The Métropolitain

Notes from the Sinkhole of our discontent

By Joel Ceausu on July 18, 2012

I held my son’s chocolate peanut-butter ice cream slathered hand and looked at that nice strip of fresh black bitumen over the former sinkhole that opened up on Ste. Catherine St. last week and wondered like many others in our city, what if?

What if it happened in front of my house? What if it swallowed a car? What if some protesting window-smashing “anarchist” had taken a journey down that rabbit hole?

Wherever you stand on the issue of tuition fees and the accompanying bacchanalia of grievances that has trailed along the education funding issue like a Pig-penesque cloud, we must rejoice that the issue has set up definitive lines in the sand.

Look deep inside the sinkhole of our discontent and forget about any real issues of access to school or quality of education. Forget about university spending oversight. Forget about short- or medium-term economic gain already sacrificed by police overtime, insurance costs and lost business. Forget the scraping of the veneer off the motley of Amir Khadir and his cohorts. Forget the bleating, putrid United Nations farce. No, think of little Johnny and an economy of slackers.

Little Johnny

No, not all students are poor, but in their defence, neither are they all fabulously wealthy. If little Johnny twisted his precious, underfed ankles in the sinkhole of Montreal’s neglected rotting infrastructure, where would the hue and cry be focused? Would the twenty-something poli-sci majors sporting scraggly beards and mangy Ché Guevara t-shirts quietly enter the queue of a perversely overstuffed and understaffed, c. difficile-ridden emergency room? Or would the bloated egos of their boomer parents sporting red patches like oak leaves grasping onto youth and street-rad credo lost so long ago with mortgages, pension plans, Viagra and menopause send them running for legal redress?


Who do they think pays for that ER? Does a magical leprechaun spring from our beloved sinkhole to fund health care? Or schools? Or roads? Or transit? Would they dare seek out – horrors! – private health care?

You see, as we sit outside Ben & Jerry’s fighting off bugs and scorching sun, I notice the air of entitlement of the cyclists racing through the light on de Maisonneuve, skirting around law-abiding deferential motorists with aggression and contempt, even endangering more sedate cyclists in the process. It wasn’t so long ago that I too drove around, u-lock in hand ready to swipe at a side mirror to get someone’s attention or get them to back off on the road.

But the crucial difference is I KNEW I WAS BEING AN ASS! This then is our summer narrative: many at the service of few, from each according to what he has to each according to what they want.

That’s where I see the disconnect, between those who pay the bills and the rest who simply, well, take (and there are more of the latter than the former, as my brother-in-law loves to point out).They just want more money, more privileges, more services, more, more, more, without a clue or a care as to who pays for it. Quebec’s dearth of taxpayers comes from a confluence of social safety nets, tax rules, economic stagnation and a permanent underclass that may include many professional students to boot.

Now I’m not inclined to sympathize with euro-trashy visitors held up in traffic getting to a martini bar or massage parlour. But I feel for their cabbie who sits, detoured around the sinkhole on rotting streets at red lights where he can’t turn and watches his gas gauge slide. His blood pressure rises with his fuel costs and registration fees while little Suzy enjoys an inflation-proof ride at the trough while hurling anti-capitalist epithets at him in his obscenely middle class and-therefore-criminal Camry. I hurt for the waitress who knows she has to step it up – and hot it up – to get the big tips out of the slack-jawed Vermont farm boys and greasy old hipsters; for the guy bussing tables who hopes for a few points off her take, enough to help pay for a fridge, diapers, sofa, RRSPs, a microwave, fill in the blank.

Laying bare

And that’s why it’s good that this student movement blossomed into a political divide, because it lays bare the debate. This should be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on what kind of society we really want to have. 

Jean Charest’s Bill 78 and allowing students to get their education back on track despite the boycott may well prove to be an effective carrot and stick with some genius that most protestors are sure to understand.

It’s time to be responsible, to respect the rules of the house. There are those who pay and those who don’t, and sorry kids, when it comes to paying the bill, les absents ont toujours tort.

Unfair? Tough. That’s a lesson you don’t learn in school. And you wanted out, so there, lesson learned. Crawl out of your sinkhole of rotten values, self-absorption, brazen greed and sloth couched as progressive values. And oh yeah, keep your hands off my kids’ lunch money/