The breakdown in the negotiations between the Liberal government and the student leaders has lead to much speculation. Before there is too much finger pointing at those “unfair” students who are “holding the province hostage,” let’s have a reality check. The way we got into this mess, or rather the way the Charest government got us into this mess, is by not speaking with the students for weeks when the students were publically asking for discussions. We have arrived at this point because the Liberal government made the political calculation that if they maintained their strong attitude in the face of students demands they would signal to the province and to the students their resolve to raise tuition fees.
This one calculation became the single greatest mistake of the government as regards this crisis. In fact the students who are directly affected by the government’s decision have a basic right to question the government on the prudence of such a decision and they also have the right to speak directly with the government on an issue of public policy. To be refused was not only arrogant but in this case a miscalculation of tremendous proportions. Rather than winding down and disappearing the students have wound up and become a force with which to be reckoned. Rather than looking strong the government began to look what it truly was, weak and indecisive.
Then in a cynical political move to try and wrest a public relations victory from defeat, the government, watching the negative images of the few hundred demonstrators who were doing violent acts resolved to prove their strength by the use of force. They made the gamble that Quebeckers would rather have social peace than the endless protests and the violent acts of a few. Their hopes to turn it all around was found in Bill 78.
Of course Bill 78 did precisely the opposite. It’s draconian unfair and repressive measures were seen as intolerable by not just the students but by lawyers, doctors, teachers, and a host of ordinary citizens of every age. What had been a political battle with the students over tuition fees became a war between the government and a quickly growing number of the citizens of Quebec over the government’s incapacity to govern.
If you look at this from an objective point of view, what is amazing is that all governments hold the power card. They all have the resources to churn out media releases, they can demand the presence of the media anytime, they can move the police into any situation they choose, they are accorded in our Quebec and Canadian society a preeminence and the right to move and act because of our collective belief in peace, order and good government. But in this case we have a situation where the government has shown to all the world that it cannot govern, that it does not have a plan to move forward or the strength and wisdom to sort it out the issue.
So yesterday the talks broke down with the government. Are we surprised? The government has no maneuverinng room left. To cede to the students any major concession is to trumpet far and wide that it is merely a hollow rusted out vehicle of governance and that the citizens of Quebec need to find another government, and fast.
My guess is that the power brokers in the Liberal Party have been meeting around the clock to try and figure out an exit strategy. The questions that they will ask themselves are: In any election that is to be held will the findings of Jacques Duchesneau and the Inquiry led by Judge France Charbonneau ruin any chance at re-election? Will the handling of the student issue ultimately do them in? Are they able to recapture public opinion and make it look as if the students are the “bad guys” then run an election which focuses on the students and draws attention away from the Charbonneau Commission? If they believe that the student protests are safer ground than the charges of corruption, they will choose an election “forced on them” by the protesting students.
We will know soon enough. But let there be no obfuscation of the facts. the Liberal government has run its course and no longer has the capacity to be the government of Quebec. It is time for an election. No matter how they spin the cause for calling one, their goose is cooked.