Modest crowds at Casserole Nights

Much of Canada remains unmoved by Quebec

by Josh Dehaas

Quebeckers of all kinds have marched in the streets over the past week beating on casseroles. Some are making noise over the emergency Law, #78, which they say unduly restricts rights. Others are showing their anger over a planned tuition hike of $254 per year—the very thing that prompted paralyzing nightly protests in Montreal and Premier Jean Charest’s desperate response.

Just as Quebec student leaders and government negotiators sat down on Wednesday in Quebec City to continue talks to end the student “strike,” the rest of Canada was asked to show support for the pot-bangers by drumming on their own cookware at Casseroles Night in Canada events.

But turnout was modest, suggesting that (so far) the Rest of Canada is staying out of the fight.

Wednesday night’s crowds were most impressive in Toronto where more than 1,000 gathered in Dufferin Grove Park. That said, finding 1,000 people to a march in this city of 5 million people isn’t exactly difficult. Occupy Toronto enticed roughly 3,000 to its march on Oct. 15, 2011. The crowd of Tamil Canadians who marched to draw attention to Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009 was more than 2,000.

In Guelph, an Ontario university town, only an estimated 75 to 100 people showed up to bang pots and pans on Wednesday. In Hamilton, home to McMaster University, just 60 marched. In Kitchener-Waterloo, the estimate was more than 100. In Regina, Sask. the crowd was about 50. In Victoria, B.C. it was more robust 200. In the nation’s capital, Ottawa, police suggest 400 turned out.

For comparison’s sake, the crowd marching in Montreal on March 22 was estimated at 200,000.

So why the unimpressive crowds? Perhaps it’s because students are busy working at summer jobs. Or perhaps we should consider the other theory floating around: that students outside Quebec simply don’t feel as hard-done-by when it comes to tuition. The Toronto Star’s Martin Regg Cohn suggests at least one reason to explain the relatively docility of Ontario’s tuition protests so far:

[Ontario premier Dalton] McGuinty had the good fortune—or political smarts—to pre-empt such protests by promising a 30 per cent rebate on tuition for eligible families in the 2011 election campaign. Even if students are upset about increased fees, it’s hard to rally your classmates when they’ve just received a cheque in the mail.

As the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O) points out, many students don’t get the 30 per cent rebate, so there are plenty who have reasons to feel angry about paying tuition approaching $7,000. But at least 200,000 Ontarian students got rebates of up to $1,625 earlier this year, and that would make just about anyone feel their government cares about cost of school.

Perhaps future student protests in the Rest of Canada will be bigger. Perhaps not. So far, many students outside Quebec appear unmoved.

Josh Dehaas is the editor of Maclean’s On Campus. Click to like us on Facebook.




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Modest crowds at Casserole Nights

  1. Right, because people in dozens of towns and cities across Canada, the United States and a number of other countries throughout the world demonstrating in solidarity with a movement that DOESN’T EFFECT THEM is so trivial.

    And for the record, it’s not about the money so much as it is about political principles. The specific dollar amount is a line in the sand. If you are too lazy to work that out, and represent what’s going on honestly and thoughtfully, then please, just take a seat.

  2. “students outside Quebec simply don’t feel as hard-done-by” ? NO. We feel harder done by than our Quebec brothers and sisters. A lot of us can hardly even afford to be in school anymore. NSCAD University is in threat of extinction here in N.S. Remember that? We don’t have as stable support groups in our student unions as Quebec does. It will take time. But we will gather and we will fight for accessible education.

    With glowing hearts we see thee rise Quebec. And we will rise as well!

  3. I doubt it. You can’t get big crowds in the R.O.C. out protesting for lowering tuition in their own province. Good luck getting them out in ‘solidarity’ with students in a place that already has really low tuition.

    The reality is that so long as you do your research and enter a program that provides a reasonable chance of a decent paying job higher tuition (and consequently higher student loans) isnt unmanageable. If you are planning to get a B.A. or godforbid an M.A. you’re taking a bit of a gamble because there just aren’t that many well paid jobs with those credentials–in part because we have a huge glut of graduates with B.As. My wife and I graduated from programs that pay decently and our eye popping student loans will be retired in November just 4 years after graduation. Neither of us received much at all in terms of financial support from parents.

    I think the number of liberal arts grads we’re producing is really the elephant in the room that no one is talking about when it comes to post secondary education. These are the people who are going to have difficulty with student loans because there arent enough jobs. But if you raise the issue you get shouted down because education is not ‘just about jobs’. To an extent I agree and think we need to do a better job of educating everyone–in high school and students in non-liberal arts programs in university–about the world and the way it works. I just question the value to society of having so many people devote 4 or 7 years to this type of study on the public dime. Does thesis number 3,045,356 on postmodernism really justify the astronomical opportunity cost of paying for post secondary institutions? I personally dont think so.

  4. This is a pathetic report. I was at Dufferin Grove park last night and the crowd was at least 3,000 strong by 8:30 pm. Most people outside Quebec are just learning about the Casserole protests. A lot of people in our neighbourhood did not know about the protests. Once we explained what we were doing, most people were very supportive. This is not just about tuition; it’s about protecting our fundamental rights to free speech and peaceful protest. This matters to all Canadians.

    • WOW! 3000 in a City of 5,000,000? Thats 0.06% of the population! What a turnout!

  5. There were much more than 1,000 people who gathered at Dufferin Grove Park and marched through the streets of Toronto last night. I have no idea how you came up with that number.

    It’s obvious you are not supportive of the movement (and that you are missing the point), but next time, please at least report the numbers correctly.

  6. While the hotbed of the protests is certainly in Quebec, the energy of the protests in solidarity yesterday evening was palpable. I was at the Casseroles in the Dufferin Grove area of Toronto and the numbers were well over the ’1000′ quoted by the author of the article. As well, there were other Casseroles in other parts of the city. It appears that Josh Dehaas wishes to deflate the energy of something that is beginning to grow, so I am writing to urge readers of Macleans to make up their own minds by attending the next local Casserole in their area and seeing for themselves.

    While it is true that Toronto does not have the history of protest that Montreal does, yesterday was an encouraging, positive turnout and I find it misleading that the article takes a negative spin on an event that was clearly an optimistic, positive one. It remains to be seen how far this movement will go. But let’s not diminish it’s potential prematurely.

  7. Shame on you. Last night at Dufferin Grove there were at least a couple of thousand regular citizens demonstrating. Give us the real news, Macleans. No need to skew the facts.

  8. The Montreal protests swelled to the number they are at now because of bill 78. There are many people (who aren’t students) casseroling in Montreal that don’t have a problem with tuition increases, but unflinchingly support the public right to protest.

    Also, the protests in Montreal didn’t start out with 200,000 people, and this won’t be the last casserole in Toronto, either. See you at the next one, Josh Dehaas!

    This might be the last MacLean’s article I read, though.

  9. Wow, what an infuriating report! There were at *least* a few thousand of us at Dufferin Grove last night, and at least *6* more marches just in Toronto alone. . . we were greeted with cheers & support all through the march. Children and elders joined in along the way.

    When we circled back to the park after 2 hours of walking, some people who felt moved to kept on–walking until Midnight. There were marches all over the country, from east to west to Whitehorse;as well as casserole protests all over the world in solidarity.

    But, I guess, you know, none of that’s important. This report just reminds me why I put my faith in *independent* media.

  10. I’m sure that this has been mentioned before, but the crowd at ONE of Toronto’s numerous marches was closer to 2,500. And the city does NOT contain five million people. It contains 2.5 million. Get your numbers right, you’re a journalist!

    • Now who is twisting things. 2.5 million in the City of Toronto maybe but there are 5.5 million in the CMA and 6 million in the GTA–both far more accurate measurements of the size of a city.

  11. Many commenters have pointed to the numerical inaccuracies in this article – which are manifest. There were clearly many more people participating than is suggested above. I wonder if the reporter was present at the event or is relying only on the Sun article that is cited in the text. The latter piece, incidentally, only mentions that there were “more than 1,000,” a rather weak and decontextualized estimation that does not reflect the diffuse nature of the event. Given the mobility of this demonstration through both neighborhood streets and main thoroughfares, it gathered people for at least the first hour. In this context, it is very difficult to say what “turnout” or “participation” means and even more complex to say what it means. Does stopping your dinner to cheer for the clatter of thousands walking down your block equate to “participation”? Does accepting a red felt square, of which I handed 600 to people both in the march and in homes, businesses, and public spaces along the way, add to the “turnout”? Does standing on your porch or balcony banging a pot get counted?

    I want to go further in my response, because I think it is crucial to look beyond the quantitative frame set forth by this author. This approach to discussing the Solidarité marches and the spilling over of the movement into a more generalized mass mobilization both within and outside of Quebec is a creative failure. I don’t mean that is fails creatively. Rather, like so many representations of this and other social movements, this author fails to grasp even the most basic dimensions of political effervescence. The strike (not “strike,” as written above) in Quebec is no longer only aimed at fighting tuition hikes. The message, like the movement, is mobile. After Law 78 in particular, the possibility for a generalized resistance, a resurgence of everyday positive radicalism, exploded in a cacophonous, spontaneous, and brilliant expression of the joy. That this author fails to recognize the joyful, the affirmative, or the qualitative as a valid political affects – ways of doing politics – should only strengthen the self-understanding of those who stepped out on Wednesday. We will not be diminished because we are few! We will grow because we feel already that we are many! To my ear, the beauty of the casseroles is that it amplifies so effortlessly, it announces itself openly, recontextualizing tools for everyday nourishment. With these spoons and pots, these tiny frying pans, we have a piece of our domesticated lives going public, going live, going out for a few to remind ourselves and each other that vocalization is not the only way to make change. For those touched by this sound, this clatter that is my best ever earworm, I cannot imaging that much comfort lies in numbers or measures. Seems to me its more about how we feel and what we do that will get a good ‘turnout.’

    It is plain that people in Ontario and ‘other’ provinces (strangely called the “Rest of Canada,” what is this proper noun? It smacks pretty “silent majority” or “Real Canada” to me. Notorious red herrings.) understand the complex connections between austerity, education, political engagement, and the failure of the state as a representative entity. The quantitative logic at work in this article is just another symptom of management-obsessed metrics which are at the core of austerity politics. Who cares what people think, much less what they feel or do, how many were there? In the end, this logic gives the author only one analytical tool: numerical comparison. On these terms, the ‘success’ of a singular political moment – May 30 or any other day – is only understood through its relative size. Bigger is obviously better, and bigger means more bodies. This deflationary judgment misses the obvious reality that social movements are not about comparison, they are about collectivity. 50 people making noise in Regina is not (meaningfully) comparable to 3,000 Occupy Toronto marchers, they are *singularities* which link in complex and varied ways to each other, forming a networked collective of nascent political action. Does the author seek the presence of an “official organ” something that can clarify what the message is “supposed to be”? Is it not more remarkable that, in many small cities and large towns, a brave group of people came out to make some noise, to meet each other in public, to engage in what might be the most discouraged action in contemporary neoliberal society: unscripted, unbridled, spontaneous togetherness.

    • Fixed the weird sentence in the first paragraph, which should read, “In this context, it is very difficult to measure “turnout” or “participation” and even more complex to say what it means.”
      Also, end of second paragraph should read “joy” and not “the joy.”
      Some other funny words, but consider it the heat of the moment!

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