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Tens of thousands answered the call to protest, issued by Quebec’s Social Alliance (Alliance sociale) and the Coalition opposed to imposing fees and privatization of public services (Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics). Demonstrators gathered in Montreal last Saturday to denounce the Charest government’s budget plan.

A change of course is needed …

On the eve of the budget speech, members of both the Coalition and the Alliance are demanding government intervention to ensure universal access without any form of discrimination to quality public health care and education; social programs for human rights; the creation of decent jobs; and sustainable and profitable development for Quebec society at large.

The spokespeople are demanding that a number of planned regressive measures be withdrawn, such as the infamous “health care user fees,” tuition fee hikes, and the widespread rate increases. As a direct result of such measures, users are left shouldering an increasing share of the cost of services, which until then was assumed collectively by the Quebec population. In addition, these measures will push poverty rates to rise.

The goal is to put pressure on the government to balance the budget sometime after 2013–14, just as neighbouring governments have done, in Ontario, and at the federal level in Canada and in the United States. Those governments are giving themselves a few more years to achieve a balanced budget. Doing otherwise would jeopardize public services, which are ever the worse for wear after major cuts and unbridled privatization.

Protesters are asking for a bigger tax contribution from the wealthy and businesses. They also want more natural resource royalties, a step-up in the fight against tax evasion and tax havens, as well as a policy to control drug costs in order to reduce the overall strain on health care spending. In addition, they’re asking that these new measures be adopted in a way that respects local and regional communities, as well as their environments.

… in the name of equality and justice

The Quebec government must represent the entire population. In order to do so, it is its duty to adjust the next budget based on equality and justice for all groups that make up Quebec’s society, and not by dipping into the pockets of low-income and middle-class families. This would ensure better wealth distribution, greater equality between men and women, and the eradication of poverty.

The Coalition and Alliance—along with their 150 member organizations—are representative of Quebec civil society. They include people from all groups such as workers, committed citizens, union activists, students, not to mention people with disabilities, immigrants, women, youth, senior citizens, the unemployed, welfare recipients, etc.

“This is why we are telling the Charest government that it’s not too late to change directions; it’s up to you to make the right choice in the name of equality and justice!”