So, the provincial education summit began Monday and to the surprise of no one, it was declared by Quebec Premier Pauline Marois that despite the current freeze on tuition, fees would be going up in the future.
Using words like “indexing” may differentiate this increase from the one put forward by the former Charest Liberals, but the difference is superficial. The Parti Québécois’ plan amounts to a three per cent annual increase, meaning that tuition will rise by $70 per year. It may not be as much as the hike presented last year, but it provides little comfort to a movement whose members are demanding free education.
Another point worth mentioning is the feelings of betrayal some may be experiencing at the hands of the government. When the PQ came into power, they ran on a platform of a tuition freeze and some would argue that this attributed greatly to their success. By going back on their promise and creating a plan to raise fees, it is only reasonable that voters would feel anger and mistrust towards the government.
Those in attendance at the summit may also be upset by this news, considering the “open dialogue” they were promised has just been narrowed quite substantially. Student groups like the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec have been vocal about wanting to co-operate with the government towards what they hoped would be the common goal of a freeze. With this announcement, the FEUQ may not be so willing to support the government and could start encouraging its members back into the streets.
Quebec Higher Education Minister Pierre Duchesne says that the province can no longer afford to keep tuition so low, and that a continued freeze would force a crisis. This proves a tough pill to swallow considering the financial mismanagement of publicly-funded institutions throughout the city.
The protests, which took place Monday, are just the beginning if Marois continues to push an increase. Quebec saw what students and concerned citizens can accomplish when properly motivated. Does anyone really want a repeat of the violent protests, the nightly disturbances, the vandalism and the discontent from last spring?
Accessible education is clearly something many people in Quebec are passionate about and the battle ahead will not be an easy one for Marois to win. After all, education is a right and people across the province have clearly demonstrated their interest in preserving the current tuition model.
Whether it be $325 or $70, students feel they shouldn’t have to pay any more for education and the PQ should be prepared for that. Spending thousands on a two-day summit to allow all parties to voice their opinions won’t make much of a difference if the government isn’t listening.
If anything, the point of Monday’s three separate demonstrations was to show Marois that the red square movement is alive and well, and that if the government chooses to take a page out of Charest’s book, they will be ready to speak up and fight back.