Over 10,000 Costumed Anti-Austerity Protesters March in Montreal

Public Sector and Students Upset Over Government Austerity Measures

An estimated 10,000 disgruntled zombies, witches, students and public sector employees took to the streets of Montreal Friday to protest austerity measures imposed by the Quebec government.

“In the past few months, the government has taken us 30 years back with all of these regressive measures. We’re talking cuts in education, health, environment, culture—they’re [calling into] question the whole social system on which Quebec was built,” Camille Godbout, secretary of internal relations at Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante and student at the Université de Laval, told The Link.

A contingent of students left from Concordia University at 10:30 a.m. to join the main demonstration at the corner of McGill College Ave. and Sherbrooke St., in front of Quebec premiere Philippe Couillard’s offices.

Fuelled by vegan muffins and coffee supplied by the People’s Potato, students walked from the Hall building to the administrative building via the connecting tunnel.

“Whose revolving doors? Our revolving doors!” the students chanted jokingly as they passed through the doors in question on their way to the EV building.

Representatives from a variety of student groups were at the protest, from Sustainable Concordia to the Students of Philosophy Association and the Students Association of Graduates in English at Concordia University. Both of the student associations voted to join the strike.

According to the movement’s official website, printemps2015.org, there were 82,409 students across the province on strike for the day.

“Students are especially touched by austerity as it applies to the public education sector, so it feels like a responsibility for not only my fellow students, but students that come after me, to make a stand,” Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis, councillor at the Concordia Student Union, told The Link from beneath her disguise as “sexy Stephen Harper.”

Francine Tremblay, part-time professor of anthropology and sociology at Concordia, told The Link that she was forced to cut back on the number of assignments given to her students and that she’s struggled to give any constructive feedback due to growing class sizes.

“Students need a lot more help than I can give them,” she told The Link, adding that the budget cuts had diminished job security for part-time staff.

“There’s not a single person in Quebec that does not know that [sacrifices must be made]. The problem is, who will make the sacrifice?” she asked. “It’s not the people that make the most, that could let go of their raise.

“I think that at the end, it may very well be the student that will pay the price,” she concluded.

According to David Macdonald, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, although austerity may seem like a positive value, it can have negative effects on low-income households.

“What austerity practically means […] is that you’re seeing services cut, to veterans for instance, services cut to food safety, services cut to the unemployed—so that you can reduce taxes for rich people,” he told The Link by phone.

“It’s not a problem that governments run deficits when times are slow, it’s actually exactly what should be happening. And if you rapidly cut back on spending, by cutting services to low-income households, in a variety of ways, you slow the recovery and you also hurt those families.”

Concordia walked to the main contingent via Sherbrooke, joining the many student and labour unions on strike that were present.

At least 40 buses came in from outside the island of Montreal to bring people to the protest, said Veronique Laflamme of the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics, an organization against the privatisation of public services.

“They can’t have us believe there aren’t other solutions than to cut programs and public services for 99% of the population and give gifts that privilege only a minority in our society,” she told members of the media.

Protesters representing other organizations echoed the sentiment.

“These [austerity] measures would undo all the social programs that we have. [We need] social justice and a better distribution of wealth in Quebec,” André Grandchamps, general secretary of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, told The Link.

“Today is the first in a series of actions,” he continued. “We doubt that the government is going to adopt [our demands] today. But we won’t give up, we’re going to continue.”

At around noon, the demonstration—which was declared illegal by police because it did not announce its route in advance—made its way down St. Catherine St. to the Old Port, stopping in front of the elite club 357c.

Afterwards, a few hundred protesters wound their way up to the upper Plateau before going back downtown from the intersection of Mont-Royal Ave. and St. Laurent Blvd. The crowd fizzled out around 3:30 p.m., with the last of the protesters standing at the intersection of Berri and Ste. Catherine St.