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What happened last week in Canada?

Student protests continue in Montreal

Violence broke out in the streets of Montreal on the night of Mar. 5, as students protested the tuition fee increase recently announced by the Parti Québécois (PQ). Police declared the march illegal, as the protestors did not provide a route as required by municipal law. Some protestors smashed the windows of a bank and hotel, and police claimed students defaced patrol cars with cans of spray paint. Fifty students were arrested, and at least one student and one officer were injured near Montreal’s Chinatown district.

A new wave of protests has taken place since late February, following the PQ’s declaration at the Summit on Higher Education—which occurred on Feb. 25 and 26—that it would index tuition at three per cent per year starting next Fall. Many students were expecting the provincial government to freeze tuition, after the PQ cancelled the former Liberal government’s tuition increase in September 2012.

B.C. Liberals scandal over ‘ethnic outreach’ document

On Mar. 7, leaders of several First Nations and cultural groups—including the Union of B.C. Chiefs, the Progressive Inter-Cultural Services Society, and the Head Tax Families Society of Canada—called on the B.C. Liberal Party to stop using restorative justice as an election campaign strategy. 

This action follows the unveiling of the B.C. Liberals’ Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan, which the NDP leaked. This document includes several proposals, one of which included using official apologies for historical injuries to entice First Nations and Chinese citizens to vote for the Liberals in the upcoming May 14 provincial elections.

“It represents a deep sense of betrayal and we find it highly offensive,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Chiefs, told the CBC.

Since the disclosure of the ‘ethnic outreach’ document, Liberal Premier Christy Clark has issued three apologies. Liberal Deputy Chief of Staff Kim Haakstad, who helped draft the plan, resigned on Mar. 1. 

Canada creates thousands of new jobs in February

Statistics Canada reported last week that 51,000 jobs were created in Canada in February—a figure that is six times bigger than the amount predicted by economists. 

The increase in employment was spread between both part-time and full-time work, and across most industries, and it occurred primarily in Ontario and B.C. Most of the people who filled the new positions were aged 55 or above. However, the unemployment rate remained relatively stable in February, as the number of new jobs matched the number of new Canadians seeking employment.

Both politicians and economists are optimistic about these strong results; however, Scotia Economics Vice-President Derek Holt pointed to areas where improvement can still be made.

“If there is a fly in the ointment, it lies in the fact that a big job gain, nonetheless, coincided with no growth in paycheques for all workers combined during the month, as evidenced by flat wages and flat hours worked,” Holt told the CBC. 

PQ cancels mandatory english immersion

Marie Malavoy, Quebec’s Education Minister, announced on Mar. 7 that English immersion classes in French schools will no longer be mandatory. This decision effectively cancels a program set up by the previous Liberal government in 2011 that required grade 6 students to enroll in intensive English immersion classes for half of the school year. 

According to The Montreal Gazette, Malavoy said that it would be unrealistic to have every single grade 6 student in Quebec attend these classes, and that school boards were having trouble hiring qualified teachers to instruct in these programs.

However, Malavoy also said that the Parti Québécois (PQ) will not ban the immersion program, and that schools may continue to implement it if they wish. As of this school year, only 12 per cent of grade 6 classrooms had successfully integrated the program.

A representative from the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), Natalie Roy, criticized Malavoy for promoting confusion by giving school boards more flexibility while also implying that the PQ wants to slow down further implementation of immersion programs, according to The Gazette.

Supreme Court makes decision on MB land claims case

On Mar. 8, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered its judgment on a historic Manitoba land claims dispute, where a majority of the justices ruled that the federal government’s distribution of land to children of the region’s Métis population in the late 19th century was unconstitutional.

The legal dispute’s roots can be traced back to 1870, the year that Manitoba became a Canadian province. The federal government promised that 5,565 square km of land would be reserved for Métis children. However, it did not follow through with its agreement, and turned a blind eye as new settlers in the province bought much of the land that was promised at very low prices.

The Supreme Court’s judgment means that the current Conservative government potentially faces extensive negotiations with the province’s Métis. According to CTV News, Métis spokespeople have said that they do not intend to demand their land back, which includes all of present-day Winnipeg. However, they will seek financial compensation for the historic wrongdoing.

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