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Storming the Bastilles

The people of France did something unheard of in Canada: They went on strike.

Not one isolated sector but three million citizens strong. They are backed, according to polls, by three-quarters of the French population.

Schools closed. Flights were cancelled. High speed trains were stopped in their tracks.

Demonstrations (some turned violent) unfolded in 200 communities throughout France to protest how their government is handling the economic crisis.

Canada’s federal stimulus package does little to help those hardest hit by recession, but in France, citizens take to the streets over such political slights.

In Canada at least one provincial government is talking about cutting public sector jobs at the worst possible time, during recession. In France, they’re striking over it.

In Canada, corporations continue to rake in record profits while laying off workers. In France, they’re striking over it.

In Canada, we’re placated by promises of tax cuts. In France, they’re striking over it.

In Canada, our official unemployment rate shot up to seven per cent within the blink of an eye and could reach double digits by year-end. Media reports say France’s unemployment jumped to about eight per cent –- and they’re striking over it.

In Canada, our federal government refuses to fix employment insurance to cover more laid-off workers during recession. So far, our provinces aren’t doing much to improve social assistance programs either.

In France, they’re demanding their government improve public sector wages, raise the minimum wage, increase family welfare and unemployment benefits.

Yes, the French have a reputation for outrage. They stormed the Bastilles in 1789, the flashpoint for the French Revolution, to secure greater equality for all. That sensibility of social justice remains deeply ingrained in the national psyche.

Who knows what it will take for Canadians to express a similar sense of outrage. But with unemployment rising while federal and provincial governments offer few answers, that day may be closer than we think.

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