Tens of thousands of protesters participated in a march against the Quebec government’s proposed austerity measures on Saturday, Nov. 29. According to the organizers of the protest, the Collectif Refusons l’Austerité, over 125,000 people participated in both Montreal and Quebec City.
Protesters included representatives from student unions, employees of the public sector, and members of various social service groups. They marched in response to the Quebec government’s plans to cut $4 billion from the provincial government budget. The cuts would affect programs and services such as healthcare, daycare programs, and education.
Brian Leclerc, a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), said he was unhappy with the government’s decision to slash social programs.
“We’ve made years and years of social progress in Quebec that this government is eliminating slowly but surely, and we’re going to be collectively in a situation of vulnerability if people don’t rise up,” Leclerc said. “Every social program there is, whether it be daycares, parental leave, healthcare, or education—these are all social programs that we’ve fought hard for and paid through the nose for [….] I hope it passes a clear message to this government that people won’t take this lying down.”
Stefanie Bergeron, a McGill graduate student and member of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), said she participated in the protest as a way to give feedback to the government on its actions, which she felt were not representative of the population’s demands.
“As a student, I’m directly affected by austerity measures,” Bergeron said. “I also work with women’s groups, and we’re […] more affected by austerity than men. I would like the government to realize that being elected doesn’t mean you have full power [….] The voice of your people matter.”
Representatives from the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and PGSS also attended the protest. The student bodies of both unions have previously taken a stance against austerity measures made by the provincial government at their respective general assemblies.
“Many students went to the protest in small groups of their own,” PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet said. “In the future, we hope to find a way to create a single ‘McGill contingent’ with SSMU.”
Ouellet said that PGSS would encourage its constituents to better understand how austerity cuts impact them.
“I think it is important to adapt the message so that all the members of our diverse population realize how this might affect them, whether it be cuts in the variety of journals offered by our library system, or the university’s ability to cover the indirect costs of research,” Ouellet said. “We will do our best to make sure that our members understand that austerity is not an abstract economic concept but something that has a very direct impact on the quality of their degree, and the support they get while at McGill.”
Moving forward, Ouellet stated that McGill student unions will take more action to provide a unified stance against austerity measures.
“PGSS and SSMU are planning to hold a joint council meeting to identify the ways in which to fight austerity, as well as the trickle-down consequences it might have for our students within the university,” he said.