The manifest

« La propagande est aux démocraties ce que la violence est aux dictatures. »

-Noam Chomsky
Montréal, April 10, 2012

We, the students of the 2012 graduate program in video game design, take up the cause of the Quebecois students' general strike, denounce the intended hike in tuition rates, and endorse the collective movement toward completely free higher education for all. We want to shed light on the insidious propaganda and demagoguery invading the public space, the obvious goal of which is to trivialize the student movement and to nullify the possibility of serious dialogue on the subject. This serious game [1,2] is not intended solely for entertainment, but aims to raise awareness about ideological statist propaganda and the corporate and social actors that propagate it. Ultimately, our intention is to spread the message that if we students remain united as a movement, our voices will be heard, and above all, democracy will be served.

We'd like to contribute to the public debate that should be happening with regards to our system of education and the future of the Quebecois society, though many of these ideas apply equally to any modern society. Here are four points:

1) 1)Firstly, to answer those who say we cannot afford to have free education: on the dawn of the third millennium, it is clear that the most performing economies in the world are driven and will henceforth be driven by knowledge [3,4]. The states which demonstrate the most productivity are those that are able to optimally exploit the intangible capital of their citizens' skills and knowledge, particularly with respect to the adoption and integration of new technologies. In a nutshell: ingenuity, creativity and innovation are the keys to economic success.

We often point to the success of the Scandinavian economic model. We boast about the virtues of Nordic social democracy. When we consider the achievements of Sweden, for example, and certain of their industry-leading corporations, we Quebecois should be perplexed. After all, the commonalities between our two nations are numerous [5].

It was Sweden that brought forth Ikea, that international giant in design and furniture manufacturing. Here is a society that knows how to encourage and exploit creativity. Transforming an abundant natural resource into mass-market products is a model that is not only simple but also extremely successful. Isn't Quebec also rich in wood? So rich that we sell off our forest resources to our neighbours in the south, and that, at a very modest price. Is Quebec a third-world economy, good for nothing but the exportation of its raw materials? We can do better than this.

We believe in a strong Quebecois economy, propelled by innovative companies that profit both from our natural resources and the creative potential of our citizens. To get there, we should stop pretending the Swedish example is some unattainable utopia. We feel that the importance of investing today in the brains of tomorrow should be self-evident.

In Sweden, university education is free for everyone [6].

2) Rather than debating the financing of our universities in isolation—we should consider the idea that our entire system of education needs to be redesigned.

The education reforms implemented in 2005 by Quebec's Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports have had mixed results, to say the least [7,8,9]. Without getting bogged down in the details, it is clear that the problem of accessibility to education is a systemic problem. A problem that will only be exacerbated by raising tuition fees.

Consider the numbers, as they are striking. Nearly two out of five young people do not get their high school diploma in only five years, with one in ten students in Quebec dropping out and as many as four in ten dropping out in certain poor neighbourhoods in Montreal. Young francophones are more likely to drop out than young people of any other native language [11]. How can we integrate these young people into the knowledge-based society we'd like to build if we lock the doors to our establishments of higher learning?

3) Free university education for all can be attained with an average cost of 700 million dollars a year, 1% of Quebec's annual budget [12]. The recent tax cuts passed by the Liberals amounted to 950 million dollars alone, and the elimination of the progressive capital tax has stolen another 890 million dollars from our budget [13] and deposited it into the hands of our richest citizens, the people who need it the least.

But let's forget free education temporarily and consider what raising the tuition fees will actually accomplish. Five years from now the government will reap 332 million dollars from the proposed changes. Of this amount, 116 million will be re-invested in the system of educational loans and grants, almost exclusively in the form of loans. This will result in increased debt for our students, whose debts are already troubling enough. A significant portion will go to publicity and real estate for universities, despite the controversy surrounding the Îlot voyageur and the Outremont campus of the University of Montreal.

Ultimately, only a fraction of the 332 million will be dedicated to improving the quality of education. Restricted accessibility to universities for a large number of citizens (as the example of Great Britain unequivocally demonstrates [14]) and increased debt for our young people so that the leftover bread crumbs will be dedicated to improving the quality of education—is that the “fair share” the students must pay?

The gains achieved by the Quiet Revolution crumble away inexorably, year after year, one cut at a time in our sacrosanct crusade for a balanced budget. How many of our nation's children will be sacrificed on the altar of zero deficit? And what will be the long-term price to pay?

Isn't it rather the time to reinvest a generous portion of the giveaways currently offered to corporations [15] and to re-imagine a more just system of managing our collective wealth?

4) Finally, we'd like to highlight the fact that the student strike has lifted Quebec out of its stupor. The cynicism of Quebec's voters has been at its height over the last decade. We have seen them give favour to Mario Dumont's right-wing ADQ, snub the Parti quebecois for a minority liberal party and finally scuttle the Bloc quebecois by voting overwhelmingly for the social democracy of Jack Layton. Meanwhile, little by little, the conservative federal government and the provincial Liberals have been selling off the social gains of the past 40 years while our elders watched on in apathy.

It is for the good of everyone that our generation has taken it upon itself to claim that we deserve more as a society. Whatever the final result of our actions, the message is clear: democracy cannot be muzzled. The voice of our young people will be heard. It happened in May 1968 and it will happen again in May 2012. The student movement is organizing all over the world [16]. The boat has been drifting for too long. It is time to change course!

We, the students of the graduate program in video game design, say NO to the tuition hike imposed by the liberal government of Jean Charest. Not only for our interest (in fact, all of us will graduate before these changes take place anyway), but in the interest of everyone coming after us. We will continue the strike until a populist vision for the future emerges, until the government listens to the youth of Quebec and agrees to debate with us. We say yes to free education for all, yes to social democracy, yes to a society free from demagoguery, right-wing or neoliberal. Let's not talk about “fair shares,” let's talk instead about fair use of our resources, which belong to all of us. The ideological propaganda of the liberal government is a dangerous weapon and it is our duty to denounce it. Mr. Charest, Mr. Bachand, Mrs. Beauchamp, you have heard us. We are waiting to discuss these important issues with you.

 [8] M’hammed Mellouki (2010), Promesses et ratés de la réforme de l’éducation au Québec, Les Presses de l’Université Laval, Formation et profession, 348 pages.