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As Quebec’s infamous student strike now enters its 103rd day, a growing number of international eyes are focused on the province. Crowds filled the streets of Montreal, estimated by some at half a million and a quarter-million the following day. Wednesday also saw over six hundred arrests as police “kettled” huge numbers of demonstrators in an attempt to enforce the province’s new draconian anti-protest law, Bill 78. Last night demonstrators marched again, banging pots and pans, but with only a handfull of arrests. A growing number of voices, including those in parliament, are calling this the “worst crisis in Quebec’s history”, with five times as many arrested as during the FLQ crisis where martial law was declared. Wednesday night itself saw more arrests than Trudeau’s imposition of the War Measures Act. In the face of this determination, the government’s new Education Minister, Michelle Courchesne, has attempted a dramatic new tactic: she’s returning to the bargaining table.

Protests have now crossed the border into Ontario. University of Ottawa students have taken over administration offices in a growing protest against tuition increases. Others, elsewhere, are planned for the coming week. Toronto is due for solidarity protests today, and Hamilton is set for more next week. Tuesday’s 100-day anniversary solidarity actions, from Hamilton to New York and Paris, and the beginnings of a national outpouring of support.

For much of the strike, while coverage had been confined to Quebecois and major national media like the National Post, it has been scathing. Andrew Coyne’s recent piece for the National Post shows this reaction for the blatant hypocrisy it is – protests, his eyes, “cripple democracy” because they disobey the government (lol). Pundits have droned on about “entitlement” and lawlessness, but as word grows beyond the compliant Canadian press are taking a far more critical view of the Premier. Hard-line negotiating tactics, police brutality and unconstitutional laws aren’t a popular approach, and that usually becomes clear with a little more distance. As they face down wave after wave of arrests and beatings, with a few people now nearly killed and partially blinded, they have become the symbol of Canadian resistance to austerity, in a way we used to associate with Athens or Barcelona. This is indeed our “Maple Spring”.

How Are The Quebec Protests Being Reported Around The World? George Stroumboulopoulos (CBC)

Elsewhere, many other battles rage on. Protesters in London, Ont. disrupted hearings over attempts by Enbridge to pump Tar Sands oil through Southern Ontario. The Harper government has revealed more of it’s plans to “reform” EI, which threaten to cut off 5-10 000 recipients and force many into more distant jobs with less pay. Federal Conservatives are also trying (again) to dismiss a challenge of election results from ridings plagued by “robocalls”. And of course, they’re still threatening back-to-work legislation in the ongoing CP Rail strike.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a pretty strong correlation between cuts to social spending and these kinds of uprisings. As Harper and his pet premiers unleash austerity on the nation known well as the most financially stable in the G8, we can only expect more protests, strikes and (*gasp*) riots. Not only have these policies proven an absolute financial disaster in the Eurozone, they’ve also incited political unrest on a truly massive scale. Nobody who’s been following international news for the last year can claim they didn’t see this coming.

Protests like the student movement in Quebec always threaten to become about more than the issues which first put people into the streets. This is now about far more than tuition in Quebec – it’s about the right to demonstrate and a broad-based loathing for Charest and his policies. It’s come to include issues of development, corruption and capitalism itself, and it’s beginning to spread beyond Quebec. If the government doesn’t back down very gracefully and very soon, they’re going to have a revolution on their hands.

Revelations are exploding across the nation this weekend that Stephen Harper’s last electoral win may have included a few dirty tricks. Liberal leader Bob Rae among others are now accusing conservative campaigns in the last election of illegally using “robocalls” (automated dialers) to spread misinformation about polling stations and opposition parties. Elections Canada and the RCMP are now investigating.

So far the investigation has traced some of these calls to an Albertan telemarketing firm associated with several Tory campaigns. The allegations involve impersonating Liberal Party members and sending people to the wrong polling stations. Since much of this occurred in ridings where the Conservatives “won” by a few dozen or hundred votes, this casts significant doubt on the legitimacy of their recent win – or in layman’s terms “they cheated“.

What happens when you cheat in an election and win? Not a whole lot. We witnessed this locally when former Mayor Larry DiIanni was convicted of violating new campaign financing laws. It took years of pressure and tens of thousands in legal fees to even convince Council to press charges, even though his violations were apparent within days of winning the election. In the end he had to repay the excess (without interest) and write a letter of apology. Never was the legitimacy of his reign openly questioned, nor the role of local business/development leaders who’d donated (and re-donated, then donated again…) the illicit contributions in question. To this day, DiIanni still portrays the issue as one of a personal vendetta rather than blatant corruption, but that’s done little to stop him from losing two elections since.

Such allegations also stalked George W. Bush through both of his elections – focusing on Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.. Though little was ever proven, reports abound about taking black voters off the electoral roles en-masse, and technical interference from Diebold, big republican donors who also manufacture much of America’s voting machines.

Obviously, this isn’t an isolated problem.

Did the actions of Conservative campaigners affect the outcome nationally? Harper narrowly gained a majority in last year’s election with eleven ridings more than he needed, and his party is now facing allegations in twenty-seven. Even if less than half of these ‘robocall ridings’ led to a victory, it could still have prevented a Liberal/NDP coalition. We’ll never really know for sure, but does it matter? What do these actions say about how our “leaders” see the Canadian public?

Would you bet on a race which you know is fixed? Would you even bother watching a game if you knew the winner ahead of time? How much confidence would you have in future matches if foul play were continually being unearthed after the fact?

These embarrassments show clearly the true purpose of voting. The point is not to determine who the public want as their “representatives” – it’s to present a picture which looks that way. Elections differ responsibility from those in power onto the public for “voting them in” (even when we didn’t) and paint all criticism as an attack on the Canadian people. Whether or not those who “win” truly “represent” the public is beside the point, and trying to enforce the “public will” against even the most corrupt officials would set a horrible precedent. Elections serve to convey the illusion of democracy and legitimacy through regular collective rituals, and for that purpose appearances are all that matter.

If election fraud didn’t change anything it would probably actually be illegal.

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