 2005 student strike, Martineau was a staunch supporter of those who marched against cuts to the budgets of post-secondary institutions. He used his high profile as columnist and TV commentator to argue against the cuts and also urge the strikers into the fray.
In 2012, he has been, from the outset, a vocal critic of the students for their churlishness in refusing to pay modestly higher annual tuition fees and for their violent, bully boy tactics. He has paid a price. His home was picketed. Students carried placards representing him as a pig. His family was publicly denigrated.
On a recent edition of the hugely popular Sunday night TV show Tout le monde en parle, he was chided by host Guy A. Lepage for his apparent inconsistency.
“The situation is very different in 2012 compared to 2005,” Martineau argued.
“But you are still the same Richard Martineau,” Lepage retorted.
The shot left the man of words effectively speechless, which may itself represent a damning picture of what plagues contemporary Quebec.
This is a province in the grip of reactionary progressives afflicted with severe intellectual and institutional sclerosis. Their malaise prevents any proposals for change from being given fair hearing, much less a chance of being put into play. Real change, not merely revolutionary play-acting, is anathema in this province.
The street spasms of the students (mere pawns of the progressive reactionaries), and the stench of corruption that will be aired at the Charbonneau hearings, are only symptoms of the real heartsickness besetting this place.
The genuine illness in Quebec is fear: authentic, in-dwelling fear that altering anything in the present will inevitably obliterate the future. And as Edmund Burke famously noted in his Reflections on the Revolution in France: “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Without such means it might even risk the loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve.”
The parasites may continue to feed. Half-educated habituees of post-secondary schools may continue to do their happy dances in public for another 100 or 1000 days. Until Quebecers face the need to transform their society, they will not recover it.