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Demonstration draws crowds of thousands in protest against austerity

Last Friday, thousands of people including students, unions, and social service organizations gathered for a one-day strike and protest on the austerity measures being imposed by the Quebec government under Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard.

The demonstration was declared illegal by the Montreal Police Service (SPVM) about 30 minutes after it began. The SPVM stated that the full itinerary for the march had not been provided in advance, but no arrests were made.

More than 85 groups—including university and CEGEP students and professors, healthcare workers, non-profit organizations, feminist groups, and unions such as the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) and the International Workers of the World (IWW)—attended the demonstration to display their opposition to the Liberal government’s proposed budget cuts.

“We came out because of the austerity from the government in every social program, and health programs as well,” said Corinne Martin-Valois, a third-year social work student at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). “Personally, I will work in social organizations later on. I don’t think we have a good future right now with our government, so that’s why I’m out here.”

Healthcare workers in particular were protesting Loi 10, named “An Act to modify the organization and governance of the health and social services network, in particular by abolishing the regional agencies.”

“Some of the cuts—what they’re going to do—is get rid of the top administration, and amalgamate more of the health centres,” said Barbara Bellingham of the Avante Women’s Centre in Bedford, Monteregie.

“It will affect us [Anglophones] quite strongly,” she said. “It’s difficult for us to get services in English as it is; and now instead of talking to our local board of directors, we have to go all the way to Longueil to get special requests for English services.”

The demonstration was organized by the non-profit organization, Non Aux Hausses, a coalition founded in 2009 to organize against cuts and privatization of social services. 

François Cloutier, a student protesting with his peers from CEGEP Bois de Boulogne explained that many students had different viewpoints on the issue.

“We voted on a student strike on Wednesday, and since the vote was a majority, we decided that our student groups were against the austerity,” Cloutier said “Everybody has something to say, and that’s why we’re on the streets.”

Many of the attendees were dressed in costume as the protest was themed “Austerity: A Horror Story.”

“I came out to protest the austerity measures of the government with a couple of friends from the Medical Students’ Association of the University of Montreal,” said Edward Voyer, a first-year student in Medicine.  He was dressed in costume as a plague doctor, holding a sign that read, “Etudiantes en Medicine Contre la Peste Liberal.”

McGill University will be among those affected by the government’s budget cuts.

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly on Oct. 22 passed a motion that did not explicitly endorse a strike, but stated that SSMU would stand in solidarity against the austerity measures, which would cut approximately $172 million from university funding. 

“[SSMU] is now mandated to inform and mobilize its members to participate in demonstrations in opposition to austerity measures,” SSMU VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette said.  “Given this mandate, we will definitely be out representing the SSMU on Oct. 31 and in future protests.”

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