Friday, May 18, 2012

écureuil, part deux

Squirrel!!  Yes, it is time for that game-y flavored distraction sauce.  Yesterday, two major news events occurred in Montreal/Quebec: Jean Charest tabled an emergency law that will suspend the classes for those colleges and programs where students have been not attending,* levying new penalties for disrupting classes, requiring more notice for protests and so on;** and several people close to Montreal Mayor Tremblay were arrested for corruption charges.
*  I have decided not to use "strike" or "boycott" to describe what the student groups are doing.  They are not refusing to work nor are they refusing to buy something.  They have already paid for a service--an education--and are refusing to partake.  I don't know of a word that describes that well.
** Folks on twitter this morning say that the law overreaches, especially as the problem in Montreal is mostly an "enforcement" problem.
I am not saying that the mayor's office has been helping the student protests along.  No, not at all, but I am saying that the corruption problem in Montreal and Quebec has often been a side show, overlooked as we focus on issues that are actually less significant in terms of costs, in terms of the quality of service--in terms of good governance.  Yes, the students are upset that they have to pay more for their education, but we forget that that they are also upset because they have witnessed heaps of money wasted on things like construction at UQAM that goes on forever (hmm, any corrupt contractors involved?), new satellite campuses for schools not based in Montreal, new campuses for schools based in Montreal (UdeM with a billion dollar project in Outremont), schools blowing heaps of money on firing elite officials and giving them big severance packages (Concordia), and schools spending more money than appears warranted on the travel of their boss (McGill).

To be clear, these spending scandals are, in total (with the exception of UQAM and UdeM) are pretty small compared to the other rising costs of education and to the costs to the university system of the tuition freeze.  Moreover, the costs to the city and province of corruption is much, much greater than the costs of the student protests.  Construction in Quebec costs something like 30% more than in other Canadian provinces even though wages are lower here, yet the construction projects almost always seem to produce crappy work.  Indeed, we are now going to be paying millions and billions to replace infrastructure (roads and bridges) that were built not that long ago.

But the corruption scandal, clearly touching the mayor, is going to be pushed out of the news by the student protests and the reactions of the Charest government.  I can only guess that Mayor Tremblay, who was complaining of the protests earlier in the week, is now secretly thrilled that these events have come so close together, even if it means that Montreal is a battlezone for police and students.  I guess it is a good thing that the roads resemble World War I trenches.

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