The Student Strike – I’m Just Not Feeling It Here

The Student Strike – I’m Just Not Feeling It Here

by Simon Farnell-Morisset

I was a mere high school student during the last round of massive student strikes in 2005.  Along with a few dozen fellow classmates, I skipped half a day of school to participate in the city’s biggest protest.  It was a lot of fun – walking from Parliament Hill to the university on a warm spring day, alongside thousands of students ranging from friendly pot-scented rastas to slightly scarier black-clad anarchists, listening to megaphone speeches I couldn’t hear and generally trying to mingle in with the crowd lost in a hundred different political appropriations.  As a unique experience, I recommend it to every young person. 

Simon Farnell-Morisset aged 17, during the 2005 student strikes.

However, it seems that’s not happening this time around in our fair city.  Come 2012, despite this round of student strikes being definitely the biggest in the nation’s history, our fair city’s students are notably absent from the protest. 

Some 4,800 Laval University students are still nominally on strike; this represents barely 10% of the student body.  More surprising, CÉGEP students – those traditionally most prone to striking at the drop of a hat – have not joined in the movement at all.

While some radio pundits would like to call this another facet of the so-called “mystère Québec” that has us systematically going against the politics of the rest of the province, I’m not so quick to write it off, mainly because this is a new development.

See, the 2005 strikes were largely within the same context.  Essentially, back then the same government was proposing the same tuition hikes with the same justification in the same political climate.  Yet back then, the movement mobilised not just a large part of the capital’s university students, but also most CÉGEPs and yes, even high schools.  Clearly then, this “meh” reaction from our students is not the result of some deep-rooted difference in social values.

You can’t cite the growth of smart phones and social networking, either – at least not directly. While the iPhone-wielding student protesting tuition prices has become a central image in the public debate, and represents arguably the most significant social game-changer between students then and now, these are as common in our city as they are anywhere else in the province.  Yet only Quebec City students aren’t using them to rally.

It would perhaps be easy to write this off as a Montréal-centric event.  That explanation is almost palpable – it’s not that we’re abnormal; it’s those Montréalers who are too caught-up in their full-bellied urbanite leftist hipster revolution again.  Except that it wouldn’t be true – CÉGEPs and universities from all over the rest of the province are joining in roughly the same proportions as their Montréal counterparts.  So it’s not them.  It’s us.

Now I want to be clear – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our students either participating in or abstaining from the strike.  The fact that Quebec City’s students seem less prone to participating than the rest of the province though, that’s something we should try to understand… because, after all, this could be the shape of things to come.
Article and photo courtesy of Simon Farnell-Morisset.

Born and raised in Québec City, Farnell Morisset attended English school throughout his primary, secondary, and CEGEP studies, before ultimately choosing to stay in Québec City and study civil engineering at Laval University.

While at Laval, he served as president of the civil engineering student association. It was there that he discovered his affinity for writing and commentary, preparing a weekly column in the student newspaper dealing with the issues he, as president of the association, felt were important and relevant.

Farnell is passionate about discussing (amongst other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québecois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québecois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to as a valued member of our, in-house, writing team.

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Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset has an engineering degree from Université Laval and common law and civil law degrees from McGill University, where he also studied economics.