Mother Nature, like a few other forces, seemed to be colluding with the Quebec government yesterday. The stormy, wintry weather blew a cold, blustery wind across the faces of the 2,000 or so student protesters who came in from across the province to protest tuition hikes. The two Concordia Student Union buses took five hours just to trek from the capital back to Montreal, more than double the usual duration of the trip. Students railed against the man while their teeth chattered.
In addition to the terrible weather, the government also appeared to be working against the academic calendar. The provincial powers-that-be scheduled a meeting with the heads of the post-secondary educational institutions and student lobby groups for Dec. 6, right before the start of the stress-heavy exam period for students.
Despite one protester getting arrested and charged for assaulting a police officer and a violent confrontation with riot squads, it was mostly a peaceful protest. This pales in comparison to the huge, destructive protests that have occurred in the United Kingdom as officials plan on tripling post-secondary education costs. For that, we are proud to see that the protests wrapped without vandalism or a lot of aggression.
The end result is that Finance Minister Raymond Bachand and Education Minister Line Beauchamp told reporters at a summary news conference that the government has made its decision about raising tuition, and that it’s going to stick with it, no matter what students say.
People partaking in the meeting, including Concordia’s president Judith Woodsworth, reported that there was no consensus on the tuition hike.
As organizers told Concordia students at the early-morning bus roundup to Quebec City in the Hall building, the government is not deciding whether or not to increase tuition, they’re going to talk about how to go about doing it.
It is clear that the government made their decision about the tuition fees a while ago, and that these meetings were largely orchestrated to paint the government as willing to listen to the concerns of the other parties involved.
Sure, it’s a great idea to have a powwow where representatives can talk out all their plans and cocnerns about tuition increases – except that the timing of the event is the worst, intentionally set at the most stressful time of the academic year, so students and potentially even administrators are strained to attend. How can we believe that the government wanted to sit down and have an honest chat when they cannot even pick a date that works for everyone?
In the past, student protests in Quebec have had a big hand in successfully keeping tuition fees at the lowest rates in this country. It seems that now the era of big, effective protests are waning. If schlepping thousands of students from across the province on a cold winter’s day does not sway the government’s plans, maybe it’s time to find alternative modes of lobbying.
Some elements could have been different: maybe some of the student representatives should not have walked out of the meeting, calling it a sham, maybe more students should have sacrificed their study plans to come out in the cold. Picking over what happened Monday in Quebec City, however, it is clear that Quebec is going to go full-steam ahead on a matter that students have decidedly opposed.
The fact of the matter is, whether you think student fees are a sensible, logical idea or the worst thing the provincial government has brought up in the last few years, it’s clear that yesterday’s meeting was a travesty in terms of organization and timing. It shows a lack of respect towards the other participants in this discussion, and in the midst of rumours of corruption and collusion in party financing and the construction industry associated with the Liberal party, this latest news throws the honesty and integrity of the Liberal government into further disarray. Jean Charest has just announced he plans to run for a fourth term. Remember his government’s actions two years down the line when you head to the polls.