The idea for a PIRG originated with the consumer activist Ralph Nader. At the same time that protests against the Vietnam war were shaking campuses around the country, Ralph Nader was drawing larger and larger crowds to his college lectures. Nader sought to encourage students to work for change within the system. He argued that the established tools of research, legislation, and litigation were more constructive than protests and demonstrations. Furthermore, he argued that these tools were easily integrated into the everyday life of the student. Nader encouraged students to form their own campus-based public interest organizations. In the 1970-1971 academic year, the first two PIRGs were formed, and their organizing efforts and structure became the blueprint for the hundreds of groups to follow. The PIRG idea began spreading from campus to campus so that by 1973 there were chapters on 135 campuses in 19 states across the US, with an overall membership of 500,000 students and an overall budget of well over $1 million. In Canada, the first PIRG was set up in Ontario during the 1972-1973 school year at the University of Waterloo.
In Quebec, QPIRG has been a club at both Concordia and McGill University since 1980. However, it was not until 1988 that a referendum was passed at McGill making Quebec PIRG at McGill the first student-funded, autonomous PIRG in Quebec. Additional chapters were established at Concordia in 1989, at the Université de Montréal chapter in 1991, and at the Université du Québec à Montréal in 1993.
For a history of the PIRGs, please read the attached short articles, “PIRG Power” and “Public Interest Progress: A History of PIRG in Quebec”. You will notice that the main philosophy of the PIRG movement has remained more or less intact, but that its implementation has changed substantially. Part of this has to do with differences between US and Canadian political culture, while some of it also has to do with the changing times. The original idea of student PIRGs was to create large self-funded organizations that hired professionals (mainly lawyers) who would do research into bad government or corporate practices and then sue, or lobby to have laws changed. QPIRG-McGill has not sought to achieve this type of goal. Canadian PIRGs in general are not law-oriented; we are more interested in changing public attitudes, rather than lobbying the government. The following sections provide ample evidence of the work that QPIRG McGill has been involved in throughout our history.
As well, since 2001, QPIRG has adopted an anti-oppression framework, seeking to oppose all forms of oppression as they play out within society at large as well as within our organizing work. Oppression can be defined as the institutionalized, systematic, pervasive, day-in, day-out, mistreatment of a person or group of individuals based solely on their race, their sexual orientation, their gender, their age, their class, or other difference. The adoption of an anti-oppression framework has marked a radical change in our local implementation of the philosophy of the PIRG movement.