MONTREAL (CUP) – The Parti Québécois’ cabinet meeting last week was the first time Pauline Marois executed her actions as premier of the province, spelling out the end of solidarity within the student movement and heralding a new structure of government-student relations.
Marois announced the abolition of both the tuition hike as well as the controversial Law 12, save a few provisions largely in connection to the scheduling of the disrupted winter semester.
She also announced her cabinet, making public a new ministry – the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology – which will be led by Pierre Duchesne.
Marois’ announcements mark the fulfillment, at least verbally, of some of her campaign promises made by herself and other PQ candidates leading up to the Sept. 4 election.
Division at the base
Despite claiming the seven-month long student strike victory, the abolition of the hike signals the parting of ways for the student associations Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, and the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, which had collaborated, despite a historically tense relationship.
All three representative bodies publicly claimed a tuition freeze as the goal fueling the strike, however, for CLASSE, the goal represented a compromise on their members’ part – a compromise they are no longer willing to make.
“We had adopted a negotiating stance during the strike for a freeze on the 2007 basis – it was seen as a compromise to mobilize more easily and to perhaps win more easily,” explained Jérémie Bédard-Wien, an executive of CLASSE, addressing students at McGill before Marois abolished tuition.
He said that the end of the strike permits CLASSE to focus on some of its own major political projects like their campaign for free education, one of the core objectives for CLASSE and its larger supporting organization, Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante.
Bédard-Wien said that for the Sept. 22 demonstration – a routine of protest held on the 22nd day of each month – the theme was to support free education. For the student federations, however, FEUQ President Martine Desjardins said that the association would not be participating in the Sept. 22 demonstration as FEUQ supports the objective of a tuition freeze, not free education.
“There’s no tuition fee hike, there’s no Law 12 and, so we think, now we have a minister who’s more open to discussion – we need to take this path,” she continued. “We won yesterday.”
Though CLASSE has also publicly deemed the student strike a victory, Bédard-Wien explained that the choice was made in order to emphasize the seven months of mobilization on the part of students.
“We want to make clear that now if the PQ cancels the tuition fee hike and cancels Law 12 it’s because we have risen and we have put intense political pressure on these political parties and they are afraid of us,” he said.
According to him, CLASSE takes a different approach to relations with the newly-elected PQ government than the student federations’ collaborative approach.
“The PQ has a long history of making promises that they don’t keep and are certainly no friends of any progressive social struggle,” he explained. He said that CLASSE is on alert for the tuition hike to return in the coming weeks and months.
A ministry devoted to higher education
First-time MNA Duchesne, a former Radio-Canada journalist and journalism professor at Université Laval, will be the first minister for the newly created Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology.
Staff within the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport said they have yet to receive directives from the PQ as to how responsibilities will be divided between it and the new ministry.
The veteran PQ MNA Marie Malavoy will be the new Minister of Education, Leisure and Sport, a position formerly held by Liberal MNA Line Beauchamp, who resigned in the midst of the student strike before Michelle Courchesne was appointed to take her place.
According to Desjardins, Malavoy will not be involved in settling outstanding issues related to the student strike or the organization of the upcoming summit on higher education, which the premier has committed to organizing. Desjardins said the summit is likely to occur in February or March 2013.
Impact on students
Though now abolished, the tuition increase was already billed to students attending Quebec universities.
Circumstances vary depending on the institution: at the Université de Montréal tuition billing was delayed so no students will need reimbursement. At the Université du Québec à Montréal, the period to pay tuition ranges from mid-July to Nov. 2 so the number of students affected is undetermined, whereas, at McGill University, the deadline for fall 2012 tuition payments was set for the end of August. At Concordia, students were instructed to pay tuition including the hike weeks ago.
Spokespeople from Concordia, McGill and UQÀM confirmed that the universities have yet to receive any official direction from the government as to how and when reimbursements to students are to be provided.