French pro­test­ers prove their voice can be heard by politi­cians

Medicine Hat News - - COMMENTS - Gil­lian Slade

If you have ever felt the av­er­age per­son has no sway when it comes to po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions then there is a les­son to be learned from France this week.

For sev­eral weeks, ev­ery day, hun­dreds of French peo­ple con­verged on Paris wear­ing yel­low-re­flec­tive safety vests, a cloth­ing item mo­torists there are re­quired to have in their ve­hi­cles.

They were protest­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a large fuel tax, called an eco-tax.

Many of the pro­test­ers talked of feel­ing over­whelmed as they were faced with more and more price in­creases and taxes. They have been hav­ing to re­duce their stan­dard of liv­ing be­cause wages had not kept pace and many peo­ple are un­em­ployed. Oth­ers are re­tired on a limited in­come and were feel­ing over­whelmed.

Many said they had never be­fore been in­volved in any protest but could no longer stand by. Even if they them­selves were fi­nan­cially able to with­stand yet an­other tax they had too many friends and rel­a­tives who could not and they felt com­pelled to protest on their be­half.

While the tax was meant to get peo­ple to re­duce their car­bon foot­print, many pointed out they had no way of do­ing that. They were strug­gling fi­nan­cially and did not have the op­tion of buy­ing a more fuel-ef­fi­cient car or elec­tric ve­hi­cle to re­duce their emis­sions. Oth­ers had to com­mute long dis­tances if they wanted a job and pub­lic trans­port was not avail­able to them.

The pro­test­ers re­peat­edly called for French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron to ad­dress them. There was only si­lence while Macron con­tin­ued to fly around the world to events.

Pro­test­ers clashed with po­lice at times and were moved from one part of the city to an­other but they did not back down. The “yel­low-vests” as they be­came known were tena­cious day af­ter day.

Early this week Macron fi­nally re­sponded, call­ing for po­lice to take ac­tion against the pro­test­ers and then said he would de­lay the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the eco-tax for six months.

Pro­test­ers would not back down. They talked of an elite who had sim­ply lost touch with or­di­nary peo­ple. The protest con­tin­ued.

“... Mr. Macron for­got that a French pres­i­dent is nei­ther a god nor a monarch but merely a politi­cian in a democ­racy that re­quires the con­stant forg­ing of con­sent,” said an ar­ti­cle in The Econ­o­mist on­line.

On Wed­nes­day Macron an­nounced he was with­draw­ing the tax com­pletely.

Back in Canada we have a ten­dency to com­plain that the av­er­age per­son has no power and that politi­cians do not lis­ten to the peo­ple.

This may be cor­rect on many lev­els and clearly a cam­paign of let­ter writ­ing, phone calls to politi­cians, and/or calls to phone-in ra­dio shows has not brought about de­sired re­sults, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to build­ing a pipe­line for Al­berta’s oil.

What we have ob­served in France is a les­son per­haps in what it takes to change the minds of politi­cians, that peo­ple can have a voice, and what it takes to no longer be ig­nored.

(Gil­lian Slade is a News re­porter. To com­ment on this and other edi­to­ri­als, go to www.medicine­hat­news.com/opin­ions, email her at [email protected]­hat­news.com or call her at 403-528-8635.)

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