Concordia student delegation hits NASH82

NASH is a four-day conference held by the Canadian University Press (CUP), which offers various workshops and lectures to journalism students. Whether the subject was global reporting, Indigenous coverage, hate groups in Canada or the climate crisis, the idea behind the conference was to provide tools for students to report accurately on issues that affect their university communities, but also to make the most out of their own newspaper.

“I think the best part of this conference is getting your head filled with all these ideas – maybe it’s just a spark from what a speaker mentioned or a conversation with other journalists – and try to spread that back out into the student journalism landscape,” said Jacob Dubé, vice-president of CUP.

The old NASH tradition enforces the idea that journalism across universities should not be a competition – rather, a collaboration. Dubé mentioned there is something quite powerful about seeing a community of aspiring journalists together in the same room, helping one another.

Indeed, the theme of this year’s edition, hosted by The Ubyssey – the University of British Columbia’s independent student newspaper – was empower.

Keynote speakers included Garth Mullins, host and executive producer of the Crackdown Podcast, who opened the conference Thursday night with a talk on how to properly cover the drug and overdose crisis in Canada. The second guest speaker was Dr. Candis Callison, an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, who addressed the practices and role of reporting on the climate crisis. The final speaker was Anishinaabe comedian Ryan McMahon, who used the stage to confront the colonial narrative in the media and share his view on key qualities and skills future journalists should hold.

NASH is also an opportunity to host the John H. McDonald Awards for Excellence in Student Journalism during the last night of the conference. While The Concordian left without any awards, Ireland Compton, editor-in-chief at The Link, won best Indigenous reporting for her piece: Protest Denounces Federal Decision to Appeal Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

“To be recognized for the work that I’ve been doing is a really great feeling,” said Compton. “I think that we all deal with imposter syndrome from time to time, I know I do, and an award like this is a reminder to myself that I’m on the right track.”

The Link also won the best cover/layout of the year for their gender and sexuality issue, published last March.


Photo by Alex Hutchins


Tuition fee increase officially repealed

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.


Léo Bureau-Blouin on his choice to enter Quebec politics

MONTREAL (CUP) – At 20-years-and-seven-months-old, Léo Bureau-Blouin is the youngest candidate running in this campaign to become a member of Quebec’s National Assembly.

Bureau-Blouin became a well-known face in Quebec over the course of his term as president of one of the province’s largest student organizations, the Fédération étudianté collégiale du Québec. After completing two presidential terms on June 1, he joined the ranks of sovereigntist provincial party, the Parti Québécois.

The FECQ is one of four student unions officially representing students throughout the now seven-month long general strike against the Liberal government’s scheduled increase of tuition fees. During his two-year run as president, Bureau-Blouin represented the interests of CÉGEP students in negotiations with government officials.

Bureau-Blouin says he was approached by the PQ in late June and decided to take the party up on their proposition to assist and support him in running as a PQ candidate in the riding Laval-des-Rapides, just north off the Island of Montreal.

He was reached by phone mere days before the election. The interview was conducted primarily in French.

CUP: There’s a stereotype that executives from the student federations often use their roles as student representatives as a launch pad for their political careers. How do you respond to this considering that you are a former FECQ executive who has now joined a major political party?

Bureau-Blouin: First of all, if all I had wanted from the start were to create a place in politics for myself, I would have achieved something completely different because it’s a lot of work and a lot of energy. That is to say it is extremely difficult [for others] to interpret someone’s intent for creating a career — [it could be] because they are passionate. We need to encourage youth to be involved in politics. People who talk of these stereotypes present it as if politics are a bad thing but in many ways [political processes] are very positive.

Concerning the number of youth in politics, 10 per cent of the electorate is youth but zero per cent are present in the National Assembly. So it’s time to take part and, as for me, I wish that more young people would run in the next elections because if we want to youth to get involved in politics, it takes young candidates.

CUP: So you have not attended university — do you feel you would make a statement of sorts if you were to become a member of the National Assembly without a university degree?

BB: Regardless, I wish to finish my studies — it’s absolutely necessary to obtain my degree however already in the National Assembly there are several elected members who do not have degrees. It’s not a novelty because in this society, it’s only 20 per cent of the population who obtained university degrees — so it’s normal in governments to have representatives without degrees. But, me, I see myself getting a degree in the long-term, just not right away.

CUP: As the former president of FECQ, you were a representative for CÉGEP students. Do you feel students support you now as an electoral candidate?

BB: Yes, but students, like society, are not one unit — there are people who feel differently, there are all kinds of people who are students — but, I think, yes. I think that the majority of students are happy with what I’m doing. The objective is to demonstrate that we can continue to build in different ways.

CUP: The PQ stance on tuition in the media has been to increase fees on par with inflation — do you think students will be content with this?

BB: What we said was that we will abolish the increase of tuition fees, we will abolish the Charest government’s special law [Law 12], and we spoke of holding financial and business consultations with universities. One of the propositions that were put on the table was to have tuition fees increase at the same rate as the cost of living.

For me, I defend the students’ cause, that is to say that tuition fees should not increase. But I am pragmatic and the objective is to engage with aim to finding a consensus in this discussion and I think what the students really want is not to have a drastic [tuition] increase like what we saw with the Liberals.

CUP: You and PQ leader Pauline Marois called for students to halt any strike actions because, according to your statements at the time, the student conflict plays into the Liberal Party’s strategy. Why did you feel this way and, considering the actions that occurred earlier this week at the Université de Montréal, do you feel the same now?

BB: First of all, the call we made was to end the strike for the duration of the election campaign because the Charest government profited from the student conflict to mask its track record for the last nine years. And the call worked as CÉGEP students decided to go back to class together with universities, with the exception of two faculties at the Université du Québec à Montréal and several modules at U de M — so we’re talking less than 2,000 students.

So why did we do it? Because the Charest government’s strategy is so simple: talk about the student conflict and avoid talking about corruption and collusion, avoid bad reports and shale gas, and the least successful events during their governance. And I think it’s important to not let those issues drop.

CUP: And finally concerning statements by Marois that some characterize as racist and xenophobic —notably the institution of French test for candidates running for public office — what is your view on these statements?

BB: There is already a test for immigrants to Quebec so there’s nothing revolutionary there. It’s already there; it’s just not a standardized test. We are just asking people to have command of French because for Canadian immigrants, you must have a good knowledge of French or English. In Great Britain, you cannot work in the country if you do not have a good knowledge of English — that’s how it works in most countries all over the world. How can you integrate someone into society if you cannot communicate with that person?

CUP: Do you see an irony between the two positions you are seen to represent; being against tuition hikes but for a French test that targets certain communities?

BB: I think it’s two separate things; tuition fee hikes because we think education should be affordable for everyone but, on the other side — [and] it’s two separate things — we think that we need to have a common language to be able to talk together. In Ontario and the rest of Canada, people speak English and understand themselves in one language. If the government can’t say something to the people, we have a big problem.

Right now, there’s a problem that is that more and more people don’t speak French at home in Quebec and for us it’s a huge concern.

For the moment there is already a French test to become a citizen of Quebec, but there is no real verification, there’s no real standardized test. What we want is to make sure people have a real understanding of French when they arrive here in Quebec.

I think it’s a matter of giving the immigrants all the chances they need to be integrated into the society and to emancipate themselves, because I think many people are arriving here in Quebec and they are really frustrated because they have difficulty integrating themselves. But maybe if we were giving people more tools to learn French and if we were saying to them at first, you need to speak French to come here, I think it would be easier for them to become part of the society.


The art of thanks

(Photo courtesy of lindsay.dee.bunny via Flickr Creative Commons)

HALIFAX (CUP) — I have vivid memories of my mother making very detailed lists on Christmas morning of who got what from whom. She would then pass the lists out to my sister and I with a cheery, “Remember to write your thank-you cards as soon as possible!”

But much to my mother’s chagrin, we never managed to write a single thank-you note. We would think about it, maybe even start one, but never follow it through to completion.

Recently, I received a bursary. Having gone through this process before, I know proper etiquette rules state that I should respond promptly with a short but well thought-out thank-you note. When I inquired at the financial aid office about what address to send the note to, I was met with some surprised looks.

What happened to the fine art of writing thank-you notes? I know they still sell thank-you cards in the greeting card aisle, but when was the last time anyone bought one and actually used it for its intended purpose?

Up until the 1960s, etiquette was a required subject taught in most schools across North America and Britain. These classes would teach children, in both elementary and high school levels of study, how to properly kneel at the altar, which fork was for what and how to write proper letters. Children learned that the timing of a thank-you note was the difference between merely following etiquette rules and having a high degree of class.

But our society just isn’t that formal anymore.

Social graces today reflect our digital identities. There are, for example, unwritten social rules about when it is and when is not appropriate to friend someone on Facebook. But when it comes to formally saying thank you, very few people know the rules about when or how to say it.

According to etiquette specialists, a thank-you note is absolutely required for the following major life events: bridal shower or baby shower gifts; holiday, birthday, Bar/Bat mitzvah, graduation and housewarming gifts; and sympathy letters, flowers, mass cards or donations made in the deceased’s name.

A formal thank-you note should not be 140 characters or less, and should be done by hand. Letters in your own handwriting are personal; they show you are genuinely grateful for something. Online communication lacks a human quality, even if you use every emoticon you can find. When you are really thankful, an email or (God forbid) a tweet just won’t cut it.

I dare you to sit down and write a thank-you card to someone who has recently done or said something that meant a lot to you. Take the time to pick up a pen, dig out some stationery and pay for the postage stamp.


CFS marks 30th anniversary, prepares for new day of action

Around 250 student delegates met in Gatineau for the four-day conference. Photo by Antoine Trépanier/CUP
OTTAWA (CUP) — The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) celebrated its 30th anniversary last week at its 60th semi-annual national general meeting held just outside of Ottawa. Nearly 250 delegates convened in Gatineau, QC to discuss student issues at the twice-yearly event, this time held from Nov. 22 to 25.

Feb. 1, à la rue!
Campaigns, budgets and executive reports were all debated and passed, but the overarching theme of the four-day-long conference was the upcoming national day of action on Feb. 1, 2012.

Keynote speakers Justin Trudeau, Liberal member of Parliament, and Nycole Turmel, NDP interim leader of the Official Opposition, both pledged their support for Feb. 1, much to the appreciation of delegates.

“This year is really defined by the national campaign,” said CFS national chairperson Roxanne Dubois.

According to the CFS, the Feb. 1 protest will be multifaceted, targeting the reduction of tuition fees, reduction of student debt and increased education funding.

For Dubois, two topics stood out at this year’s national general meeting.

“The ‘Education is a Right’ campaign and the day of action obviously are one, because we’ve actually been able to talk about it in various caucuses, and different constituency groups were able to identify some materials that would enable them to connect to the campaign more directly,” she said.

The second was the soon-to-be-launched “No Means No” website and mobilization to prevent violence against women in the lead-up to the Dec. 6 commemorative events in remembrance of the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal in 1989.

Election of a new national chairperson
During closing plenary, delegates voted for their new national executive for 2012–13: the national chairperson, the national deputy chairperson and the national treasurer.

Candidates in each category ran unopposed and all were elected.

Adam Awad, current national deputy chairperson, and originally from the University of Toronto Students’ Union, will take the position of national chairperson. Jessica McCormick of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union will become national deputy chairperson and Michael Olson of the Vancouver Island University Students’ Union will become national treasurer. All three will officially assume their new positions next spring.

“I’m actually really excited to have such a diverse [team of] at-large members … I’m really excited to be able to work with three incredibly strong provincial components and to bring the lessons that they’ve learned from the different parts of the country and I think it’s really important to not just have an Ottawa-centric, and Ontario-centric, perspective on how to get the message out,” said Awad on his election.

“I’m really excited to be able to continue working past this year, to continue working for students all across Canada.”

Thoughts from a newcomer

Mark LaRiviere of Trent University had the last words from the floor at closing plenary and though his first experience at a CFS national general meeting left him feeling motivated, he had some reservations about its structure.

“I was told, odds are if you’re a white, male, undergraduate student, [and] heterosexual, then there’s very few constituencies that you can fit in,” said LaRiviere.

Constituency groups are “composed of individual delegates who share a common characteristic as recognized by the federation,” such as students with disabilities, francophone students and international students.

“It’s very established within the structure of the federation to create a space for groups that are traditionally excluded from many decision making processes, and so that’s the recognition of very evidenced social inequalities that we recognize and that we allocate a space for,” said Dubois.

“I feel strongly towards many of the issues … it was a bit of a downer, just because I felt like I could definitely be an advocate for a lot of them,” said LaRiviere, who did not end up participating in any of the constituency groups.

Overall, the meeting was characterized by a strong sense of unity among delegates, and there was very little variance in discourse.

For the next two months, the national office will be concentrating on the planning and roll-out of the upcoming national day of action.

“Over the next two months, the work of the national office … will be to [provide resources to] all of the local communities and campuses that will be organizing for the day of action, with whatever they need,” said Dubois. “And to try and keep a national vision for our goal and for our campaign of putting ‘Education is a Right’ out there — and really trying to garner public and media and community support for accessible education in Canada.”

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