Thousands protest at last stand for tuition

QUEBEC CITY – Thousands of students protested in downtown Quebec City on Dec. 6,

as government officials, including Quebec’s ministers of education and finance, met with

student leaders, university administrators and professors.

Despite the large protest and walkouts by student and labour groups, the government has

said they will be carrying out a planned tuition increase in 2012.

“We announced it in the budget,” Finance Minister Raymond Bachand told reporters. “It

was very clear.”

However the amount of the increase is still to be determined.

Student and labour groups criticized the government for coming into the consultation

with their minds already made up on the issue.

While both of Quebec’s main student lobby groups were invited to participate in the

meeting of “education partners,” representatives of the Fédération étudiante universitaire

du Québec, the largest student group in Quebec, walked out of the meeting early in the

day, saying that they saw no reason to stay, since the government seemed to have already

made a decision.

The sentiment was echoed by several union groups, who also walked out of the meeting.

The Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, Quebec’s second-largest student

group, announced they would be boycotting the meeting in October.

Both groups organized large protests, with several hundred attending a protest organized

by FEUQ and well over 1,000 attending ASSE’s protest. Both groups bussed in large

numbers of students from across the province to attend.

At least one student was arrested early in the day.

Despite the presence of riot squads from both the Quebec City Police and Quebec

Provincial Police, protesters managed to gain access to the hotel where the meeting was

taking place on multiple occasions. The Montreal Gazette reported that protesters clashed

with riot police inside the building in the morning, while a large number of protesters

entered the building through a side door around 3 p.m., there did not appear to be any

violence or arrests in that incident, with protesters leaving the building peacefully.

While the mood of the protest remained festive, tensions began to rise as evening

approached, with protesters throwing snowballs at the large number of riot police outside

the building and police aiming less-lethal weapons at protests, though none were fired.

Even with the disruptions, the government described the meeting as a success.

“While we did not reach a consensus on many points, this does not change the fact that

the workshop discussions, in which all the participants took part, have provided us with

possible solutions that we will be carefully examining over the next few weeks,” said

Education Minister Line Beauchamp. According to Beauchamp, the government will

look at ways to improve financial aid programs to offset some of the effects of the tuition

increase.

Bachand echoed a recent study released by the Conference of Rectors and Principals of

Quebec Universities, which claimed that, due to the effects of inflation, students are now

paying less than they were in 1968.

CREPUQ has called for tuition to increase by $500 a year for three years, beginning in

2012.

But the government stressed that tuition increases were not the only place universities

should be looking for money.

“I intend to call upon the business community to contribute more toward the funding of

our universities by, among other things, increasing their philanthropic endeavours,” said

Beauchamp.

Tuition fees in Quebec are currently the lowest in the country.

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