By Nora Loreto
On Saturday, November 29, Québecers braved the cold and took to the streets of Québec and Montréal. Buses were sent hundreds of kilometres across the province to the two cities, where workers from all sectors marched against the province’s planed austerity measures.
The march was organized by a coalition of community, student and labour groups and pulled out more people than any multi-city rally since the Maple Spring of 2012.
In Québec City, it was more people at a march than anyone could even remember.
The overall message was clear: the people will stop austerity. With massive cuts being proposed that will gut many sectors and pull $7.3 billion out of the public sector, workers of all ages, sectors and status will be hurt by the slashing and burning planned by Finance Minister Carlos Leitao.
With hundreds of thousands in Montréal and tens of thousands in Québec who marched from the Plains of Abraham to the National Assembly, it certainly felt like we will stop the Liberals’ austerity plans.
At the heart of this battle are municipal workers. Together, they have engaged in protests and civil disobedience since Day 1 of this government’s mandate. They have stormed city halls. They have painted fire trucks black. They have worn silly pants. They have put mud on their cars.
The municipal workers are the canary in Québec’s austerity mine. The government zeroed in on municipal pensions as their first major fight to wage. Blue-collar workers, police and firefighters have been protesting the government’s plans to balance the provincial books off their pensions.
But, despite the mighty show of people power the weekend before, the proposed reforms passed last Thursday. Bill 3 became law and workers have effectively seen their right to collectively bargain their pensions vanish. With a majority government, it’s no surprise that Bill 3 passed, but what effect will this have on the growing movement against austerity?
The unions have promised to continue their pressure tactics. They will be challenging the legislation in court and protests will be ongoing. At a press conference, Mark Ranger, a representative of the coalition of unions representing municipal workers promised that Bill 3 being passed into law will not stop them from continuing the campaign.
On the same day, police officers in Chateauguay won their right to continue to dress as American sheriffs. Officers in the town near Montréal have been donning cowboy hats and boots, and sheriff stars as a form of protest against the attacks on public sector workers. The mayor of Chateauguay challenged the uniforms, claiming that they were unsafe and the city formally filed a complaint.
The Labour Board ruled that the uniforms pose no safety hazards and that police could continue to wear them.
Despite the legislative set backs, there is no sign that workers are relenting in their fight. Hundreds of people organized by the CSN marched out front of the National Assembly on Thursday, December 4. Workers from the CSN’s Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux and the Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec marched against the proposed cuts to the education and health sectors planned by the Québec Liberals.
Among the protesters were workers from Stoneham Ski Resort near Québec City, where 150 workers have been locked out for weeks now.
Health workers are the next target of the Liberal government, and for them, the most important work will target Bill 10, which will cut billions from healthcare by eliminating hospital boards and replacing them with large, regional administrative bodies. The proposed legislation will deeply damage Québec’s healthcare system and severely limit democracy in the oversight of healthcare.
The Liberals are even considering making it illegal for women who are 43 years of age or older to seek IVF treatments.
The education sector is bracing for cuts as well. Education Minister Yves Bolduc has committed to greatly reducing the number of school boards and cutting $19 million from CEGEPs.
While the legal challenge plays out, other bills that seek to deeply cut healthcare, education and social services are likely to be rammed through the National Assembly. In the meantime the spark that was lit during the fight over Bill 3 will continue to burn, perhaps pushing Quebec towards another Maple Spring.
Only this time, it won’t just be students in the streets. It’ll be students and everyone else.