“Our opinion is, build it and they will come,” said Alex Grant last Wednesday afternoon, standing behind a table on the sidewalk near Ryerson University’s library. Grant and five other volunteers with the activist magazine Fightback doled out Marxist and socialist literature (including their own magazine) and collected signatures for a petition to demonstrate solidarity with Quebec’s striking students—and raise support for a similar uprising in Ontario next fall. Sympathetic students, however, were scarce.
In Quebec, almost one-third of post-secondary students have been on strike for the past 15 weeks, demanding lower tuition. Nightly demonstrations have attracted thousands—on Tuesday, an estimated 200,000 converged on downtown Montreal. The conflict has also seen a smoke-bombing at a Montreal Metro station and a Molotov cocktail tossed at police; the government has responded with widely-condemned anti-protest legislation. Police have cracked down with tear gas, rubber bullets, and widespread arrests.
“We see Quebec as an inspiration,” explained York student Farshad Azadian. “Ontario students are ready to go on strike right away.” (According to a poll conducted by The Globe and Mail this month, 69 per cent of Ontario students say they would strike to oppose a tuition increase.) Over the last two weeks, the Fightback team has visited university campuses across the GTA, asking students to sign a letter to the Canadian Federation of Students requesting a strike ballot this fall. But despite Ontario’s highest-in-the-country tuition rates, the crew only collected about 30 signatures in an hour and a half.
“Support Quebec students, buddy?” said one volunteer on Wednesday, prompting a passing student. “No, I’m good,” the student replied, eyes downcast.
It was a typical exchange. With only summer classes now in session, students on the nearly empty campus avoided eye contact and gave the table a wide berth. Some university administrative employees were overheard laughing about the prospect of “joining Quebec.”
“I didn’t occupy because I had school,” said one signatory—adding that he’d be willing to miss class for a protest.