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CBC on Quebec student strike: Deploying government discourse?

by Stefan Christoff

Red flag on Pont Jacques-Cartier bridge in Montreal April 6, 2012.
Red flag on Pont Jacques-Cartier bridge in Montreal April 6, 2012.


CBC news reports are now using inaccurate language to describe the ongoing Québec-wide student strike.

Journalists on the CBC are regularly repeating, without question, the terminology of government officials, tilting reports to justify the planned $1,625 hike in post-secondary tuition fees over the next five years.

CBC's willingness to adopt malicious Québec government discourse, attempting to define the strike as a “boycott”, is deeply disappointing, illustrating a broader CBC shift toward the right.

Student strike or student boycott?

In a report, broadcast nationally on CBC Newsworld, journalist Alison Northcott reported from the vibrant and mass student protest in Montreal’s Plateau district over the weekend.

As tens-of-thousands of students and community members filled block after block on St Denis street, CBC's Northcott reported that “many” students have “been boycotting their classes for nearly two months.”

Utilizing the term “boycott” to describe the collective action of striking students, is both dishonest and distracts from the reality of the student strike as a grève politique. Namely, a mass political action, democratically decided upon in open votes or general assemblies within Québec student unions and associations.

Why is the CBC adopting inaccurate language to describe the ongoing student strike?

Can the CBC claim journalistic integrity for reports that directly employ the Québec government's terminology on the strike?

Why are CBC reporters adopting the language of politicians in Québec City, terming the mass student strike a boycott, a linguistic move that demeans and undermines the strike movement.

Student strike and social justice

CBC reports are also failing to highlight the wider implications of the weekend protest in Montreal, an action that called Pour un Printemps québécois ! and involved the active support and participation of many Québec unions, such as the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), and community groups like Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU).

Québec's student strike is not occurring in isolation from other social justice struggles, the mutual solidarity and links between grassroots campaigns, was clearly expressed on the streets of Montreal at last Saturday's rally.

This fact was completely ignored by the CBC's reporting on the march.

Wouldn't a news report exploring the complexity of the broader social movements, including artists, community groups, and unions, who are actively involved in supporting the strike, be more engaging?

Certainly the mass weekend protest, which stretched across the Plateau, clearly expressed the demands of striking students to halt tuition fees hikes, quite literally the demonstration was a sea of red square, but it also addressed broader social justice campaigns.

Placard signs with the words « Rêve général illimité ! » written on them, illustrate the many wider dreams for the current strike movement, and have been common in the student protests over recent months.

Student protests are also highlighting the campaign to cancel a recently imposed $200-per-year healthcare flat tax, or 'user fee', for all in Québec. This grassroots push back by anti-poverty organizations, and workers unions is strongly supported by striking student unions.

The Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics is campaigning on this issue, shedding light on how the Québec healthcare user fee is a clear drift toward the privatization of public health care. This campaign is supported by the Coalition large de l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSÉ).

A critically important campaign at a time when the Conservative government in Ottawa has moved towards a hands-off approach on healthcare transfer fees, opening the door for provincial governments to experiment with, and drift toward increased privatization in the healthcare system. At the same time as Conservatives signal that the Canada Health Act will not be strictly enforced.

CBC reports missing context

Also missing in CBC reporting on the student strike is background on the tireless grassroots activism that built the current strike movement.

Removed from most CBC coverage is the activism of thousands of students toward the 2012 Québec student strike, that extends back months and even years.

Student activists have been handing out flyers, holding events, meetings and organizing toward this strike for years, slowly building popular support for a general unlimited student strike.

Inspiration for the current strike is also rooted in past victories, like in 2005 when students successfully challenged moves by Charest’s Liberal government to slash $103 million from bursaries granted to students.

In removing the more nuanced, historical stories of student activists from the picture, the CBC removes the activist narrative from reporting on the strike, which is a central part of the story.

Highlighting anti-strike students

Instead of exploring the fascinating complexities and history of the movement, CBC moves regularly to give voice to students vocally campaigning against the student strike and in support of tuition hikes in Québec, a relatively minor part of the story.

Why is the CBC giving significant airtime to small student initiatives supporting Québec government policy, like Mouvement des étudiants socialement responsables du Québec, a group with clear links to the youth wing the Québec Liberal Party.

Despite the public admission of ties to the governing party, CBC and also Radio Canada continue to give voice to this relatively tiny group.

Any CBC claims to objectivity in reporting on the student strike are strenuous, as reporters disproportionally boost anti-strike student voices, while fully adopting government language on the strike, incorrectly labelling the strike a boycott.

Equating small right wing student initiatives, supportive or even linked to the Québec government, with a mass Québec student movement opposed to tuition hikes is simplistic journalism that presents an inaccurate picture.

Where are the in-depth reports exploring a diversity of voices, student and non-student, participating in the strike movement, such as Profs contre la hausse?

CBC and students both facing austerity economics

At a time when a Conservative austerity-driven budget has slashed ten-percent of CBC's public funding, leading to the cancellation of great programs like Dispatches, why are CBC reports hostile to students defending access to public education?

Moves to increase tuition fees in Québec, increasingly placing the economic burden of sustaining public universities on students, represents a similar logic of austerity economics that is now leading to major cuts to Canada's public broadcaster.

As politicians in Québec City and Ottawa draft economic policy to sustain massive corporate tax cuts, from Rio Tinto in Québec, to Conservative policy in Ottawa that leaves Canada with the lowest corporate tax rate in G8 nations, it is the people and publicly funded institutions who are now forced to pay the economic price.

As the CBC now faces austerity-driven Conservative cuts, why are its reporters so biased against the student strike?

Student are striking for accessible education and public universities, but also for viable public institutions like accessible public healthcare and the CBC.

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based writer, community activist and musician who is at



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Stefan Christoff (Stefan Christoff)
Montreal, Quebec
Member since April 2010


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

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Media Types

Personally I wouldn't consider CBC a public institution, I'd consider it a state-corporate institution. Its a corporation owned by the state, not democratically accountable to the people. PBS and community radio stations which rely on public-donations and support are public institutions.

Healthcare is similar, its a state institution. Not a publically owned one. In a world where we are fighting for self-management, state controlled institutions ought not to be seen as public, especially if we agree the state is the tool of the economic elite.

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