Quebec and the Riot Index

The Quebec government is now at it’s second impasse in negotiations with students over tuition  hikes. The Quebec government, which is mired in $159 billion in debt (up from $99 billion in 2004), is attempting to make spending cuts and generate new revenues wherever it can. The proposed 75% increase in tuition that would have left Quebec tuition still the lowest in North America, however, pushed students to strike and led to widespread demonstrations. No doubt, public concern over the widespread allegations of corruption throughout all spheres of Quebec’s provincial politics and industry and the passage of Loi 78 have done little to engender any sympathy for the Quebec government.

Demonstrations in Quebec have had attendance in the hundreds of thousands. The Quebec government seems to be trying to strike a balance on the Riot Index.

I was shocked when some young acquaintances riding the bulls on Bay Street first explained to me the theory of government that prevailed among their set, based on something they called the Riot Index.

Too many riots were bad for business, they allowed, but so were too few – a sign that government had become soft and inefficient. Prudent government squeezed until the mob rebelled, then increased spending just enough to prevent extensive property damage. Optimal social policy was a matter of dialling in the appropriate frequency of riots.

Quebec students and citizens alike believe that Quebec’s austerity measures have gone too far, resulting in over 100 days of demonstrations. Perhaps, the Quebec government hopes that they have managed to strike a balance on the Riot Index between appearing weak on austerity and social unrest – Quebec student unions seem ready to continue tuition negotiations again. On the other hand, if the Quebec government can’t get a handle on corruption, then they may never be able to gain enough trust from Quebec citizens in order to pass the needed austerity measures without provoking new demonstrations.