The Quebec standoff already has a clear loser: taxpayers

In Vancouver, the riots cost $5 million. In the U.K. over $160 million. How much will Quebec pay?


Photograph: Fatima Arkin

Fatima Arkin is a Montreal-based freelance journalist.

It’s hard to say who will be the winner in the ongoing struggle between the Quebec government and student activists–but there are already clear losers.

Last Tuesday marked 100 days of protest, and the list of casualties continues to grow: small and medium sized businesses in downtown Montreal are suffering, taxpayers are in for a hefty bill–now estimated to be in the millions of dollars–to pay for police overtime, and the tourism industry is fretting that the images of violence making their way into a growing number of international media will harm the city’s reputation just as high season begins.

From Vancouver to London, U.K., rioting youth has been lifting millions out of public coffers and private pockets. The Stanley Cup mayhem is estimated to have dinged Vancouverites for at least $5 million between damages and the cost of the investigating the riots itself. The the U.K.’s own spell of anarchy could cost Britons over $160 million in damages alone.

For Montrealers’ wallets, here’s what the bill looks like so far:

Downtown businesses

In the downtown area, business is down nearly 15 per cent on average due to traffic congestion and streets being closed due to ongoing protests, Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce,  told Maclean’s. Some downtown locales, though, are reporting a sales drop of as much as 60 per cent compared to this time last year, he added. “These would be the businesses that usually count on people staying in downtown after work or coming from the boroughs outside of downtown and they are more affected,” he says.

Some of these business owners, are now worried customers will get used to staying closer to home and continue to avoid the downtown core even after the protest ends. Others, like Luc Belisle, owner of Pub Quartier Latin, located steps away from trendy St. Denis St., are growing frustrated with news reports encouraging people to stay away from Montreal. Every day, at four o’clock in the afternoon, he’s in his office listening to the radio telling people to skip the city if they can. “I’m just thinking ‘You’re really trying to help me, huh?’, ” he says with an exasperated chuckle. Just today, a party of 75 cancelled a reservation for 5 p.m. tonight–a last minute decision he suspects was motivated by concern over nighttime unrest in the area. “People are afraid,” he says.

Police overtime

As of late April, the cost of calling on police to monitor the student protests was estimated at $2-3 million dollars, Yves Francoeur, president of Montreal’s police officers’ union, told Max Harrold of the Montreal Gazette. The intervention unit, specially trained in last-resort crowd dispersal techniques, has been called upon 150 times during the first eleven weeks of student protests alone.

And on May 14, Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced that 150 temporary police officers would be given full-time positions to deal with nightly protests. Tremblay is expected to try to recoup some of that by asking the Quebec government for $35 million in aid. With the protests still ongoing, however, those costs could climb even further.

Tourism industry

The protests also risk spoiling Montreal’s famed–and lucrative–summer lineup of festivities, which includes the Grand Prix du Canada, the Montreal International Jazz Festival and Just For Laughs.

“If you ask people, what’s your image of Montreal, right now, they think, social unrest,” says Andy Nulman, president of festivals and television at Just for Laughs. “To someone sitting in Wisconsin, that’s not far away from Syria.”

On Wednesday, the Hotel Association of Greater Montreal reported that reservations had dropped by as much as ten per cent compared to last year. “A few cancellations” have been directly linked to the protests, William Brown, the association’s executive vice-president, told the Gazette.

Tourism Montreal is also monitoring the situation. “I can’t see into the future, but right now, there’s no impact on tourists and there’s no significant impact on the image of Montreal outside Canada,” said Pierre Bellerose, vice president of public relations, research and product development at Tourism Montreal.

But if protests continue over the summer, it’s likely that as tensions and temperatures rise so will the cost.


The Quebec standoff already has a clear loser: taxpayers

  1. yawn.

  2. A lesson in ‘Opportunity Cost’

    The benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action.

    • How exactly? The students already won on the point they were initially protesting about, and then immediately started protesting against OTHER things.

      The fact that the government capitulated, and the tuition changes will now basically not affect any student who’s parents make less than $100,000, and yet the protests continue unabated, seems to me to be a pretty clear indication that the protesters don’t really have a list of demands beyond “more than whatever the government offers us at any particular moment”.

      I’m not sure that “restructure all of society because 30% of post-secondary students are upset that their tuition is going to go up a few hundred dollars” is a negotiation stance worth even beginning a negotiation over.

      • The original fight was about raising tuition….it’s still being raised.

        Now the fight is ALSO about Bill 78

    • And I’m sure you’ll keep up the anti-French rhetoric until your universities join them

    • Oh no they are not… This protest are organized by french student association and unions (FTQ, CSN).

      • Well actually Concordia and McGill were part of the protest until McGill threatened to suspend a few of the protesters. Seems like an interesting way to ‘stifle’ the anglo communities from participating.

        Plus the anglo/franco debate is super boring and taking a jab yet again at francophones. Just because the universities aren’t on strike doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of anglophones that are protesting along with everyone else.

        Hmm maybe that’s an article that this magazine could actually do… an expose on how anglophones in Montreal feel about this issue from (both) sides.

    • My college is french and they voted against the strike. Again, I mentionned before, 1/4 of university students and 1/5 of college students are on strike. The quiet majority is studying, working and paying taxes. It is only the left wing socialist idealist teens, artists and others that are causing this.

      • idealist teens and artists? all 300 000 of the people at the march on the 22 are idealist teens and artists? look around . open your eyes. the movement is bigger than you think and represents a large chunk of the population. to ignore them is undemocratic and fascist. PLUS education should be accessible… that is not the highest possible ideal. just the basic. would you rather be idealist or accept corruption?

        • First of all, education is accessible to all. Elementary, highschool and College (techncal and general) is FREE. University is also very much accessible with all scolarships available for low income families (60k$ and under is usually free).
          Corruption. I never said accept corruption. I for one have been fighting for a better management and control system in universities and colleges.
          Back to the number of people in the streets. 300k was a number reached on the famous 22 of april. A number reached because UNIONS were behind this movement (and still are), financing school bus and helping financially student associations. (I see my union support my students and it makes me sometimes sick to my stomach).
          And the rest of the manifestations regroup a way smaller number.

          • “College (techncal and general) is FREE. University is also very much accessible with all scolarships available for low income families (60k$ and under is usually free).” What the hell are you talking about? Elementary, highschool are not “free” there are fees that are getting larger as the years go by, not to mention textbook fees, and supplies! I was an orphan at the age of 16 – and had to pay these fees MYSELF. Free college? where do I sign up?! I get $400 towards school til I’m 25, no “free” education here!

            Exemple for Colleges : A semesters costs 160$/semester (total of 160$x4semesters = 640$ to get a college degree). WERE THE HELL CAN YOU PAY LESS TO GET A COLLEGE EDUCATION IN THIS WONDERFULL WORLD TO LIVE IN ?
            Obvsiously BOOKS have costs, but some professors use what we call ”recueil de textes” (wich is a bunch of articles and other stuff a professors compiles) and the college sells it at cost (to cover copyrights fees). A recueil could cost you 10 to 40$.

        • The vast majority of the idiots involved in these marches are not students. They are just your normal every day garden variety shit disturbers.There are also a significant number of ambulance chasers, ( lawyers ) trying to drum up some business, politicians pandering to the student protesters, parents demonstrating so that their kids can have the right to demonstrate. And, of course, the media who are having a field reporting on it all.

    • False comment, once again! So many scrap from ROC against Quebec. Shame on you.

    • It may have been right as long as this crisis was only about college and univerisy tuitions but it became a much bigger crisis now, engulfing every communities. The anglos are on the streets alongside the francos and the immigrants. Every generation is marching on the streets not only of Montréal but of more and more cities every nights. It is a nationwide crisis.

      I might add that we’re starting to get supports from the rest of Canada and from all over the wolrd.

  3. The best thing about your article is that you have done all the work for those who are actually fighting for something more fair.

    If Charest had **actually** done something like gone to the negotiation table and ‘negotiated’ rather than prolonging this struggle it would have been over a long time ago.

    All the expenses that you have indicated that are being put towards evading the protests could have actually been used to pay for the first year of hikes he already planned.

    But wait… didn’t Charest say he didn’t have that money and therefore needed to raise tuition? This is a pretty interesting note in my books.

    Also, if you are really trying to determine the “who will be the winner in the ongoing struggle between the Quebec government and student activists” and indicate who the “clear losers” doesn’t that mean there are other points to your article.

    Points clearly missed include:

    * Students missing school due to Charest continuing to not negotiate
    * Civil liberties lost due to government (which added more people to the fight including unions now)
    * … I could go on

    Sorry Mr. Arkin but I think you need to really state your bias at the top rather then simply indicating that you are somehow representing this as a neutral article about the “clear losers”.

    • you’ve got it all wrong in your attempt to demonize the Charest government. The extension of tuition fee hikes that had already been agreed upon were’nt enough for Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Classe. They were determined to cause a riot regardless of whether someone could have been seriously hurt in the process. Disrupting other students trying to finish their semesters, smoke bombs in transit stations, throwing bricks at police instructed to protect private and public property, are tactics used by a bunch of ignorant shit disturbers. Not a group of people protesting about a legitimate cause.

      • Well sure there was a small groups doing this but again your perspective comes from mainstream media (you should check your sources). We always try and focus on issues around violence rather than looking at the facts. Yes there was damage and yes people are upset, but if there **really** was a load of violence don’t you think that 30,000 people would do more then throw a few bricks?

        Also, Charest didn’t really negotiate much. They offered to continue the increase regardless over seven years, they offered internal university auditing groups, and that’s it. They never sat down and actually negotiated (like real human beings do) on what both sides wanted. I mean when other groups have these issues they hire a negotiator and sit down at the table to discuss these issues. How is what Charest is doing actually negotiation?

        Last night there were people of all ages, races, and backgrounds demonstrating. If you were out on the street you’d realize that indeed this is more then just what you state above. Stop reading the news and go look for yourself.

        • Yes. Of course. All those 30,000 ‘demonstators were students, right?. You were there right? And you were there when Charest ‘refused to negotiate’ right? You’ve been busy covering the circus of lunatics and morons who have been holding the government hostage with a list of ludicrous demands, right? You think that the escalation of violence has been orchestrated by just a few misguided individuals, right? Please tell the rest of us just what it is that wer’e missing when we choose to see this whole fiasco for what it is. We were’nt there, right? So we have no right to have an opinion, right?.
          Quebec would actually be doing us all a favor if it seperated. Then we’d we finally be rid of a bunch of sycophants, whiners, and losers. Then we’d see just how long you’d all last out in the real world without the huge transfer payments you currently enjoy. La belle province…. right!

          • I was away all over Canada for 23 years…This is home but I came back to a real mess….plus the same fights all over again. This place has not evolved one bit….

            The students are just kids brought up on the Net with no true clue of the world as it truly is. Most are sons or daughters of upper middle class or middle class families who have bought the consumerism gig.

            In addition, most Quebecois come from pastoral settings originally (Maybe they should go back to the farm…lol). They were abused by the Church and exploited by the PQ when they pushed religion away.

            The French version of history here differs from the English one, and they have handed down this bitterness against authority, Canada and the English for generations to generation to generation! They pretend to be sophisticated and all-knowing but most live in a francophone cocoon with not much import anywhere else but here. So, they have turned inward and have become collectively very narcissistic, and what you are getting now is a sense of the hopelessness due to this cocoon.

            Most are good people, and many are charming, simple – but not simplistic – grown-up kids. However, self indulgence and entitlement are a Quebec way of life due to the socialistic tendency of the government. Everyone is way in debt as is the government.

            The francophone (the English here are not acting up much) students are rebelling against their own hopelessness stuck in this environment. The bilingual kids are, however, evolving.

            Charest was wrong to do what he did, but the students are just as wrong in their actions, beliefs, values and violence. One does not excuse the other.

            The outcome?

            Charest will not bend much, the students won’t either. It would be too
            humiliating for them to do so. This is a very dangerous situation as now everyone is jumping on board to protest anything at all. And the separatist threat is more than rising again. The fines from Bill 78 will slow them down over time, in my opinion.

            Imagine…the conditions are ripe.


          • I have visited Quebec several times in the past and never ever liked what I saw. This recent mess that erupted over a niggling increase in a tuition fee spread over a number of years is not the way that you promote a particular cultural ideology. What it does do is to confirm what Anglophones tend think about your provonce. Graft, corruption, and violent civil disobedience. And you can offer up all the overiding insights as to what historical influences shaped its politics and brought it to this impasse. That was then, this is now.

          • I also hate it here…it is exactly as you state…I am not providing insights to defend this place. I loved living elsewhere. Perhaps if it gets too bad I will move back to Ottawa again. Came back for a dying mom….cheers!
            PS: I am ANGLOPHONE NOT FRANCO! We do exist here you know.

          • Losing your mother, who brought you into this world and gave you as much love, forgiveness, and encouragement as she could, regardless of the circumstances, must be a difficult burden to bear. All the best.

  4. Actually, Wisconsin knows civil unrest — the unions occupied the capitol there.

    Later, they channelled the energy productively through the democratic process and have been recalling various Republican pols over the last year — their gubernatorial recall election is next week, I believe.

    • You shouldn’t stereotype and generalyse. Not all students are for the strike. 1/4 of university students and 1/5 of college students are on strike. The quiet majority is studying, working and paying taxes.

      • Well you have 500,000 showing up on the 100th anniversary, and each night reports of between 30-50,000 so your argument is flawed. People who are wanting to attend school, have children in school, and are in school are there.

        • Not all people are protesting against tuitions hikes. This is behond school and accessibility. It is a movement against corruption, government actions, rich getting richer, etc.
          Why is my argument flawed ? We monitor the number of students on strike and numbers are approx 95000/380000 university students. And not all want to be on strike, but a fair majority, since students vote to be or not to be on strike.
          For example, at my college our students voted (on our college website) against the strike with a 50.9% majority.

          • I feel that your statistics don’t factor in people who want to attend school, people who are going to attend (high school), and people who finished school we might want to return. Or is this protest supposed to be only focussed on students in school now? It’s easy to look at this from only one statistical perspective but really that means that your data is flawed since you are not considering the other factors and numbers in the discussion.

            I clearly understand this as an issue for the future children of Quebec, and I suspect other people who have been banging pots and showing up do too.

  5. Many things in Quebec are different from the rest of Canada. Hidden fees in certain Quebec french universities are up to 80% of the tuitutions. Quebec is home to different flavor of corruption. The Quebec Provincial government disburse between 2k to 3k$ more per student for university budgets than any other provinces. Still the return in term of quality of education is relative. The students are right. I am part of the 0.1% of the high end of the tax payers in Quebec (where 55% of the population end up paying close to zero tax income) however I support this young generation. Why would they pay for the excess of this corrupted gerontocracy? We need more people coming out of our universities that can be more income taxes. Frank D

    • I do agree with you, but the change should happen during elections. What is happening now is paralysing the city and the province, economacly and socially. People, families, friends have deserted the city because they are scarred they will end up hosted of a manifestation.

      • People have deserted the city? RUN FOR THE HILLS! Oh please. You make it sound like it’s a war zone, when it’s really not that bad. 99% of people protesting are non-violent, peaceful protesters. A small minority cause trouble and the media focuses on that. Typical.

  6. So the province doesn’t have enough money to freeze tuition, but they’ve got millions set aside to bring in riot police. If they hadn’t ignored students in the first place, we wouldn’t even be having these problems.

  7. Next step, moving out of this province… after this conflict and sabotage, everything is going to be a mess and corruption is still going to happen as much as now. The tention in the classrooms is going to be brutal and it’s going to take 2 years to go back to regular school schedule. When you think that education is a right and not something you deserve, this is where you’re wrong. If you haven’t work your ass to get into a program that you’ll be able to get a job after graduation, and not enroll into 3 different programs and may be finish one of them. Even 4000$ a year for post secondary education is far from keeping people away from attending and if you really can’t, well GVT just rised the financial aid. BTW I’m not a liberal! It’s just my own opinion.

    • It’s sad to hear Canadians actually make comments like ‘when you think that education is a right and not something you deserve this is where you’re wrong’.

      I shouldn’t have to school you on privilege, but just your argument implies simply that people who can’t get into university just don’t work hard. Well what about immigrant families, low-income who are working to help the family buy food and pay rent. These individuals deserve to attend school, be educated, and work something other then providing you with your morning coffee at Tim Horton’s. Honestly, I would expected better from the readers here.

  8. This comment was deleted.

    • That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

  9. Great opinion piece from a University of Montreal Professor titled ”
    An Open Letter to English-Canadians, who might be feeling that Quebeckers have taken leave of their senses.”

    If you’re actually interested in understanding what’s going on in Quebec right now, this should be part of your required reading. Think critically! Most of what has been reported in the english media and most of the comments I read on articles lead me to believe that people don’t really understand what’s going on.

  10. Ultimately, who is the person responsible for this mess : the premier. It’s his duty as leader of our society to make sure we can live in a peaceful state of mind, in a peaceful society. By being stubborn, by not being able to recognize his mistake he’s placing his own interest ahead of the stability of the province.

  11. More Orwellian language as the smokebomb terrorists are painted as martyrs and the police and media are described on banners and placards as terrorists.

  12. all this says is that there is money for policing but not education. Blantly obvious, order and control above all else.

  13. To reduce what is going on in Quebec to a simple ‘students’ strike’ is, to my opinion, weak and do not give the matter proper consideration. As time goes by, students are getting progressively overshadowed by innumerable associations or lonewolfs claiming to be God knows what and who–Sovereignists, left-winged, anarchists, and so on; The students might had inadvertently opened Pandora’s box, a box overflowed with a dying out corrupted socialist system, bringing us back to the ghosts and general outlines of any historical uprising. Maybe (without lapsing into alarmism and paranoia) Some serious left-winged diehards hardballs had taken into their minds to compress and imploded the old fossilized politics of this province ( PQ and PLQ included) In this particular case, the only thing that matters now…is the result.

  14. Boo hoo hoo. Awe. The hotel reservations have lowered…. my heart bleeds for you Hotel Association, Grand prix, Jazz festival. If you care about the people that work for you, run your festivals, PLAY IN YOUR FESTIVALS, you would join the fight so that your loud corporate voices could start ringing some bells. What would the Quebec government do if the Jazz festival spoke out against privatization of public services and student increases? Mcgill is one of Canada’s best music programs along with University De Montreal. The people that come out of these programs are the back bone to festival profits in the long run!!!! This article is focusing on the wrong issues and simplifying a larger problem in terms of immediate financial loss. I’m sure there are many ways to push the numbers around to reduce the importance of what is currently happening in quebec but, let us not forget the bottom line: Thousands — THOUSANDS- Thousands!!! of people are very angry right now. We know this because they continue to speak out and participate in protests every single day. “This is not about 325 dollars. This is about the privatization of our public services. Its about the beginning of austerity measures or the continuation of austerity measures. It’s not about spoiled children.”- Dr. Anna kruzynski

  15. The students provide light entertainment for those observing fro the sidewalks. They haven’t thumped any ‘azzholes’ – police or onlookers, yet.

    The only incident of somebody’s customers getting roughed-up was when the police decided to use some more of that ‘last-resort training’ on them. They busted the husiness owner, too.

    Somebody should be suing the police, the city and those media stations which are advising people to avoid the downtown. They know not whereof they speak.

  16. Charest’s biggest mistake was in agreeing to meet with and negotiate with the students. He never should have offered up that first compromise nearly a month ago, when he extended the increases over 7 years. After that, they tasted blood. Worse, he lent them instant credibility the simply did not have. It’s hard to believe a seasoned politician could be that naive. A line should have been drawn in the sand, and all “striking” students expelled from government-financed institutions for a ten year period.

  17. Jean Charest has cost the taxpayers alot more money. Thankfully, the students stood up for the masses. To the shallow, this is an issue on tuition fees. It is more the principle of social mobility. Education is the only way for social mobility that is accessible to all. To make education costlier is a stab on social stability. The youths in the other provinces have been suckered in to accept the neo-con view. Time for the youths in the other provinces to wake up and emulate their brothers in Quebec.

    • This is certainly NOT the fault of Jean Charest. The students in Quebec have had it so good for so long in comparison to everyone else in Canada and in fact North America that they think this low tuition is an “entitlement” for them……this is what has been wrong not only with this mindset withthe students in Quebec , who unfortunately , will be members of the workforce sometime down the road….this “entitlement ” attitude tends to make businesses unproductive and uncompetitve. And yes , the youth in the other provinces should wake up and protest AGAINST their counterparts in Quebec.

  18. Costs. It’s easy to see and pick on the students as a cost to society. What about Bombardier that is relocating to Mexico. Bombardier, which over the years has swallowed hundreds thousands of millions of taxpayer dollars. Students are an easy target. Take on Bombardier as a hole for the taxpayer.