Leave “Canada” out of July 1

1 Jul

Screen shot 2013-07-01 at 11.31.57 AMIt’s Canada Day.

Like any day where people don’t have to work, July 1 should be spent somewhere nice with people you like.

Like any day in a world where workers’ rights are constantly under attack, you probably do have to work. So instead, spend the day daydreaming about the lake, the dock and the friends you might get to see once this year.

The vacant nationalism, the flag wearing, the odes to a nation that flow like poetry from Facebook statuses from across the nation (OK, with two notable exceptions), should give us all time to reflect.

Why?

If your family immigrated here, why give “Canada” the credit for a decision made by your ancestors?

Why give “Canada” the honour of being a symbol for anything and everything that is good?

Why buy into the national myth that upholds how great life is for many of us, while at the same time ignoring or erasing the strife, struggle or challenges that also come with living in “Canada?”

Nationalism is never vacant and it’s most dangerous when it’s masked as such. Nationalism holds a political purpose. It can serve to unite an oppressed people. It can help unite people with varying identities to achieve something that will improve their lives. It can be used to justify the subjugation, ethnic cleansing and genocide of people. It can be used as a blunt object to erase history.

Today, Canada Day should be stained in black for the oil spills and environmental destruction that has been waged across this country for the past year. It should be silenced as we’ve witnessed another watershed year of our freedoms vanish under a radical, conservative government that benefits when the Canadian Flag is waved and myths are used to hide facts. It should be spat upon by the millions of workers whose right to collective bargaining were quashed this past year by Liberals, Conservatives, the Saskatchewan Party or the Parti Québecois.

Take the holiday, if you can, and spend it well. But don’t wave that flag if you can’t justify what “Canada” means today. Take the vacancy out of nationalism and be deliberate: The myth versus the facts: which side are you on?

Honour the land, honour the earth, honour your relations, but leave “Canada” out of it.

 

Photo taken from http://www.onestoneadvisors.com/fresh/?p=1273

Advertisements

Avoiding the shaft: no concessions for young workers

5 Jun

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 5.47.29 PMA couple of years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine; a department chair at a program at Ryerson.

I was telling him that my partner started teaching at Ryerson, in another faculty, and was being paid about $5000 for the course. This was to cover four months of weekly three hour classes, six hours of prep time per class, office hours, a month of exam re-scheduling (and re-re-scheduling), assignment marking and invigilation. The class wasn’t too big, just 30 students, but we had calculated that he was getting ripped off. Ryerson, of course, was getting a deal.

He was a unionized member of CUPE 3904. His work undercut the necessity of hiring new professors. If a full semester of classes (5) cost Ryerson $25,000 to offer, and an awful job market was forcing PhDs to take these exploitative positions, Ryerson had no reason to actually hire a professor who would cost a great deal more to the university at at least $75,000.

Years and years of this kind of logic and these trade-offs, aided by the government’s preference to fund scandals over higher education, has created this large underclass of workers at Ontario’s colleges and universities. The Toronto Star reported that it was partly the fault of this sector that half of GTA workers are in precarious work in a study undertaken earlier this year.

My friend told me that this reality was, in part, the fault of the professors themselves. Rather than going on strike to reject these concessions, albeit in a different union and bargaining unit, professors would take what they could, bargain their own contracts and maybe offer support where they could. And really, can you blame them? They’re under extreme, albeit different stress too. “Unless we shut down this place, they’ll keep relying on sessionals” he told me. “And you know how likely it is that we’ll shut this place down.”

I thought about this story when I saw that the Toronto Star union had negotiated a way to keep the radio room, the place where many young journalists get their start, by agreeing to a 32 per cent pay cut. The radio room is where journalists listen to the police scanner and follow the cops to then report the news. Lots of stories about crime and other Toronto-based news originate from here.

I took to Twitter to express how I didn’t think this was at all a victory. I was quickly scorned by someone who saw this as good enough: the radio room has been saved, young people will have jobs and really, what other choice could there have been?

Sure, I don’t know what the negotiations were like. I do know that the radio room costs $250,000 to operate, according to the J-Source article linked above, and that if all that money goes to salaries (which is unlikely, as there must be some equipment and other costs rolled into this amount), the new contract will save TorStar Corporation $80,000. To put this into perspective, here’s how the Corporation did during the first quarter of 2013:

“Total Segmented Revenue was $332.4 million in the first quarter of 2013, down $18.4 million from $350.8 million in the first quarter of 2012.”
This amount would also, roughly, be recovered by the sale of four, 4-page insert ads, distributed on four Saturdays over the course of a year, according to the Toronto Star’s rate card.

The Star, while still making a profit, made less of a profit in the first quarter of 2013. But is this smaller profit enough to justify outsourcing the radio room? No. Just like how $80,000 isn’t going to boost the shares back up the few cents that they fell during that quarter.

Of course, it’s not just the Toronto Star or the higher education sector where this is happening. CAW’s 2012 agreement with the “big three” automakers for example also deepened wage segmentation between new and old workers.

The trend to level concessions on the backs of younger workers deeply troubles me. I’m currently writing a book that makes the argument that this tactic used by corporations, and unfortunately agreed to by many unions, is going to be what eventually destroys (or addressing it head on to save) the labour movement.

Younger workers have never had it so hard in post-war Canada. With record-high unemployment levels, record-high student debt, the outrageous proliferation of unpaid internships and the reliance on temporary foreign workers as a way to boost corporations’ bottom lines, young workers are in a rough spot. What’s worse, their interests are often posited against the interest of older workers in negotiations and the young ones often lose.

Older workers don’t have it that easy these days either but they’ll still, at least, be able to retire at 65. Who knows how long into the winters of our lives we’ll be forced to work?

The effects that such cuts have on young people are obvious. What should concern older union activists, though, is the effect it will have on the labour movement in general.

If your first interaction with your union sees your wages slashed, benefits cut and your job made precarious to be able to preserve the wages and benefits of an older worker, no commitment to solidarity, in principle, is enough to convince the masses that this is a structure that works.

Older union activists need to be worried about the message that these concessions send to young people: while it’s true that many young people are happy enough just to have a paying job, this sentiment is not enough to extend support to the role that unions play more generally. If the labour movement is going to survive, it needs to build its support broadly.

This is why unions must use the collective force of their workers to refuse concession contracts for young or new workers. Just like workers at CUPW, who refused to accept concession contracts for new workers and who were eventually locked out by the corporation, all unions should be prepared for the messy and difficult battles of saving all good jobs.

Corporations know that this divide-and-conquer tactic works and they’ll use it every single time that they can. If the only way to resist it is to refuse to be divided, the path toward our collective victories should be pretty obvious.

Building broad support for the labour movement won’t be possible if our backs are the sites on which negotiations are played.

Is your union going above and beyond to protect the rights of young or new workers? Share the story with me, I’d love to hear it!

Photo taken from libcom.org

From Orange Wave to Third Way: Speech delivered at Marxism 2013 in Toronto

3 Jun

As a populist party that has seemingly abandoned its base in the drive for Liberal and even Conservative supporters, it’s hard to imagine the NDP fulfilling the roles that most activists or progressives believe it should fulfill.

I was never an activist for the NDP but I learned a lot working from the outside of the party through the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, where we hoped our policies would be adopted to become policies of the provincial party. Because, as the left-wing party that is meant to amplify the demands of social movements, we believed that that was the role that they held: in addition to their own policy-making structures, the NDP should be taking its lead from the activists on the ground and in those social movements. These groups have the research. We had the expertise.

But, of course, this rarely happens. Instead, social movements, including the labour movement, have to operate more like lobby organizations, even if the majority of the leadership from these movements are members of the party. It is in these interactions that it’s clear that the NDP has broken the drug dealers’ cardinal rule: it has gotten high on its own supply.

Yes, the NDP, both federally and provincially, has forgotten that it is not actually the Liberal or the Conservative parties and must fight its brand of politics out on a different terrain. This omission will prove to be the party’s most critical error. Like a game of chess played against a master, where you move every one of your pieces to mirror your opponent, you’ll do well enough until you eventually lose.

When I moved to Québec City, possibly the only city in Canada where I had zero political contacts, we literally stumbled across the office for QS at the start of the Québec election. The language barrier had made me more shy than I had been my entire life. Luckily, I was half drunk and I walked into that office (my partner walking into a window) and became involved immediately.

QS is new. As I wasn’t around for the glory days of the CCF, it’s hard to compare the two parties as they’re at different stages of their existences. But my involvement in QS has made a few things extremely obvious. First, that for a party to be able to call itself progressive and not get laughed at, it needs to be rooted in social movements. This remains a struggle for QS and much of our political organizing starts with the question of who are the groups leading the charge and how can we help them? Second, keeping any party firmly on the left takes a core group of people who will unwaveringly challenge the party and its members to reject electoralism, even when a motion comes forward with the laudable goal of increasing our number of seats to 5. Third, and on the left this is sometimes ignored or not held up as being important, the leadership of QS, that is the spokespeople, are charismatic, intelligent and popular. Both the former leaders and now the new one have histories in community organizing that helped to produce impressive faces for our party: so impressive that one of our spokespeople was voted the most popular politician in 2011 and the other was voted most popular in 2012.

I could talk more about QS. I could also go on with identifying all the problems that I can see with the NDP and its provincial wings. But I only have 15 minutes and I think what’s important here is to have a discussion on what’s possible, what’s desirable and what is to be done with the NDP?

To start, socialists need to ask ourselves is the NDP even capable of shifting far enough to the left to be able to undertake the changes that we believe are necessary to manage (not even stop) the ravaging effects of capitalism?

If the answer to this question is yes, then activists must look toward working through the party apparatus to try and force change from the inside. I have no doubt that the current strategic decisions, the drift to the right and the abandonment of the party’s core issues to offer Geico-stolen promises off car insurance are the result of the collective organizing capacity of folks in the party. Change the people, it’s undoubtedly possible to change some of the policies.

And, if we agree that the current democratic model is itself the problem, then we might be satisfied with making such minor changes, while we push for more radical changes outside of the party. Indeed, I have many, many friends who have chosen this route.

However, I cannot ignore the conservatizing influence that this has on activists. While what I have just stated is true, that moderate change is likely possible with a regime change of the players, it is also more true that in the relationship between who changes, the party will undoubtedly change less than the person being involved. To pretend this isn’t the case is total naïveté. While I know that some people are comfortable with this trade off, it’s important to be honest that it is a trade off and, in my opinion, just isn’t worth the time and effort that has to be put in.

This leaves us with the only other answer to my question: no, it’s not possible for the NDP to shift enough to the left to undertake the changes that we believe are necessary to manage the ravaging effects of capitalism.

Unfortunately, in a government role, the NDP has proven that this answer is most likely to be the correct one.  The NDP has never delivered what it claims to be able to deliver. Instead, NDP governments have broadly inflicted neo liberal policies while offering some modest social reforms, in some cases.

This reality means that the option that will likely have the greatest impact for socialists is to abandon the NDP all together and coordinate a process of broad and fundamental regroupment. If we believe that socialists should be fighting it out in mainstream electoral politics, then regroupment is our only hope. Whether this takes the form of a new political party or just a provincial or federal network that’s main job is to force change on the NDP from the outside is determined by several realities that we must face.

First, regroupment cannot be reorganization. It must include groups who have not normally worked together, organize on new terms and around the core of what the NDP should be fighting for.

Regroupment also has to include labour. Despite the problems that exist within the Labour movement, unions are still comprised of people and offer Canadians the best vehicle to organize broadly. Labour activists must make links with social movement activists and find ways to advance their politics within their communities and externally. This means that labour bureaucracy, the ones who have decided that the NDP should be elected at all costs, has to be challenged. It is not good enough to simply want to keep Hudak out or to kick out Wall: people need to be organized around issues, not simple against people.

Finally, and obviously, regroupment needs to be focused on a core set of demands that will once again inspire people to be involved in politics.  Maybe this should start with demanding a corruption inquiry at the federal level, radical but entirely possible education and health reforms at the provincial levels and transportation and energy alternatives. If we cannot expect the NDP to lead on these issues, activists themselves must build networks centred on these values to the force the party into action.

Or, if action isn’t possible, to lay the groundwork to start a new political party.

QS is remarkable for many reasons, but it’s most important for activists outside of Québec because it shows what’s possible. With just two deputies, QS has been able to respond, almost daily, to the debates that are happening at the Ass Nat. And, not just respond but offer criticism and alternatives. They drew on the strength of the student movement and ensured that the discussion about free education wasn’t relegated to just student demands, but in fact, the desires of progressive Québecers who were both inspired and who stood in solidarity with the student strikers.

The only way to test the NDP is to provide strong, parallel movements than can challenge the austerity policies of the federal and provincial governments. If our movements are strong enough, broad-based and not limited to regions, we can actually put the NDP to a test: either the party will join our movements, take its lead from our demands and advance our demands, or they’ll pull a Party Québecois: get elected on a left-of-centre platform, made possible by the activist work undertaken in Québec, and then betray Québecers by backing down on nearly every promise.

It will be at that moment that the next steps become clear: either they’re with social movements or they aren’t. And if they aren’t, the organzing that had been done up until that point will form the perfect basis for a new party.

Who can save the Ontario political left?

6 May

Picture 22This past weekend, Québec Solidaire’s econmic platform, the Plan Vert was officially launched. The campaign is a response to Liberal (and now PQ) Plan Nord, premised on resource extraction and exploitation of Québec’s north. It focuses on investing in the following initiatives:

  • transitioning Québec toward green energies
  • the mass development of public transportation (especially outside of the large cities)
  • the mass transition toward energy efficiency and social housing
  • developing cooperatives and collectively-run businesses
  • taking back control over natural resources.

There is also a focus on food sovereignty and finding local food solutions for Québecers, especially in regions under-serviced by local food production.

The campaign was launched in the middle of Québec Solidaire’s national congress, a congress that was criticized by many members (including me) for having too much of a focus on electoral gains, absent of the necessary political analysis that anchors QS firmly on the left.

But when the Plan Vert was presented, my fears about an electoralist, populist shift to the right were somewhat calmed. Yes, while the campaign is set to start in the fall, work should commence immediately. Yes, the Plan Vert should have included the role that tax evasion and corruption play in slowing or stopping progressive environmental policies from being implemented (as one member mentioned to me).

And, most importantly, yes, activists within the party have to remain diligent in defending its progressive core, especially as the party grows and external pressures will force it towards the centre.

But regardless, the Plan Vert is a solid platform upon which activists can organize. It’s an example of what a political party with any ideology should do: present its own agenda based on the internal policy work undertaken by its members. For a party like QS, policy work isn’t confined to members alone, as the party takes its cues from the experts: social movements.

During the campaign launch, and as I have yet to shed all aspects of my Ontarioness, I couldn’t help but feel really, really sorry for my friends and family back home for whom there is no similar political party.

Instead, the Ontario NDP is, again, engaging the public in an online survey. On their website, they announce that they have a new toll-free number and website that will help them help Ontarians, “…have their say on:

  • How to make the budget more accountable to Ontarians and how to make government more transparent
  • Cost saving measures that will balance the budget without jeopardizing services
  • Fair and affordable ways to fund transportation and transit
  • Firm guarantees to deliver on government commitments
  • Reflecting the needs of every region across the province”

OK, ignoring the syntax problems that exist with the final two bullet points (have their say on reflecting? Really?) this is an example of what happens when a party with a progressive mission and core loses its political compass.

The slow, decades-long slide towards electoralism has left Ontarians with no realistic, progressive options at the ballot box. What’s worse is that the Plan Nord is modeled on Ontario’s Ring of Fire, a plan that will be equally or more destructive to Northern Ontario and the ONDP is nowhere on demanding the destructive elements of the Ring of Fire be stopped.

Short of a miracle dropping the scales from the collective eyes of the ONDP, social movements are the only hope that Ontarians have. Social movements will either have to take the ONDP (back) by force or start something new: the situation is too desperate to allow for the space on the left to be occupied by this.

The Plan Vert offers Québecers a real alternative: liberation from neo-liberal policies, as one delegate said this weekend. After the liberation from the Liberals landed more austerity in the form of PQ broken election policies, the direction that Québec must take if we are to free ourselves from the influences of profit and the destruction of resource extraction, should be more clear than ever before.

But Canadians, especially people involved in the NDP and its provincial branches, can take from the strategies presented within the Plan Vert too. We cannot defeat austerity if we don’t offer alternatives. We cannot build confidence among citizens if we refuse to show them that there exist alternatives.

And we certainly cannot ignore these alternatives while hiding behind a toll-free number or tweeting a website. If the ONDP hasn’t found the answers to the questions they posed, how do they expect the average Ontarian to be able to solve transit funding on their own, for example? This isn’t democracy, it a democratic mirage that actually undermines the confidence people might have in the ONDP. It’s deeply disenfranchising and it’s an insult to everyone who suffers as a result of austere policies.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe. But once you see what Québec Solidaire has made possible, especially in spite of our deeply broken political system and with just two representatives elected, it’s hard to look at the strategies of the ONDP in any other way.

The NDP stumbles over the “S” word: Strategy

14 Apr
Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 10.54.08 AM

The CCF withstood attacks from the Liberals who tried to like Socialism to the Nazis. Why change the language today, then?

This weekend the NDP is meeting in Montréal. The party’s intentions are clear: they want to show Canadians that they’re ready to govern. This, despite the fact that most Canadians have lived under a social democratic government at some point and know that the NDP can govern.

Unfortunately, they failed the first test: offering proof that they are interested in debating issues of governance. Instead, the big controversy of the convention has been a carryover issue from the last convention, two years ago: to or to not remove the word “socialism” from the NDP’s constitution.

While this question was probably not at the front of most delegates’ minds, it’s clearly on the minds of most journalists at the convention. The party brass had to know that it would be (it was last time) so why has the proposal been brought back?

Rather than attacking the Conservatives to demonstrate their political might, the NDP has chosen to attack Socialists. They’ve framed this discussion by arguing that the current language is outdated, as if socialism is a relic of the past best suited for TV docudramas of Tommy Douglas and history classes. To do this, socialism has been posited in such a way that reinforces the lie that it isn’t democratic unless the adjective “democratic” modifies it.

I’d be shocked if the average Canadian cares about what the NDP constitution says. It’s not as if the presence of the word “socialism” is the thing that stands between the NDP forming government. Surely, the party’s inner circle doesn’t believe this either.

As such, I can’t make sense of this strategy. With the Liberals poised to elect a leader who is easy to attack on substance, it seems like they’re ignoring the lowest hanging fruit to settle a score from a previous convention.

For some reason, rather than embracing the term or ignoring the preamble of the constitution, the NDP has offered socialism up as a sacrificial lamb to the more than 200 journalists covering the convention. I wonder how that strategic decision went: hey guys, rather than debating capitalism, let’s go after socialism to prove we’re ready to govern. Great show of solidarity.

For the only progressive political party in every province but Québec, this approach is terrible. Not only is socialism not a relic of the past, it’s the only way to meaningfully confront the destructiveness of capitalism.

The NDP will not benefit from this strategy. Instead, it makes the party look as if it’s a populist horde doing whatever it takes to get elected. Somewhere, someone forgot that it’s this thinking that has lead to the demise of the Liberals.

Surely, the NDP knows that they’ll never be as good at being Liberals than actual Liberals are.

I sympathize with New Democrats who consider themselves to be socialists, which I’m sure a sizable chunk still do. Unfortunately, the pull toward party discipline is a necessary but sometimes destructive aspect of party membership. While many MPs told CPAC that really, the name change doesn’t matter as it won’t change the true orientation of the party, I’m left wondering what then is the point of this debate?

Instead of taking a page from the Liberal playbook, New Democrats should be taking a page from the Conservative playbook: unite the left on the terms of the left. Organize the base and convince them that the party’s socialist roots offer the only solution to improving our collective lives.

Harper didn’t ride in by uniting the right around the mushy, nebulous centre. He used the more moderate parts of the party to shield his ascension to power but has maintained his party along the lines of a strict, right wing ideology. It would work for the Left too.

There’s nothing that people hate more than something that’s been watered down: it’s true for fruit punch, it’s true for wine and it’s certainly true for politics.

If there’s been any time since the founding of the NDP where referencing socialism is critical, it’s now. With the undeniable lack of democracy in Canada, a new political system that places power into the hands of Canadians is more relevant now than ever before.

And, while I respect and adore many people who are active within the NDP, I can’t help but feel a hopeless sense that not only is this strategy bad because it attacks the left, but it is also going to lead to failure.

If the Left could be successful and progressive as a populist, ideologically vacant political party, it would have formed government already. The NDP needs to remember that people actually believe in the progressive vision it espouses.

Attacking socialism to demonstrate how “reasonable” a party it is will not only not help the NDP, it will further alienate many of the party’s most important and valuable allies and members.

For their sake, I hope they realize this before its too late.

GTFO of your car

10 Apr
manif contre les coups

Saturday’s rally before it reached rue Charest

Last Saturday, I was at a rally against planned cuts to social services announced by Agnès Maltais (my MNA) and the PQ government.

The rally walked down rue Charest and up to rue Saint-Joseph, but stopped in a street linking the two. The crowd was large enough to block two of three (or four) exits for a parking lot where a Metro and a Chez Ashton is located.

We stayed there for long enough that the people in cars trying to leave the parking lot started to drive around to the other side to leave, or laid on their horns in an attempt to get us to move. As there were speeches being made, no one paid much attention to the annoying, car-alarm-ish honking.

I leaned over to my partner and predicted what would happen next. “See that car there? He wants to leave this parking lot. What he should do is get out of his car, talk with the folks standing around the exit and ask if they can move to the side so he can get his car out of the lot.”

We agreed.

We also agreed that that wasn’t likely going to happen. As militant cyclists, we’re deeply aware of the power trip that normally accompanies frustrated people are behind a wheel.

Sure enough, the car deliberately rolled forward into a crowd of protesters. There were at least 20 people in front of his car, and another 40 blocking his access to the street. He was either 1. demonstrating that he’s a dick, 2. serious about either injuring or killing people just to get out of the lot, 3. hoping to scare the hell out of people who would then get out of his way and beg for forgiveness, 4. all of the above.

The group crowded around the car and, rightfully, started yelling at the driver. The police (and journalists) ran to the scene. I didn’t see anything happen after, no one arrested, no cop asking the driver to come with him to learn about why driving your car into a crowd of people is a bad idea.

What is with people in cars?

The experience of being in a car is a strange combination of being in your living room, controlling a really fast robot and operating a weapon. It’s so mundane that we never think of what it does to our sense of ourselves or our environment. We sit in traffic, we hurry about our day driving from one soul-sucking box mall to another. We listen to the radio.

And, when we have to communicate with others, we let the robot do our work for us: we honk, we yell things as if the car will react to our demands, we operate a series of levers that sometimes put the lives of others in danger.

With a society that is as car-obsessed as ours, it’s no surprise that we seem to have had a collective surgery that has removed our sense of community. It’s broken our relationships with each other, especially the relationships we’re supposed to have with people we have never met.

We don’t normally act like this in real life.

When we’re walking on the street, if we take much notice of the people around us, you might find yourself actually smiling at someone. Ever spend time with strangers in a stuck elevator? People talk to each other. Even after a several-hours delay on a tarmac in a cramped and fart-filled airplane, people, through frustrated, tend to remain friendly. At the very least, I’ve never witnessed anyone run up and down the aisles as fast as they can giving the finger to everyone when the airplane’s door finally opens. This stands in total contrast to how people react in traffic, you know, the person who aggressively accelerates towards an off ramp during rush hour across the 401 over top of Toronto.

Next time you’re in a grocery store, imagine operating your car the way you’re operating your cart: oops, someone accidentally took your cart? No matter, ask for it back. Did you bump into someone? Apologize. Is someone blocking you way? Either wait patiently or ask them to move. Mostly, our grocery store etiquette is humane and kind.

Cars should not give people a free pass to be an asshole. We can do all of these things in our cars too; we can be nice, we can talk to each other. We can, as we all heard in Grade 1 use our words. Sometimes, this means that we just have to exit our cars.

Drawing blood from stones: the relentless tuition fee hike

28 Mar

ABasQPsmallOntario announced a new tuition fee framework today. It’s the first time that the Liberal government has changed it in seven years

In 2006, Dalton McGuinty punched students in the face with a five per cent, on average, fee increase. It was supposed to last four years, but was extended, painfully, until 2012.

During the 2011 Ontario election, the Liberals introduced a grant to help offset the burden of these fees for some students. To those of us who spent days analyzing the Liberal proposal and strategy, it was clear that they had hoped to divert some of the negative attention on their tuition policy by offering a confusing, runner-up prize.

In the same vein, the kinder, gentler Liberal party, now lead by a grandmother rather than a seemingly ageless dad, is trying to help students out.

Today, they announced that the fee increases: 5% for most programs, 8% for the programs where university administrators want to screw students the hardest, has been replaced with 3% and 5% respectively.

McGuinty’s (and now Wynne’s) fee increases were historic: they pushed Ontario’s fees to be the most expensive and they allowed for different fees to be charged to different programs. Today’s increase puts tuition on track to double under the Liberal reign alone.

Now, students sitting in a second-year elective are paying a combination of a bunch of different fees for the same class. I say “a bunch” because I stopped counting at 10 different combinations, depending on the year they started, the actual year of the class, their program of study or their citizenship. Yes, added bureaucracy is necessary to keep track of these divisions. Yes, students will pay more and receive the same instruction as other students.

This was a clever idea: charge incoming students the most (because high school students don’t protest), charge engineering students the most (because they’re way too busy to protest), charge graduate students the most (because they’re too busy rocking back and forth under their desks to protest) and charge international students the most (because Jason Kenney will deport them if they protest).

For some, it has meant an increase of more than 71%.

High tuition fees are the best example of the insanity of austerity. Despite the fact that people who are better educated will earn more and pay more taxes (thereby paying for the cost of their education), Kathleen Wynne and her Neoliberal crew don’t care about the facts. They care about privatization. They care about eliminating the public system by stealth so that they don’t have to pay for it.

Indeed, Liberal, Tory… you know the rest.

Some “student groups” call it a step in the right direction. Of course, it isn’t. It’s a smaller step in the same direction. And, when walking towards a cliff, any steps in the direction of the cliff will lead to the same result. Wynne has smaller legs than McGuinty, this is just a difference in stride.

Actual students know that any tuition fee increase is simply going to exacerbate an already crisis situation. The Liberals hope that the pressures that are created by high tuition fees will be enough to continue to keep Ontario students quiet. And, it may. The crushing combination of high fees, high rents, youth unemployment and needing to, you know, live, depoliticizes and disenfranchises.

But, there is a breaking point. The question will just be how it manifests among Ontarians.

Today’s announcement does not come in a vacuum. The sustained political pressure that students have placed on the Liberals has helped to “win” this policy. The highly unpopular 30% off grant exposed a floundering, rudderless Liberal party that realized that they were losing the war over the message. Ontario students should take some comfort in that.

But the other political context, the waves made by the student protests last year in Québec must also be considered. The impact their protests had on Ontarians, to teach that another system is possible, cannot be understated. The Maple Spring created spaces in Ontario where student activists could actually talk about free tuition fees and be taken seriously by their peers.

That’s the power of a peoples’ movement: raising consciousness and building capacity. Ontario was lucky to benefit from some side effects. Québec students will be reaping the harvest of their work for years to come, and the story isn’t anywhere near finished yet.

But the 3% fee increase is a necessary reminder: Wynne, bowing to pressure and trying to distance herself publicly from McGuinty settled on a tuition fee increase lower than the past seven years. In Québec, Pauline Marois picked the same percentage to increase students’ fees, despite the fact that she rolled in on a wave that was absolutely opposing a hike. What’s the lesson here?

The line between demands made by social movements and minor policy changes is sometimes direct, sometimes crooked and most times non-existent. Marois tricked Québecers into voting PQ and turned around and went all Charest on them. Wynne was elected as the moderately progressive alternative and has turned around and gone all McGuinty on Ontarians.

Meanwhile, students in both provinces will be paying 3% more next fall.

Political ideology is the domain of the Conservatives. Today, the remaining Neoliberal parties are populist, gauging where public interest is and governing accordingly. Under these conditions neither Ontarians nor Québecers have any chance of witnessing fundamental change. Austerity and populism has too great a control over the brains of our politicians. Instead, we’ll have to force it.

What the student movement in Québec does is reminds us that these battles, if fought and won in the streets, will be won by the people. The campaign will last longer than a semester. It’s origins will be theorizable but it’s effects can only be told in retrospect. Its existence gives hope and a path to follow.

So Ontarians, how will you play your hand?