Friday, 7 December 2007

Taxes Are What We Pay for Civilized Society Department: La Grande Guignolée and Society's Responsibilities

Yesterday was the “Grande guignolée,” the massive charity drive sponsored by nearly all the media outlets in Quebec. More than $260,000 were collected in Montreal, along with the equivalent of about 3600 Christmas baskets of food and household items. It’s quite an event—radio and television personalities on streetcorners all over town, and bicycle rides and with favourite columnists and the like being raffled off by newspapers. Last year the campaign—whose name is inspired by a medieval tradition of troubadors going from house to house singing and collecting charity—raised more than $2 million throughout the province between Dec. 1 and the Feast of Kings, Jan.6.

As Françoise David, one of the spokespersons for the left wing party Québec Solidaire, says, nobody is against the Guignolée. How can you, when it obviously provides needed funds for charitable causes? But it is hardly enough. The danger with these short term projects is double: it’s easy to forget people with problems the rest of the year, and having given, it’s easy to forget that society as a whole has a long term stake in getting to the root of those problems. Good social programs, an adequate minimum wage, full employment, government help for women’s shelters, good public schools: we need to push for things like these even more vigorously than we scratch to find a little change for once-a-year charity drives.

By the way, the guignolée tradition shows up in Ste. Geneviève, Missouri, not far from St. Louis, as charitable pub crawl on New Year's Eve. The website compares it to "wassailing," and it also resembles the Mummers of Newfoundland and Ireland.

The poor seem always to be with us, alas. Faut ça change! as they say here. We oughta do something about it.

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