All Posts Tagged With: "quebec"
Student groups demand full public inquiry instead
The Quebec government has named a three-person panel to investigate events related to last year’s student crisis that made international news.
Public Security Minister Stephane Bergeron said the panel will study the actions of students and police during anti-tuition demonstrations that rocked the province.
Bergeron told a news conference Wednesday that he wants to ensure there is never a repeat of clashes like those seen during 2012′s so-called “Maple Spring.”
Protesters accused the police of numerous abuses — including arbitrary mass roundups and fines, indiscriminate pepper-spraying, and violations of mobility rights.
A number had been demanding a full public inquiry into police actions.
There were expressions of disappointment Wednesday from groups that said the new mechanism fell far short of what they had demanded, and would continue to demand.
The investigative body will have no power to subpoena witnesses, will do its work in private, and will be unable to point to offences by individual officers.
The government made it clear that any disciplinary measures against individual police officers would continue to be handled by the regular provincial police ethics committee.
The panel has been asked to analyze circumstances surrounding the protests and identify factors that led to the deterioration of the social climate.
It will cost $400,000.
“The government is interested in learning lessons from the 2012 crisis, a social crisis of such a magnitude that we can never let it happen in Quebec again,” Bergeron said.
Students took to the streets for months, and many shut down their classrooms. They were protesting a planned tuition increase of 77 per cent over five years in Quebec, which has the lowest university rates in Canada.
The protesters won a partial victory when the Parti Quebecois took office, scrapped the initial plan, and introduced a permanent tuition increase of 3 per cent a year.
The new group will examine techniques used by police and protesters, as well as the financial impact of the crisis. There will also be a study of how other jurisdictions deal with similar movements.
The group will deliver a report to the government, including recommendations, by Dec. 20. Bergeron said he plans to make the report public within six weeks of its delivery.
Bergeron appeared to already have drawn some conclusions about what caused the chaos.
He blamed the previous Liberal government for introducing Bill 78, a controversial anti-protest law designed to get students back to class. He also said the crisis would never have happened if the previous “Liberal party government” had not introduced such “excessive tuition hikes.”
The minister said it was the Liberals’ behaviour that brought thousands into the streets for near-nightly protests in Montreal and elsewhere in the province.
Bergeron said the panel will conduct its hearings in private, so that anyone wanting to testify could do so without fear of reprisals. The panel will accept written, audio and video testimony.
He said the panel will not intervene in cases already before the province’s police ethics committee, nor seek out people who might warrant charges.
Bergeron said municipalities and police had to adjust their tactics, given the unprecedented event and the need to maintain social peace and safety.
“The vast majority of Quebec police officers acted with professionalism, given the circumstances,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron said he encourages people who feel they were treated unfairly to file a complaint with the ethics committee. Some 200 complaints have already been filed with the body, which has the power to sanction officers.
The committee will be chaired by Serge Menard, a former Parti Quebecois public security minister and federal Bloc Quebecois MP. The other two posts will be held by ex-union boss Claudette Carbonneau and former judge Bernard Grenier.
Opposition parties blasted the plan.
They called it a waste of money. And they also questioned its impartiality, noting that the PQ and union movement had clearly supported and — in the case of the labour groups even funded — the protest movement.
Coalition party member Jacques Duchesneau, a former police officer, said the announcement left a “bitter taste” in his mouth.
He said there had been 711 student protests recorded in Quebec last year and there had only been arrests at one-third of them.
“Is it the police’s fault that people threw smoke bombs on the metro?” Duchesneau told a news conference. He was once chief of the Montreal police force.
“Is it the police’s fault that people threw bags of bricks on the tracks to stop the metro? Is it the police’s fault that people wanted to take over the (Montreal Formula 1) Grand Prix?”
He said he was fine with the idea of a study — but said it should have been done in a public forum, like a parliamentary committee, and been more neutral.
The government drew entirely different criticism from student protesters. They wanted a more muscular mechanism.
The more hardline student group, ASSE, said it would continue to demand a real public inquiry as well as an abandonment of all charges or fines levied against 3,500 people during the crisis.
“This is a far cry from the independent public inquiry on police behaviour, demanded by 91 Quebec civil-society groups,” said a statement from the group.
“We’re not asking Mr. Bergeron to share his reflections on social movements. This special committee should instead be weighing in on the actions of those who are supposed to be protecting us.”
-With files by Sidhartha Banerjee
Prospective students worry about disruptions
Almost a year ago, I was a prospective student touring McGill University for the first time. I remember the excitement, the nerves and the shock of seeing more than 100 people protesting on campus. For the dozen or so students on my tour, it was our first impression of McGill and, to be honest, it was a bit of a deterrent.
I recall a parent on the tour asking how disruptive the protestors were for classes. It was a serious concern of his and many others. Of course, we were assured that it was not disruptive at all and that the protests had very little to do with McGill. That alleviated the concern in my mind, but I’m sure that it was not the case for others.
In the past few months, I’ve been receiving emails from friends back home in Vancouver who are currently in their graduating year of high school and are now attempting to navigate the confusion of choosing a university. While I’ve gotten the classic questions—“How are the professors?” and “What’s the nightlife like?”—the one theme that keeps coming up is Quebec’s student movement. My friends’ concerns include not only how protests affect classes, but whether they are violent or too intense. I have assured everyone asking these questions that the protests are not an issue; they stay out of McGill’s way, they are not violent and they do not affect the classrooms.
If this province doesn’t grow up, I might leave
As a Montrealer of Greek origin who is fluent in Greek, French and English, I look at Quebec and all the incidents that have occurred in the past few months and I ask myself this one, simple, question: what the hell is going on?
But there’s another question Anglophones and Francophones should be asking themselves: why can’t we embrace bilingualism in this province? Why can’t we accept that Quebec is a province of two official languages and both will be equally represented from now on? Why do we insist on pointing fingers at each other and accusing the other side of undermining the other’s language?
Since the election of the PQ government, things have seriously worsened. The Office quebecois de la langue française found new life after receiving unnecessary funding from the provincial government and put it to absolutely no use by attacking restaurants like Buonanotte, ultimately making fools of themselves and of the PQ in the process. These are old-school techniques that the younger, more open-minded generation of Quebecers simply doesn’t appreciate.
What students are talking about today (March 20th)
1. Students at the University of British Columbia celebrated cycling culture with electronic music and glow sticks at the UBC Bike Rave on Friday night. It was organized by student residence advisors and was funded by a community grant. Unlike the drug-fuelled all-night parties of the 1990s that inspired the bike rave, this one was, according to The Ubyssey, “good clean fun.”
2. A student writing in The Varsity at the University of Toronto reports that the stress seminar she attended is a sorry excuse for counseling. “I had hoped that this “Coping with Stress” workshop, run by U of T’s Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) would help me, but instead it left me frustrated and angry,” writes Amanda Greer. “After a hard first semester, I approached CAPS about meeting with a counsellor. I was told there was a four month waiting list and to start looking for other options.” She points out that despite much discussion about the mental wellness of Canadian students, including in a recent cover story in Maclean’s, students often can’t access the one-on-one counselling. It’s a shame, but I think the explanation is obvious: tight budgets.
3. Western University is mourning the loss of student Noah Kishinevsky, whose body was found in a parked car at a high rise in London, Ont. The cause of death has not been confirmed, “but a hazardous substance was found in Kishinevsky’s car,” reports The Gazette. Police told the student newspaper that there was “no foul play” and that they won’t release more details.
4. A commentary in The Griff student newspaper at MacEwan University defends Ohio University photography student Sara Lewcowicz, who witnessed a man beat his girlfriend and documented it with photos instead of intervening. The heartbreaking photos of Shane, 31, abusing Maggie, 19, were published in TIME. Rebecca Trites supports the young photojournalist, arguing that intervening can be dangerous and that the photo essay creates awareness of domestic violence.
5. Police arrested 45 people in Montreal who were demonstrating against tuition fee hikes on Tuesday, reports CBC. As usual, police immediately declared the demonstration illegal because organizers did not submit an itinerary in advance. Several of the protesters threw snowballs, and four were arrested for assaults on police, reports Radio-Canada. The hikes recently proposed in Quebec under its Parti Quebecois government are about $70 per year—much less than the $325 increase that was planned by former premier Jean Charest. Quebec students pay about $2,200 per year.
Bottles and chunks of ice thrown at police
People who thought they’d seen the last of the nighttime protests in Montreal streets against tuition fee increases heard the familiar drone of police helicopters over the city core Tuesday night as the noctural gnashing of teeth by students over the cost of their education was renewed, boiling over into a battle with police.
Montreal’s first nighttime tuition-fee protest in several months was almost a mirror image of the demonstrations that filled the city’s streets last year. The biggest change was that protesters were chanting against Premier Pauline Marois instead of Jean Charest, who also tried to jack up tuition when he was premier.
And like some of last year’s marches, Tuesday night’s protest ended with the crash of breaking plate glass splitting the night, the scream of police sirens and the clatter of batons against riot shields as police charged the thousands of demonstrators.
It was the second repudiation in a week of Marois’ declaration that student unrest had been put to rest.
Social peace was one of the Parti Quebecois premier’s campaign platforms in last year’s provincial election and she declared mission accomplished at the conclusion of a summit on education last week. That was where she also announced her government would increase fees by three per cent, which was less than the Liberals.
Students protested after the summit and Tuesday night they were out in force again, this time rekindling the nighttime march which was a fixture of last year’s student unrest. Most were peaceful, but some of those marches turned violent and led to mass arrests.
The call for Tuesday’s march summed up that little had changed from the marches of the past.
Man, 29, accused of possessing explosives, threats
A man arrested on a terrorism-related charge during a student protest this week in Quebec will remain behind bars for now.
Denis Marc Pelletier was in a Montreal courtroom Thursday for what was supposed to have been a bail hearing, but the case did not proceed as planned.
A new lawyer and evidence disclosure pushed the bail hearing back to at least March 8, and perhaps later.
The Crown has already indicated that it will oppose bail in Pelletier’s case due to the nature of the charges against him.
The 29-year-old man is facing at least seven charges, including possession of explosives, possession of an arson device and uttering threats.
A charge of inciting terrorism stems from alleged postings on a social media site that police observed last weekend.
Leo Bureau-Blouin’s office hit with red paint
A former leader within Quebec’s student movement is taking flak from some of his old allies now that he’s an elected politician and tuition fees are going up.
Leo Bureau-Blouin, who was elected last fall under the Parti Quebecois banner, says he’s gotten threats and attacks on a Facebook page he uses to publicize a monthly meeting with constituents.
Some of the posters on the page called him a “loser” and “traitor.”
Bureau-Blouin’s constituency office was targeted in protests earlier this week and had red paint splattered on it during the night.
Premier Pauline Marois announced at the end of a summit on education on Tuesday that the government was rejecting calls for a tuition freeze. Instead, fees are being hiked three per cent in accordance with the cost of living.
That’s about $70 per year.
Anarchists, arrests, riot police and plenty of red squares
Montreal freelance reporter Justin Ling snapped these photos of Tuesday’s anti-tuition protest in Montreal where 13 were arrested. To learn more about the debate in Quebec, check out this report from The Canadian Press and read Ling’s commentary on Premier Marois’ missed opportunity.
Protest proves Quebec tuition debate is far from over
Sure enough, a young man in front of me turned around, his face contorted, hands clasped over his ears. Yes, that was a stun grenade.
Thousands of protesting students, led by the radical Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), clashed with cops in the east end of Montreal and got pepper spray, tear gas and stun grenades in return on Tuesday afternoon following Quebec’s big education summit.
Across town at the summit, the collegial attitude of the moderate Fédération Etudiante Universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) student factions was greeted with handshaking and the imposition of a year three per cent tuition hike.
The protesting students in the east end chanted, “Parti Quebecois: Parti Bourgeoise!” They denounced erstwhile student leader cum PQ golden boy Léo Bureau-Blouin who ditched FECQ* for a seat in the National Assembly. They mocked former ally, now premier, Pauline Marois. They demanded the abolition of tuition fees.
Quebec premier says confrontations are “behind us”
Without the salvos of snowballs pelting police, the chunks of ice flying through the air, and the officers chasing protesters across a snowy plaza, this could easily have been a scene lifted from the “Maple Spring.”
The clash in downtown Montreal was a mid-winter twist on the student demonstrations that shook the city on a near-daily basis last spring and summer.
Thousands of people marched through the streets Tuesday in a protest that coincided with the end of Quebec’s summit on higher education.
This time, protesters were venting at a different government.
The two-day summit saw the newly elected Parti Quebecois announce three-per-cent-a-year tuition hikes. The PQ’s new fees are significantly lower than the ones proposed by the previous Liberal government — about one-fifth as much.
Premier Pauline Marois had left the conference feeling confident enough to declare that Quebec’s era of social unrest was over.
“We have succeeded in putting the confrontations behind us,” Marois said in the closing address of a Montreal summit that assembled students’ associations, university leaders, unions and social groups.
“The social crisis is behind us.”
A few hours later, signs of the familiar tumult re-emerged.
On the other side of town, armoured police confronted projectile-throwing protesters in a sequel to the clashes that drew international attention last year.
The demonstration blocked streets, altered bus routes and saw police drag some marchers out of the crowds in order to arrest them.
The skirmishes led to 13 arrests, mostly for unlawful assembly and assault with a weapon. Two of those arrested were carrying Molotov cocktails, police said.
The police department said one officer was injured.
Last year, Quebec’s first student strikes of began in mid-February and they grew into a social movement that saw nightly street marches.
At issue was the $1,625 tuition increase over five years planned by the previous Liberal government.
The PQ cancelled the Liberals’ hikes after it won power in September and this week it announced scaled-down increases of its own. Its proposed hike will raise tuition by one-fifth of the Liberal plan — $70 per year, or roughly $350 after the first five years.
Earlier in the day, Marois had conceded that her small tuition hikes wouldn’t please everyone — not the student groups, nor the university administrators who said they needed more cash.
“We had some difficulties (finding a consensus) with the tuition, but the responsibility of the government is to decide — and I decided,” Marois told reporters after the summit.
Even the more moderate student groups, who participated in the summit, called the three-per-cent annual increases unacceptable.
They had requested an absolute freeze on tuition. Instead, they got what some of them called a perpetual tuition hike.
“We’re really disappointed about the fact the tuition fees are going up,” said Martine Desjardins, president of Quebec’s largest student federation, who attended the summit.
She said she had hoped the government would have debated the issue further.
But students, Desjardins added, did not leave the summit empty-handed. She credited the government with providing some extra funds for the financial-aid program and establishing a committee to examine mandatory student fees.
Student leaders will now consult their members about the next step.
The march Tuesday in Montreal, meanwhile, was the first of more student protests expected in the province. The movement is planning to stage nightly demonstrations starting next week.
It’s not yet clear how many student groups, and protesters, will participate in the demonstrations.
Thousands hit the streets Tuesday in a march organized by ASSE, one of Quebec’s more-radical student federations.
The group boycotted the education summit and has long demanded free university tuition.
“We will not cease mobilizing, we will not cease demonstrating, we will not cease these actions,” Jeremie Bebard-Wien, a spokesman for ASSE, said of Tuesday’s protest.
“We will keep coming back to remind the government that the summit was not what we expected and that a tuition hike will not pass.”
He predicted that it would take time, however, for the movement to gain steam again.
While his group said 50,000 students agreed to a one-day strike Tuesday, those at some schools with a reputation for militancy actually voted to stay in class.
Inside the tight security bubble that shielded the summit, students weren’t the only ones who disagreed with the PQ government’s plans for the education system.
Some university administrators left the long-awaited event with deep concerns their schools are at risk of under-funding, due to a cut in their budgets by $125 million in 2012-13 and again in 2013-14.
“The university system remains anaemic and it will be bled of $250 million in the coming years,” Universite de Montreal rector Guy Breton told the summit.
Breton warned of a looming crisis that could imperil some university programs — including medicine — unless the government increases university funding.
“The patient is far from being in good health — I guarantee that,” he said.
Others saw the PQ government’s indexed tuition increases as too small, a plan that would pile more burden on taxpayers who didn’t go to university.
“You’ve obtained an artificial consensus… in this room where the vast majority is excluded,” said interim Liberal leader Jean-Marc Fournier, who then pointed to the challenges of lower-earning Quebecers.
“You’re asking (students) to pay a little less, someone else will pay instead.”
In an abrupt reversal of roles compared to 2012, it was the PQ government dealing with uproar in the streets.
While she was Opposition leader, Marois wore the student movement’s signature red square in the national assembly and even took part in a pot-banging protest that became commonplace in the province.
One marcher held up a sign Tuesday that read: “Pauline, where’s your casserole (pot)?”
During the closing news conference of the summit, Marois was asked about her declaration that social harmony had been restored.
“I’m very at ease telling you that the divisions are now behind us,” she said.
“That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any tension; that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any disagreements.”
—Andy Blatchford with files from Peter Rakobowchuk
Within hours, protesters clash with police
Apart from the barrage of snowballs being pelted at police, the chunks of ice flying through the air, and officers charging at protesters across a snowy square, this could easily have been a scene lifted from the “Maple Spring.”
The clash in downtown Montreal was a mid-winter variation on the kind of event that occurred on a near-daily basis, making international headlines, last spring and summer.
Thousands of people marched at the end of a tuition summit Tuesday in which the new Parti Quebecois provincial government announced three-per-cent-a-year tuition hikes.
Its new fees are significantly lower than the ones proposed by the previous Liberal government — about one-fifth as much.
Premier Pauline Marois left the conference feeling confident enough to declare that Quebec’s era of social unrest was over.
“We have succeeded in putting the confrontations behind us,” Marois said in the closing address of a two-day summit that assembled students’ associations, university leaders, unions and social groups.
“The social crisis is behind us.”
Scenes from the demonstration (#manifencours)
Unclear how many will participate in today’s protest
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is declaring that unrest in her province related to student protests is over, one year and one week after it began.
Marois says the debate over tuition-fee hikes that saw protests sweep Quebec is “now behind us.”
Speaking at an education summit in Montreal, the newly elected premier conceded that her small tuition hikes won’t please everyone — neither the more militant protesters, nor the more cash-hungry university administrators.
But she is expressing hope that she’s managed to bring some social peace to the province.
What students are talking about today (February 26th)
1. Lakehead University students say that the school’s decision to change a course that will be offered in the new law program will water down the Aboriginal Studies component, reports CBC News. Lee Stuesser, the law school’s dean, says it will still address First Nations issues and that one reason for the change is that past Ontario law deans have raised concerns about non-law courses taught in law schools. “I felt the best thing to do was to make it a law course because my experience over the years has been that law students like law courses, and if they perceive something’s not a law course, then there’s a large measure of dissatisfaction,” he told CBC. Coincidentally, a new report from Frank Iacobucci, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, says this country needs to urgently address the crisis of Aboriginal under-representation on juries. While on the topic of legal education, Memorial University of Newfoundland has announced it’s exploring the feasibility of a law school in St. John’s.
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.
Politicians’ offices vandalized
Quebec’s long-awaited education summit kicked off under heavy security Monday, a year after a student crisis rattled the province.
Steel crowd-control barriers, a gauntlet of security checkpoints and bag searches greeted participants at the Montreal building housing the two-day event.
Inside the venue, the discussions were courteous. School administrators, politicians, student leaders and social groups outlined their visions for Quebec’s post-secondary education system, talks that explored topics such as university funding and financial aid for students.
Outside the building, police officers circled the neighbourhood on bicycle, sat in vans packed with riot gear and discretely kept watch over the area from the shadows of residential doorways.
The streets around the hall were quiet, however, except for a small group of professors protesting tuition-fee hikes Monday.
It was in stark contrast to the months of massive, nightly protests that consumed Montreal last year in a student crisis sparked by the former Liberal government’s plans to hike tuition fees. The student movement dubbed itself the Maple Spring.
Five things students are talking about today (February 25th)
1. Maclean’s Jessica Allen has captured the Oscars in 33 Tweets, but if you’re looking for an even shorter summary, here’s what people are talking about. Jennifer Lawrence, the 22-year-old lead in Silver Linings Playbook, got great reviews for her billowy Dior gown, but managed to trip in it while accepting her Best Actress award. Kristen Stewart, also 22, limped onto the stage to present an award—she’d apparently cut her foot on broken glass—and looked very Lindsay Lohan. Argo won Best Picture and Ben Affleck thanked Canada. Ang Lee won Best Director for Life of Pi and also thanked Canadians. William Shatner’s opening sketch predicting bad reviews for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s hosting turned out to be prescient. I thought he was funny but many criticized him today for his tasteless jokes. He did says says word “boobs” dozens of times, but at least he didn’t call 9-year-old Best Actress nominee Quvenzhané Wallis the c-word, which the satirical Onion did.
2. An attempt to impeach the president of the Commerce Society at Dalhousie University after he was found smoking marijuana in a hotel room at a Dal-hosted convention has failed, reports the Dalhousie Gazette. Unprofessional as it was, a majority of students are apparently willing to forgive.
3. Here’s a great gift idea for your depressed roommate on a budget. The Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl is a new form of dinnerware “that lets you place your iPhone at the perfect angle to watch videos or talk with friends over Skype and FaceTime,” explains Ishmael Daro on The Albatross. “Created by Japanese design firm MisoSoupDesign, these bowls are meant for the overlapping segment of a venn diagram for “nerdy” and “sad.” The company’s biggest mistake, however, is assuming that anyone who buys an iPhone-ready bowl has friends to talk to,” he writes.
4. A new company called NOMAD Housing says its goal is to supply Vancouver students with 100 square-foot two-story homes fully equipped with living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens, reports The Ubyssey. Although I’m skeptical they can make them that small, as graduate of the University of British Columbia who paid $800 for a basement, I know the demand is there.
5. Today is the beginning of the long-awaited Quebec education summit that the Parti Quebecois promised after months of anti-tuition protests. Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells has read the Quebec media and was “struck by a recurring theme in French-language commentary.” He’s talking about “the feats of ingenuity being expended to justify giving McGill University less public money.” Although student political groups will mostly be watching to see how little the Parti Quebecois government will make them pay—my guess is they’ll stick with the current $2,200 plus inflation—Wells points out that some academics see this as an opportunity to beat up on English universities.
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
Anti-tuition argument never made sense to me
Canada and the United States are broadly similar nations mostly separated by public policy. Last year’s tuition debate in Quebec shined a spotlight on not only the difference in education policy between the two countries, but also on the “Two Solitudes” cultural gap between English Canada and Quebec.
As an American studying at McGill University, I have a unique perspective on the tuition debate, which is sure to flare up again next week during a provincial summit on higher education.
The average price of an American college education has continued to rise, with tuition at four-year private universities now averages $29,056. Ancillary fees like room and board add about an extra $10,000. Similar increases have occurred at public universities. In Canada, the average tuition is $5,581 a year. In Quebec it’s $2,168.
That difference may create sticker shock for Canadians, but in the U.S., unlike Canada, most students receive substantial needs-based subsides that reduce the ‘actual’ average tuition at private universities to just under $13,000. A great redistribution of money from richer to poorer students in the U.S. leads to average student debts that are surprisingly comparable in the two countries.
I had the misfortune of encountering the Quebec tuition debate very quickly after the start of my first year. Still acclimating to the new and somewhat colder environment, I read of the controversy in the campus papers. The sticking point was the former Liberal government’s planned increase of $1,625 over five years for an eventual total of over $3,000. Despite the hike being only $325 each year, the proposal stirred passions. A general strike was called and, at its height, protests numbering in the thousands were a near-nightly occurrence, especially after the passage of the highly controversial Law 78, which restricted demonstrations.
As an American used to far more expensive university tuition—even international rates at McGill were substantially lower than those at several of the universities I considered in the States—the anti-hike argument did not speak to me on either an individual or ideological level.
The Twitter generation is engaged and deserves a say
Should 16-year-old Canadians be allowed to vote? The Parti Québécois thinks so. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, speaking in London, hinted as much following a quiet meeting in Scotland with First Minister Alex Salmond, whose governing Scottish National Party plans to lower the voting age to 16 for the country’s 2014 referendum on independence.
Members of Marois’ party have indicated their support for lowering the age to 16 in the past, and countries like Austria, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil have made similar decisions over the years to combat flagging voter turnout. Considering young people are the biggest drag on Canada’s overall decline in turnout, it’s something we should consider nationally too.
Elections Canada reported 38.8 per cent turnout among people age 18 to 24 in the May 2011 federal election, well below the 75.1 per cent of those aged 65 to 74 who voted. Considering the under-25 set is told from the get-go that they’re apathetic, this isn’t surprising. Civics courses don’t help: I drudged through Ontario’s— a well-known online bird course at my high school.