A coalition of 90 student lobby groups, unions and community organizations are condemning the Quebec government’s plan to return to a balanced budget by 2013 &- 2014.
While the provincial budget is still around two weeks away, there have been indications &- including a call from the provincial finance minister for a “cultural revolution” &- that user fees and other cost saving measures will be on the table.
According to the coalition, which includes all of Quebec’s active student lobby groups, the possibility of user fees and the privatization of social services will hurt ordinary Quebecers.
Claudette Carbonneau, president of the ConfÃ©dÃ©ration des syndicats nationaux, Quebec’s second-largest union federation, said that for the people the coalition represents, public services are very important for their quality of life.
The group is calling for “adequate” funding of public services and social programs and is opposed to the privatization of public services.
They are also opposed to increases in the cost of electricity for residential use and increases in fees for public services including health, education and public transit.
According to Christian PÃ©pin, spokesperson for the Association pour une solidaritÃ© syndicale Ã©tudiante, Quebec’s second-largest student lobby group, if the budget follows some of the talk that’s been going around for the past few months, Quebec students could be in for “major regressive measures.”
“We’re talking about, for the first time, differentiated fees, which means that all institutions would be free to impose the kind of fees they want according to different kind of programs,” he said, pointing to the example of McGill, which has announced plans to raise MBA tuition to $29,500 and UniversitÃ© de MontrÃ©al, which has considered increasing fees for the dentistry program.
“This logic would be catastrophic for the right to education,” he said. “We saw already in Ontario, the enrolment rate in the faculty of medicine has dropped drastically. We’re talking 23 per cent coming from the lower class, dropping to 13 per cent. We’ve seen across Canada people from the working class taking cheaper classes.”
According to PÃ©pin, the issue goes further than just one of fees.
“It’s not only a question of right of education but of how we see education today,” he said. PÃ©pin said that increasingly universities are “going to evaluate each program according to how they contribute to the globalized economy,” he said. “We’re going to lose one of our last places of critical reflection on the world today, we see the economic crisis, ecological crisis. Is this not the time to preserve the autonomy of our universities?”