All Posts Tagged With: "Martine Desjardins"
Plan would raise fees by $70 per year
Quebec students who staged a memorable series of protests last spring could see their efforts result in a roughly 80 per cent discount on planned tuition hikes.
The Parti Quebecois government has tabled its plan for tuition increases, a long-awaited development in a political dispute that rocked Quebec last year and was dubbed by students as the Maple Spring.
The plan involves indexing university tuition by three per cent a year — which amounts to about $70 annually. That is sharply lower than the $325 yearly hikes sought by the previous Liberal government, which then adjusted the proposed increases to $254 per year, over seven years.
The planned hikes prompted huge and often rowdy protests, with the PQ siding with the student protesters ahead of last summer’s election campaign.
Premier Pauline Marois then cancelled the Liberal tuition increases after taking power.
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
PQ youth want tuition frozen then eliminated
Quebec student groups didn’t get along well with the province’s Liberal government — and now things don’t seem too rosy with the ruling Parti Quebecois.
The two sides appear to be at odds over tuition rates in the lead-up to a summit on post-secondary education.
PQ Premier Pauline Marois says she wants to reduce the student debt load, but won’t rule out a tuition increase tied to inflation.
But many student groups are pushing for a freeze on tuition rates.
Huge protests erupted last spring over the former Liberal government’s planned increases, with thousands of students taking to the streets.
Marois scrapped the increases after the PQ took power in September.
At a PQ delegate meeting in Drummondville, Que. on the weekend, Marois faced some pressure from the youth wing to further reduce tuition rates.
Price will return to $2,168
The tuition increase that triggered such social strife in Quebec was cancelled Thursday during an action-packed first full day in office for the Parti Quebecois government.
The new government repealed the fee hike, by decree, in its first cabinet meeting less than 24 hours after coming to power.
Student leaders cheered the news.
“Together we’ve written a chapter in the history of Quebec,” said Martine Desjardins, head of the more moderate university student association.
“It’s a triumph of justice and equity.”
The streets are quiet but plenty is happening
The nightly demonstrations against the Quebec government that crippled Montreal in the spring have dwindled to nearly nothing this summer. But that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Here are three important updates from the past few days:
1. Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUC), says that protesting students are now focused on defeating the Liberal government in the next election. (She also says the “strike” will resume when classes start up at 14 junior colleges (CEGEPs) and some universities on Aug. 17.) Pundits expect Premier Jean Charest to call a September election. At least the students and the government can agree on one thing—it will take an election to settle the dispute. See The Gazette.
Students declare impasse
The Quebec government has pulled out of negotiations with student leaders, quashing hopes that renewed talks this week would lead to an end more than three months of student protests in the province.
Martine Desjardins, leader of the FEUQ student union, told the CBC that the government hadn’t considered the students’ most recent proposal, and that the government instead stuck to its offer to reduce the annual tuition hike to $219 from $254, the CBC reports.
“It’s an impasse, it’s really an impasse,” said Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, speaking with reporters in Quebec City.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the leader of the more militant CLASSE union, has called for renewed protests over the government’s decision to walk away from the negotiating table. “The objective is to solve the crisis and to solve the crisis we need an offer that will be accepted by the general assemblies. And that is what we continuously repeat to Ms. Courchesne,” Nadeau-Dubois told the Globe and Mail.
College leader willing to discuss amount of hike
Leaders of at least two of the three large student groups who organized Quebec’s student “strike” movement suggest that a compromise could soon end the 106-day conflict.
Martine Desjardins, leader of university group FEUC, told CBC News on Sunday that negotiations with the provincial government will resume this afternoon.
Leo Bureau-Blouin, president of college student group FECQ, told The House on Saturday that if Premier Jean Charest lessened the planned tuition increase—most recently proposed at $1,778 over seven years—then students may end their protests. He did not suggest a specific amount.
Intense debate in Quebec’s National Assembly
Sweeping legislation to get students back to classes while restoring order to Montreal is being debated again today in the Quebec’s National Assembly after a marathon session last night.
If Bill 78 is made law, police could fine student groups, labour union officials, and individuals who prevent an enrolled student from attending classes at a university or CEGEP. Despite court injunctions, protesters have frequently blocked students from legally attending classes this year. On Wednesday, protesters stormed into UQAM where some stood on desks shouting “scabs.”
Demonstrations within 50 metres of a higher education institution would fall under the act.
The law would also require people organizing a demonstration of 50 or more to inform police eight hours in advance. They would also need to provide certain details of their plans.
Individuals who violate the law would be fined $1,000 to $5,000 per day. Student leaders would face fines of up to $35,000. Student and labour union employees could be charged up to $125,000.
Alex Ballingall reports on the Quebec student movement
For more than 12 weeks, tens of thousands of Quebec students have taken to the streets in anger and frustration. They’ve hurled slogans from worn-out vocal cords, sung and danced and taken their clothes off. Protesters threw stones, smashed windows and clashed with riot police, all in an effort to halt the government’s proposal to increase tuition $1,625 over the next ﬁve to seven years.
Students began walking out on their classes in February. More than three months later, the dispute has become the longest student strike in Quebec history. The stubborn persistence of the strike has left many in the rest of Canada scratching their heads over why there’s been such uproar. Even in Quebec, the intensity of the protests has puzzled observers.