Thousands march for Earth Day, against Charest 0
People march for an Earth Day event in downtown Montreal, Quebec April 22, 2012. (Joel Lemay/QMI Agency)
MONTREAL - Tens of thousands of people marched through downtown Montreal Sunday afternoon in what was the most-attended Earth Day celebrations in the city's history, organizers said.
Sunday's march, along with the massive demonstration in mid-March against tuition hikes and the almost-daily student protests across province, make it increasingly difficult to deny the contention among student leaders that the province is undergoing a "Quebec Spring."
The "Quebec Spring" idea references the popular revolts over the past two years in countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Some were more articulate than others, however, everyone who QMI Agency spoke with Sunday said Earth Day's message of protecting the environment is related to the fight against tuition increases. Moreover, many people told QMI Agency that the student strike, which is entering its 70th day, has morphed into a broader social movement that believes the provincial government has lost its legitimacy.
Many Quebec politicians, artists, singers and actors took part in Sunday's march, which started at a major square in downtown Montreal and ended at the foot of Mount Royal Park.
Despite a significant police presence, the atmosphere was jovial and festive - a clear distinction from the student protests in the city on Friday and Saturday when more than 100 people were arrested. Police said that as of 5 p.m. Sunday, there were no reports of major disturbances during the march.
Concerns among marchers on Sunday were varied, but many cited similar issues: anger over Canada's exit from the Kyoto Protocol; disagreement over shale gas exploration in Quebec; and frustration over what is considered to be the selling-off of the provinces northern resources to foreign mining companies.
Emily Carpenter, 27, told QMI Agency that the Earth Day message and the fight for accessible education is related.
"The (provincial) government's austerity measures are privatizing our social gains to favour corporations at the expense of the environment, students, working people and the poor," she said.
Anouk Lapointe, student in homeopathy, said Quebecers "have had enough with the government.
"We have a (provincial) government that doesn't listen, that wants to sell off all of our natural resources. (Quebec Premier Jean Charest) laughs at us."
Meanwhile, Charest had to sneak into a Quebec Liberal Party fundraiser Sunday at a high school in Gatineau, Que., through a back door. About 200 student protesters were in front of the building. It seems that wherever Charest goes these days, striking students are not far away.
Charest told reporters after the fundraiser that the government has been open since early April to meeting with student leaders.
The provincial government said it is willing to reform the loans and bursaries program, and create an independent, permanent commission which would monitor the management of universities. However, the government has remained firm in its decision to hike tuition fees by $1,625 - or 75% - over the next five years
Francois Legault, the head of an upstart right-of-centre provincial party, told QMI Agency that he thinks elections will come soon.
Charest has until the end of 2013 to officially call an election, however, opposition parties have hinted to the media that Quebecers could go to the polls by the end of the spring.
"We need elections," Legault said. "The student protests that we are seeing are beyond the tuition increases - they are a sign that this government has lost its credibility and legitimacy to govern."