All Posts Tagged With: "FEUQ"
Student group says there won’t be second ‘Maple Spring’
Not even the most militant of Quebec’s student federations expects this week’s education summit to plunge the province into another Maple Spring.
Quebec gained international attention last year when a dispute over proposed tuition hikes boiled into a months-long uprising.
The unrest, dubbed the Maple Spring, saw thousands of protesters swarm Montreal streets night after night. The crisis eventually faded away, in part because the Liberals lost power and the incoming Parti Quebecois government cancelled the tuition increases.
The PQ stickhandled its way through the perilous political issue, during the election, by promising to come up with a new tuition policy at an education summit.
Some students are feeling disillusioned and boycotting the two-day summit, which starts Monday, because they believe the new government has tuned out some of their ideas.
The ranks of the restive, however, appear smaller than last year.
“We are aware… that there will not be a new Maple Spring,” said Blandine Parchemal of the ASSE student federation, one of the more militant groups within the movement.
“The Maple Spring is over.”
The once-powerful ASSE, led by its charismatic former spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, suffered several setbacks last week after it failed to gather support on a strike vote from a number of its associations.
The most symbolic setback came at a college near Montreal known as a bastion of activism, which was the first school to declare a strike last February in an event that kicked off the movement.
This time, College de Valleyfield not only voted against the strike, it tabled a motion to disassociate itself from ASSE.
That doesn’t mean the tuition divide between students and the government has disappeared.
One of the major sticking points is the PQ government’s intention to freeze rates, which are the lowest in Canada, but to introduce small increases indexed to inflation.
Some student federations that made up last year’s protest movement have drawn a line in the sand at an absolute tuition freeze.
They say they refuse to accept indexation.
ASSE, meanwhile, decided to boycott the summit completely over the government’s refusal to debate the group’s desire for zero tuition.
They view free university as an achievable goal, if only policy-makers would make it a priority like in many other jurisdictions. Former premier Jacques Parizeau, who as a young civil servant in the 1960s helped build the province’s university network, expressed support for their cause.
The federation is now planning to take its battle back into the streets. ASSE has planned to stage a protest Tuesday outside the summit venue.
With memories of last year’s clashes with demonstrators, Montreal police pledge to be present in large numbers and will maintain a security perimeter around the summit’s building.
Student associations representing junior colleges and universities affiliated with ASSE have also voted to hold a one-day strike on Tuesday.
But any protest revival from within ASSE faces an uphill climb. Several of its member unions voted last week against the strike, including those from some of the most militant schools during last year’s uprising.
“There’s a lot of exhaustion,” said Parchemal, ASSE’s secretary of academic affairs. She was referring to the compressed, intensive academic schedules students have had to endure after the 2012 strikes cancelled sessions.
She maintained, however, that the associations that voted against the strike still oppose indexation and support free tuition. Parchemal added that some schools that voted against strikes last year, actually supported the most recent one.
That stood in contrast to places like College de Valleyfield — where the vote was 366 against the strike and 124 in favour of it, said a student-union representative.
“We didn’t expect to be crushed like that,” said Cedrick Mainville, himself a supporter of the strike.
He blamed the loss on student fears that a Yes vote would lead to a prolonged strike like last year.
ASSE’s approach is much different than that of FEUQ, the largest student group in the province. The organization, which says it represents 125,000 students, plans to take its concerns to the summit’s negotiating tables rather than into the streets.
FEUQ president Martine Desjardins believes the student movement still has many potential avenues to explore before presenting a strike vote.
“Before that, you need to prove that you’ve tried everything that you could,” said Desjardins, who led FEUQ during last year’s protests.
When asked if students in her federation would be prepared to strike over indexation, she said it’s too early to know.
“We’re not planning strikes, for example, in two weeks,” she said. “It will take much more time to convince students to ramp up the pressure.”
Desjardins disagrees with ASSE’s decision to boycott the summit, a step she believes could hinder the process.
Last year’s student unrest was ignited by opposition to the Liberal government’s proposal to boost tuition rates by $325 per year, over five years. The government later tweaked the planned increases to $254 per year, over seven years.
Even though the hike still would have left Quebec with some of the lowest tuition in Canada, many students insisted they opposed the increase out of principle.
Some demanded a freeze to keep fees from inching closer to the higher rates in other provinces. Others called education a right that should be free, just like in some European countries.
The Marois government appears to be aiming for the middle ground with indexation, somewhere between a freeze and the increases proposed by the former Liberal government.
A recent poll suggested the PQ’s middle-ground indexation solution had strong public support.
That’s a far cry from the spring, when the PQ’s early alignment with the protesters — such as wearing red squares in the national assembly and banging on pots and pans in the streets — came to be viewed as a political liability.
But the PQ did take some steps to try distancing itself from the protesters in the weeks before the election.
It ditched the red squares, and started side-stepping questions about its own tuition policy by promising a summit.
Now that the moment has arrived, university administrators worry the meeting won’t address the serious issues they say are facing post-secondary institutions.
Relations between the PQ and the universities are already strained after the government announced a $124-million cut to universities in December, midway through the fiscal year.
Universities have gone on the offensive in the lead-up to the summit. At one of a series of town hall meetings, McGill University’s provost called the cuts “an unprecedented attack” on higher education.
Alan Shepard, president of Montreal’s Concordia University, said he’s concerned the summit will get bogged down in the debate over tuition fees and proposals like that one won’t see serious discussion.
Even with an increase tied to inflation, Quebec universities would remain woefully underfunded, he said.
“The difference is substantial when you compare the financing we have per student compared with the rest of Canada,” he said in an interview.
One idea being floated by Shepard and others is to introduce differential fees based on the subject, so that a student in dentistry or law school would pay substantially more than a history student.
If the funding issue isn’t somehow addressed, Shepard said Montreal risks losing what he called an “enormous jewel” – a hub for research and student learning at its four major universities.
Universite de Montreal rector Guy Breton said post-secondary institutions now realize they need to do a better job explaining their role. Last spring, he felt they were drowned out in a debate dominated by students and the government.
“The student message was two letters — n-o,” he said.
“Ours is much more complicated.”
—Andy Blatchford and Benjamin Shingler
Battle lines are drawn
Ahead of an anticipated election call in Quebec, one of the smaller political parties has proposed a middle ground solution to the tuition crisis.
The Liberal government’s plan to raise tuition by $1,778 over the next seven years led to a student uprising so strong it prompted an emergency law.
François Legault, leader of the centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), proposed a tuition increase of $200 annually over five years. The CAQ’s increase would be $1,000 total. Legault also said new funding would be conditional on universities better managing their funds.
The portrait painted by the polls
Republished from Inkless Wells on Macleans.ca.
To read today’s CROP—La Presse poll on the tuition protests in Quebec (main story here; detailed tables in a .pdf here, all in French) is to see evidence of a population applying consistent values in a difficult situation. It’s not at all surprising, but after hotheads have spent months trying to conscript the population to one faction or another in the dispute, it’s heartening.
(UPDATE: Some readers have noted that CROP used an online poll. There’s a good discussion of the methodology in the La Presse story, and some more general discussion here. I’ve seen no evidence that online polls, which are increasingly common, produce wildly different results from telephone polls, which have their own growing problems. I know of no new telephone poll that asked this many questions on the tuition dispute. I’ll let you know if one comes along.)
First big question: Do you support the government position (increasing tuition fees over seven years) or the students’ (a tuition freeze)? On the central policy question of the dispute, the government wins nearly two to one, with 64% supporting the government to 36% who support the students. This is true even in Montreal, where support for students is highest (60/40 in government’s favour); even among young adults (56/44 in the 18-34 age bracket); even among female respondents (63/37) and francophones (62/38).
But what about Law 78, the government’s latest enforcement tool? “Generally, do you favour or oppose this special law?” Here it’s much closer, 51% in favour and 49% opposed. There’s no gender gap, but 18-to-34-year-olds oppose the law 56/44; francophones oppose it 53/47.
Then an apparent paradox. Continue reading Meet the average Quebecer
Patriquin: there’s a normalcy to all this Gong Show-iness
As we approach the three-month mark of the student strike/boycott/study-stoppage/what-have-you, relations between both sides could hardly be worse. An agreement in principle between the Charest government and the FEUQ, FECQ and CLASSE was roundly rejected by the students themselves, and we’ve already seen the fallout: the daily marches have for the most part resumed, much like the caustic rhetoric from both side as each accuses the other of bad faith. Yesterday, the entire Metro system was shut down after a coordinated smoke bomb attack.
Perversely, there’s a normalcy to all this Gong Show-iness, as though demonstrations, riots, street closures and metro shutdowns are part and parcel of the coming very long, very hot summer in la bête noire province. Just like periodic language tiffs. Just like rampant corruption in the construction industry. Just like eye-bleedingly horrendous Éric Lapointe videos. (I warned you.) Ayoye.
This is what a really big protest looks like
On March 22, tens of thousands of Quebec students skipped classes to march in Montreal against a tuition fee hike of $1,625 over five years. Blogger Jacob Serebrin was there on the street. Check out the photos he snapped below, then read his take on what’s next for the student movement.
Students are paying for a significant portion of their education
There have been some really interesting statistics on students and universities coming out of Quebec over the past few days.
On Thursday, the province’s largest student lobby group released the results of a major study (in French) on student finances. On Monday, the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities posted a lot of statistics, on things like enrolment and finances at every university in the province, on their website.
The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec study is definitely more interesting, some of the numbers posted by the Conference were hard to find but they were all available.
The scope of the FEUQ study is notable. Eight per cent of students in the province participated and it’s got some bonafides. It was sponsored by the Millenium Scholarship Foundation and Desjardins Foundation, the charitable arm of Quebec’s largest chain of credit unions. It was also carried out by a third-party market research company.
The main take-away is the importance of working, the average full-time student works 18 hours a week and that accounts, on average, for over 50 per cent of their finances. For part time students work accounts for over 80 per cent of their finances.
Parents also account for a large portion of student financing, especially for full-time students, more than any other source except for work.
The other thing that really struck me is that over 20 per cent of part-time students have children of their own and most of them say they’re struggling to maintain a balance between their family and their studies.
Tuition issue is indicative of new political debate facing Quebec
Quebec’s largest student lobby group, along with the province’s main trade federations held a conference this weekend to talk about why the government shouldn’t increase tuition fees. Alliances between the student lobby and organized labour are common in Quebec. Last spring some of these groups got together to criticize proposals for the provincial budget, but this was more than a one-off event. It was the first step in a mobilization by labour and student groups, calling themselves the “Alliance sociale,” against Quebec’s resurgent right wing and this could be a sign of a fundamental shift happening in Quebec politics.
Since the Quiet Revolution, the Quebe politics have been dominated by identity issues such as sovereignty and language. The main political divide has been nationalism versus federalism, rather than some form of left versus right.
It is telling that none of the federal parties have affiliates in Quebec’s provincial politics (despite the name, the Quebec Liberals cut ties with the federal Liberals in the 1950s) and even though Quebec has a left-wing reputation, NDP candidates have only won a seat three times in the province.
At the federal level, left-leaning voters in Quebec have generally voted for the Bloc, which has supported a broadly left-wing outlook, even though Lucien Bouchard had been cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney’s government and several of his BQ co-founders were also former Progressive Conservatives.
At the provincial level, the national question has also dominated politics. While the Parti Québécois does fall to the left of the Quebec Liberals, until recently both parties have supported a large role for the state with a strong social safety net. Jean Charest’s recent cuts and tuition increases may be unpalatable to the left but they’re seen as timid by the right.
Until recently Quebec’s right had been relatively quiet. Since 1970, only the Liberals and the PQ have held power. Between 1976, the last time any members of the Union Nationale were elected, and 2007, when the Action Démocratique du Québec became the official opposition, there was almost no right wing presence in the National Assembly. Of course, the ADQ was not able to maintain that momentum.
But lately Quebec’s right has been making more noise.
The current context for Quebec’s right-wing resurgence comes from a 2005 manifesto issued by a group of “prominent” Quebecers, including Bouchard. Their “clear-eyed,” or “lucide,” vision for Quebec, among other points, included a call for higher tuition. Bouchard and his prominent friends were back last February, again calling for a tuition increase.
Interestingly both the left and this new right agree on one thing, that Quebec’s universities are underfunded. They just don’t agree on whether students should pay a bigger share or if that task should fall to the government.
But while student groups are lining up against this vision of Quebec, university administrators are joining up with the right wing. Concordia president Judith Woodsworth was named to the board of directors of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal on Nov. 2. That group issued a statement in late September calling for tuition increases and essentially endorsing a “lucide” vision for post-secondary education. McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s presentation to the National Assembly’s education and culture commission in September outlined a very similar vision.
There’s a lot more to this growing left-right divide than tuition fees, but the issue is indicative of the new debate in Quebec society and the breakdown of the old consensus on what role the state plays in society, what services it provides and how that’s paid for.