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Calling out Liberal arrogance and austerity violence in Québec

by Stefan Christoff

Calling out Liberal arrogance and austerity violence in Québec
graphics by École de la Montagne Rouge
graphics by École de la Montagne Rouge
Photos taken last week in Québec City showing politicians Philippe Couillard and Stephen Harper grinning together visualize the clear alignment now existing between the halls of power in Ottawa and Québec. In step with the sustained wave of un-egalitarian austerity economics that has largely defined federal budgets under the Conservatives over the past decade, Couillard is now strongly swinging in the very same direction. 
 
After the Parti libéral du Québec were deposed from office in fall 2012, in the context of the sustained student strike against neoliberal inspired hikes to tuition, the Liberals are now working rapidly to make up for any ideological ground lost while sitting in opposition. 
 
Beyond asserting the austerity ideology, the Liberals are even moving to publicly reward now unelected architectes of the previous attack on accessible education. A trend illustrated best by the ridiculous appointment of former education minister Line Beauchamp as Québec’s representative to UNESCO, an organization that consistently advocated against financial barriers to post-secondary education. 
 
Now firmly in power again the Liberals are asserting both intense political arrogance and policies shaped by neoliberal ideological frameworks, the key political elements that worked to mobilize popular anger against the previous Liberal government of Jean Charest.
 
In moving to impose policies of neoliberal austerity for the majority, while guarding the ongoing corporate profit bonanza taking place for a tiny minority, Couillard’s words have been both patronizing and manipulatively dishonest, perhaps similar to the Catholic sermons of Québec’s past that worked to keep so many people bound to poverty. 
 
Utilizing the bulk of an opening address to Québec’s national assembly last May to push an austerity agenda, Couillard painted clear intentions. Stressed on the “emergency” of unbalanced government budgets, Couillard sustained the alarmist rhetoric of déficit zéro also fully embraced by the previous PQ government. Clearly laying out the ideological framework of neoliberal austerity without saying it by name, Couillard talked about acting “firmly and with decisiveness” toward an economic equation that would equal “more work” and “effort” for the struggling majority. 
 
Couillard’s sharp focus on this austerity is most certainly not the ballooning corporate salaries or massive tax subsidies that Québec’s major corporations have grown accustomed to over the past decades, the focus is poor and working people, marginalized communities already struggling to survive on a daily basis during this period of growing economic inequality. 
 
Not acknowledged in this dishonest and manipulative austerity rhetoric is the massive amounts of lost public revenue due to corporate tax cuts that have been compounding over the past decade. 
 
According to documentation from the Institut de recherche et d'informations socio-économiques (IRIS), from 2000-2008 both PQ and Liberal governments together took economic policy decisions that denied as estimated $9.8 billion in public revenues, funds denied through tax cuts and deductions largely favouring the wealthy and corporations.
 
Specifically PQ tax cuts in 2002 saw those in Quebec earning $75,000+ receiving an additional $1,700 a year, estimated at over six times the amount gained by low income earners, people earning less than $25,000 a year. Under Jean Charest, Liberal tax cuts in 2007-2009 provided nothing to households with an $25,000 income, while delivering over $1800 annually to households with $150,000 in income. 
 
Beyond these manipulative adjustments to tax regulations, clearly benefiting the wealthy minority, cuts to corporate taxes also instituted under the previously Liberal government in 2010 sees an estimated $1.9 billion in public revenues flying out the window, according to research by IRIS. 
 
Today Couillard is pointing the finger at public services and public institutions in an effort to make up these lost state revenues, nowhere found in this sustained Liberal rhetoric about financial responsibility is any acknowledgement that sustained neoliberal policies, shaped by major corporate tax breaks, has been a key element in creating this crisis. 
 
Couillard is preaching austerity now, aiming to cut a staggering $3.9 billion from public funding, a move that will clearly impact the most vulnerable in society. Lost in this violent economic equation is the simple fact that the entirety of this funding gap needed could be secured by re-instituting Québec’s previous corporate tax rates, in place prior to this manipulative wave of austerity economics that began over a decade ago. 
 
Preventing this type of policy move is the cozy relationship that the Liberal party of Québec has with major corporations, illustrated through the countless stories of dramatic corruption scandals that clearly Couillard is not very far away from, but most profoundly illustrated by the fact that state policy so clearly aligns with the very same ideological points outlined by the corporate class. 
 
“We are pleased to see that balancing the budget on time remains a priority,” said Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, responding to the last Liberal budget. “This was absolutely indispensable, not just to reassure the financial community, but also to seriously envisage reducing our debt. We asked the government to focus on controlling spending to redress public finances, and we are pleased to see that 90% of the effort will be accomplished by reining in government spending. This exercise will require discipline and persistence, particularly in the face of any protests that may result.”
 
This telling statement illustrates clearly the support from the corporate sector for economic equations that balance the books through slashing already delicate public infrastructure, not by reintroducing more equitable corporate tax rates that the corporate class can so clearly afford. Also indicated in this quote is a clear recognition that such types of policy moves are unpopular on the streets, a reality also recognized by Couillard when talking about “painful” cuts to public services. 
 
Now many questions ring out. What possibilities are there for popular mobilizations and protests that can fight back against these clear attacks against the very institutions, like public hospitals and schools, essential to daily life for the majority
 
Couillard has said nothing to Harper for example about the sustained underfunding of public healthcare in Canada under the Conservatives, a realities that is creating many waiting room and health service nightmares in Québec every day and night. Instead Couillard is protecting the corporate class, while embracing an austerity ideology that in reality equals compounding social violence and poverty, like less funding for social housing or programs that support the homeless.
 
Liberal policies today in Québec, similarly to Conservative policies in Canada, equal a more unequal and unfair society, a society where the profit margins of corporations rise to extraordinary heights, while countless working families are struggling to put food on the kitchen table. 
 
This is an economic equation that is unacceptable and that needs to be confronted. Politicians won't take these issues on in real ways within the halls of power in Québec City, its only people in the community, on the streets, organizing together to challenge this violent machine that can reverse this profound economic violence that is falsely presented as necessary. 
 
“We have to act firmly and with decisiveness. We will do it,” said Couillard at the National Assembly when outlining the violent agenda for austerity last May, it is exactly that decisiveness that we need to assert collectively on the streets today to combat and stop this violent neoliberal agenda.
 
Stefan Christoff is a community organizer, musician and writer living in Montreal who works with Comité d’action solidaire contre l’austerité – CASA, some statistics in this article are borrowed from this important text : The Hypocrisy of Austerity. you can find Stefan @spirodon.
 

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Stefan Christoff (Stefan Christoff)
Montreal, Quebec
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Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based journalist, community organizer and musician.

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