A full week of anti-austerity

Frigid weather remains, yet protests heat up

On Saturday, Feb. 28, what could be considered the closing protest of the eventful anti-austerity week started on a sunny afternoon at Place Émilie-Gamelin, practically hallowed ground for the city’s protest movements.


An ideological divide

Photo by Catlin Spencer

The highly anticipated summit on higher education organized by the provincial government began Monday morning, where Premier Pauline Marois clarified that the two-day conference would “establish an open dialogue” on post-secondary learning but would likely not reach a solution.

Following a whirlwind provincial election, the Parti Québécois announced the summit in September in an effort to appease all sides in the student movement crisis that rocked Quebec for months last spring. The minority provincial government cancelled the tuition fee increase of $325 per year over five years, and later $245 over seven years, imposed by the Charest Liberals upon taking office, effectively freezing tuition for the time being.

The conference was initially pegged to resolve the issues at the core of an ideological impasse over higher education.

Heavily guarded by the Montreal police, guests had to pass through three checkpoints before entering Arsenal gallery on William St. in Griffintown.

Day one

During the first day, Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne offered three proposals in relation to post-secondary education: create a provincial council to oversee universities, a law that would provide a framework for universities and a plan to hold institutions accountable for financing and budgeting.

In a meeting that lasted over 12 hours, multiple issues were discussed: the development of post-secondary funding, research, quality of education and accessibility.

While various concerns were voiced by participants, the most contentious issue of the day was the issue of tuition.

The PQ announced later in the evening that they plan to index university tuition at approximately three per cent annually, meaning that tuition will rise by $70 per year leaving student representatives feeling deceived.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, said that indexation would “punish” students and send the wrong message. “I’m telling you there will be an impact,” said Desjardins.

However, Duchesne said that the province can simply no longer afford the same rates and that a freeze would force Quebec into a crisis.

Lowering the expectations

The summit has been the subject of backlash the last few weeks, with university rectors only receiving invitations 10 days before the start of the summit. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum of McGill University blasted the provincial government, citing disorganization and poor planning before calling the conference “a joke.”

Concordia University is waiting on the results of the provincial conference to know when the additional funding promised by the PQ is coming — something that was promised to the university in the wake of the tuition freeze.

Protests throughout the day

Peaceful protests marked the first day of the summit, with a small contingent gathering outside Arsenal gallery in the early morning during guest registration. Approximately 30 protesters passed through the streets of Griffintown calmly without ever accessing the highly guarded building.

Similarly, a gathering of 20 demonstrators including professors, students and civilians congregated on Notre-Dame St. to reiterate their position on accessible education. The protesters did not mobilize, choosing instead to read poetry and sing in support of students in front of the building.

In the afternoon more than 1,000 protesters marched through the streets of downtown Montreal, leaving from Cabot Square. The protest was promoted by the Association pour une solidarité syndicate étudiante, the student association that backed out of the conference since free education would not be part of the discussion.

“We feel sort of betrayed by the Parti Québécois,” said Concordia University student Serge Del Grosso. “They say they support the student movement and are against the hikes and then they say they will index it.”

Del Grosso went on to say that those present didn’t want tuition to rise and genuinely believe free education is a possibility.

Protesters headed south before arriving at the summit, where police officers from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal and provincial police guarded the building. There was no intervention before demonstrators resumed their march east toward the downtown core.

The protest, though declared as illegal from the start, was largely peaceful. The SPVM reported two arrests. Police claimed that projectiles were launched and flags from some downtown hotels were removed by student protesters.

By 6:30 p.m. protesters had made it to Ste-Catherine St. and McGill College St. but by 7 p.m. most of the protesters left after tear gas was deployed. Several demonstrators met at Parc Émilie-Gamelin heading east but dispersed close to Beaudry Metro station.


Earlier Monday, several buildings were vandalized with red paint including the offices of Duchesne and of former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin. The Ministry of Education building located on Fullum St. was also covered in red paint.

Vandals wrote in white outside the offices of the minister responsible for Montreal, Jean-François Lisée, and several windows were also broken.

No arrests have been made in relation to those incidents.

With files from Robin Della Corte and Matthew Guité.


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.


Stomping out the hike?

Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

Concordia University announced that it will not be modifying the current tuition fee arrangement, which includes the increase tabled by the outgoing Liberal government, until it receives directives from the new Government of Quebec.

In a press conference following the Parti Québécois’ minority government victory, Premier-designate Pauline Marois announced her government will abolish tuition hikes by decree and annul Law 12.

Universities province-wide are waiting on official instructions from the newly formed government on what kind of adjustments will be made. Marois will officially become Premier Wednesday, Sept. 19.

Concordia University spokesperson Chris Mota explained that the setting of fees is not within the university’s discretion nor is the timing. The government decides it and universities must comply. In accordance with the increase set by the outgoing Liberal government, Concordia charged a surplus of $254 per student for the academic year.

“Once the new fees were mandated, the increases went into effect,” said Mota.

Université de Montréal spokesperson, Mathieu Filion, confirmed that tuition fees for the 2012-13 academic year were decided before the elections, and that like Concordia, U de M is waiting on the government’s instructions. McGill University spokesperson Julie Fortier also confirmed with The Concordian that McGill took a similar stance.

It is not clear yet on how university students will be compensated across the province, whether it be by a credit system applicable to the following term or by full refund.

“The university certainly budgeted with the increase in mind,” said Mota. “However, we were prepared to adjust the budget in the event that the increase was reversed,” she explained. “All Quebec universities have been quite vocal about the need for increased funding. Where that funding comes from is up to the government to decide.”

Along with educational institutions, many student groups also voiced their concern over the fact that the increase was implemented before the election campaign began. Concordia Student Union President Schubert Laforest told The Concordian that he hopes Concordia administration has a backup plan to deal with this turn of events.

“I hope the university has a bulletproof plan to deal with this roll back in a sustainable way for when it does happen,” said Laforest, “as opposed to [having] the situation crash and burn because it wasn’t planned for.”

Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec President Martine Desjardins expressed that it’s a troubling situation with the repeal of the tuition fee increase.

“I think the majority of students were surprised to see the tuition increase on their bills while we were in the middle of an election campaign,” said Desjardins. “To see that they were so eager to have students pay will only cause [universities] more administrative headaches to in turn refund students.”

VP external affairs of the Student Society of McGill University, Robin Reid-Fraser explained that there was a lack of communication between the institution and students regarding the tuition increase.

“McGill was very much planning that the increase was going to happen and fit it into their budget. It is not clear that McGill was really considering a plan B despite everything that was happening with the strike,” said Reid-Fraser.

According to Desjardins, representatives of the FEUQ plan to meet with the Minister of Education in the days following his or her appointment. She estimates it will take up to a week before they will be able to transmit any new and clear information about the current situation. Desjardins said she believes that the PQ will not back down on its decision to cancel the tuition fee increase.

“It wasn’t just a promise; it’s a commitment,” said Desjardins. “A government that pledges so forcefully simply can not backtrack.”


Fight against tuition hike ‘far from over’

Photo courtesy of FEUQ President Martine Desjardins.

MONTREAL (CUP) — Despite a Parti Québécois victory in last week’s provincial election, student leaders say the movement is far from over.

“This is not a complete victory,” said Éliane Laberge, president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec. “It’s going to be a complete victory when the Parti Québécois is going to cancel the tuition fee increases.”

Also, speaking at the election result party hosted by two of the largest student federations, Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec President Martine Desjardins expressed doubt that the election would put an end to student demonstrations.

“It’s only a baby step,” she said. “This is not the end of the mobilization. Our goal is not obtained yet; we need a resolution and a real outcome.”

Jérémie Bédard-Wien, an executive of Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale, said that for students the main course of action in the coming days would be to “keep the pressure on the government” to ensure the PQ follows through on its promises concerning education.

“The Liberal hike has been cancelled however the PQ’s vision is very similar to the Liberals and we expect them to propose an indexation of the fees on the cost of living. This is not something that we consider acceptable,” said Bédard-Wien on the PQ’s proposed education policies.

The day after the election, Premier-designate Pauline Marois stated in a press conference her intention to order by decree the abolition of the Charest government’s tuition hike, to abolish the controversial Law 12 and convene a summit meeting to discuss higher education. The same day Marois reportedly called Desjardins personally to state the importance of settling the student conflict.

Whether the PQ will be able to implement its promises remains to be seen according to Concordia political science professor Harold Chorney who specializes in public finance and policy.

The economic viability of abolishing the tuition hike is realistic to Chorney, but he noted that the details of the “financing formula” could cause problems — particularly if the province’s budget, passed by the National Assembly every March, runs a deficit as a result.

“Governments have to present and get approved in the assembly a budget and if you stand outside of the budget you are in political trouble,” said Chorney.

Marois promised to abolish the tuition hike through an order in council, a process that, theoretically, could be issued by the minister of education unilaterally.

“It’s an interesting gambit that Pauline Marois is going to try to play and something I actually agree with — I think there ought to be what she suggests, a tuition fee hike freeze until they figure out a better way of financing higher education. That’s a good idea — but that doesn’t mean that’s going to be politically winnable.”

Marois’ final promise in her first address as premier-designate was a promise to convene a summit on higher education — a step that university rectors and staff have wanted to take for years, according to Concordia University political science professor Guy Lachapelle.

“We never had the debate about the place of education in our society and I think that’s very important,” he said. “I think it will be very interesting to watch – to see who’s nominated to be the chair, to sit on the commission,” Lachapelle added. The details of the summit have yet to be made public.

The upcoming summit will be the next major focus for CLASSE as it will be a key opportunity to communicate the associations’ plan for education, said CLASSE executive Bédard-Wien.

“We’ve always fought for a radically different vision of education — education free from tuition and from the corporatization — and so we’ll keep fighting against that and so, of course, the summit is a crucial point in that strategy,” he said.

According to Bédard-Wien, the real victory for the student movement is the central role issues and debates around education assumed throughout the general student strike.

“The strength that we built through leverage in numbers allowed us to put these debates on the political map and the fear that such momentous times in Quebec society will replicate itself is the main reason why the PQ is actually following up on these promises now,” he said.


Negotiations at an impasse: Education Minister

Negotiations between student leaders and the provincial government have come to a halt as the talks concerning the tuition crisis broke down in Quebec City on Thursday.

According to a statement from Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, the negotiations have reached an “impasse” and there is no going forward.

The government offered a new deal to student leaders during negotiations which would reduce the tuition increase to $219 a year over seven years for a total increase of $1,533. They also offered a second option of a small increase in the first year, followed by $254 a year over the next six years, which amounts to almost the same $1,625 total increase which was originally offered.

The representatives of the four major student organizations present at the meeting rejected both of the provincial government’s offers.

“For the student leaders it was a moratorium or nothing,” Courchesne said at a press conference held Thursday.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, expressed her disappointment with the failed negotiations publicly.

“Students have continued to make offers,” said Desjardins. “The government had already moved on to other things.”

At the press conference, Premier Jean Charest stood by Minister Courchesne’s decision, reiterating the provincial government’s previous offers to student leaders.

The Premier went on to say that the government would not bend to forms of intimidation or “threats” referring to the recent concerns that protesters would disturb Montreal’s Grand Prix next week as a pressure tactic. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, said that any comments made in relation to his organization were made in jest.

The latest attempts to solve the ongoing tuition crisis and civil unrest in the province have resulted in a dead end, but Charest emphasized that the discussion could be reopened in the future.

“We have made very important efforts but we’ve reached an impasse,” he said, “but the door is always open.”

Concordia Student Union News

CSU votes to reject offer from provincial government

UPDATE (11/05/2012):

As of Friday May 11, members from three of the province’s major student groups have voted to reject the Quebec government’s offer of proposed changes to their plan to increase university tuition fees in September.

Student unions represented by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and delegates of the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante voted overwhelmingly against accepting the latest deal aimed at ending student protests.

Their decision comes almost a week after the tentative agreement between students and the government was initially reached. Spokespeople from all three student groups helped form the now-rejected deal after 22 hours of negotiations with Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp on Saturday.

– – – – –

The Concordia Student Union unanimously voted to decline the provincial government’s second offer to striking student groups in a special council meeting on Tuesday night.

The special council meeting was held to discuss the recent offer made by the Charest Liberals to student leaders as well as members of the Conference des recteurs et des principaux des universites du Quebec. These negotiations led to the announcement of a tentative deal on Saturday. The offer was presented by leaders of the student movement during a press conference but will only be decided upon once general assemblies are held and the offer is put to a vote.

Approximately 50 Concordia students gathered for the assembly but only the elected council members were allowed to vote. Students were encouraged by CSU President Lex Gill to participate in the discussion portion of the meeting and voice their opinions.

Calling the media “intimidating,” Gill requested that all external media leave the meeting early on. All Concordia student media were welcome to stay for the duration, however, Gill invited mainstream media organizations to get in touch with her following the meeting.

“I’m going to try and not editorialize as much as possible,” Gill told students.

An appearance by Board of Governors Chair Peter Kruyt was met with disdain from some students and he left shortly after questions were raised about his presence.

The results were unsurprising as many university student associations and CEGEPs have voted to reject the government’s proposal during the week.

“I’m really glad we took the position that we took,” CSU councillor and student governor Cameron Monagle told The Concordian. “It was a really bum deal.”

The overwhelming rejection is meant to be a symbolic motion that the tuition increase, despite the deal, will not be accepted.

“This offer didn’t block the tuition increase and it was insufficient,” Monagle added.

The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the student organization which represents Concordia and many other Quebec universities, will hold its own vote on Friday, May 11.


Province presents new deal to student movement

Thousands of students took to the streets for the third night in a row on Friday in response to the Quebec government’s proposed adjustments to their plan to raise university tuition fees.

Calling the announcement an “insult more than an offer,” the demonstration swept through downtown Montreal, concluding with 35 arrests after rocks and bottles were thrown at police.

At a morning press conference held by Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp on April 27, they announced a six concessions which aim to appease students and end the 11-week strike.

The plan spreads the tuition hikes over seven years instead of five, with the total overall increase rising from $1,625 to $1,778. For the first five years, students would pay less than the originally proposed $325 per year, that amount increasing in the last two years.

An additional $39 million in bursaries would be added to Quebec students with family incomes of less than $30,000 a year. The plan also incorporates the creation of a new council to ensure better management of universities in Quebec and periodic evaluations of the impact of higher fees on education accessibility.

Reaction to the offer has not been positive, major student organizations arguing that it ignores the strike’s main goal of freezing tuition completely. Members of the Fédération Etudiante Universitaire du Québec will be voting on whether or not to accept the proposal in a week or so.


Senate wants Charest to talk to students

Concordia’s Senate unanimously passed a motion to send an open letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest, urging the government to facilitate dialogue between all parties involved in the student strike.

The Senate, the university’s highest academic body, discussed the academic implications of the strike at their meeting on April 20.

CSU President and Senator Lex Gill opened the dialogue by making reference to the recent fuss over Education Minister Line Beauchamp’s refusal to meet with the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale etudiante.

Last week Beauchamp extended an invitation to the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec to discuss university management, excluding the CLASSE from any negotiations unless they openly condemned protest violence.

“The only resolution to this conflict is for the education minister to sit down with the three student associations,” said Gill, a sentiment that the CSU voted unanimously to adopt at a special meeting held on Tuesday.

Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association President Maria Peluso said that the student strike movement should be commended for its organization and impact.

“Do you understand for a moment, what our students have accomplished?” asked Peluso. “That is an achievement we should be celebrating.”

Peluso stated that the administration should receive a “D minus” grade for dismissing the importance of student democracy.

“You make a serious error in assuming that only those voting in favor of the strike were supporting the strike,” she said.

Senator and part-time professor Dave Douglas put forward a motion at the end of the 45-minute discussion period asking that Concordia’s interim president Frederick Lowy write an open letter to Beauchamp.

Dean of Arts and Science Brian Lewis called it a “dangerous motion,” arguing that the university does not want to “bite the hand that feeds us.”

Senator June Chaikelson of the Arts and Science faculty suggested that the letter be written by Senate itself and served to Quebec Premier Jean Charest directly.

This change was widely supported by the group, including Lowy. “If there is a way of fostering [communication,] I am all for it,” said Lowy.

The motion was unanimously adopted. Gill said that she was pleased that Concordia’s governing academic body was able to do “something that is political while doing something that is right.”

Concordia Student Union News

CSU votes in solidarity with the FEUQ

UPDATE (25/04/2012):

On April 22, the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale etudiante unanimously voted to denounce deliberate acts of violence by student protesters and was allowed to enter negotiations.

However, tentative talks between student groups and the province fell apart after Education Minister Line Beauchamp banned the CLASSE once again from joining the discussion.

The minister’s decision came on April 25 in response to a violent student demonstration that took place the previous night. Though the CLASSE stated they did not organize the protest, Beauchamp said they were responsible in part for announcing the demonstration on their website.

As a result, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec and the Fédération étudiante collègiale du Québec have abandoned negotiations with the government unless the CLASSE is re-admitted. 

–   –   –   –   –

On Tuesday, the Concordia Student Union voted on a symbolic motion to support the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec’s  decision to stand in solidarity with another student group, during a special CSU meeting regarding negotiations with the government.

Education Minister Line Beauchamp offered to speak with the FEUQ and the Fédération étudiante collègiale du Québec on Sunday, after the FEUQ requested an independent government commission to investigate university management.

Beauchamp made it clear that there would be no discussion of the incoming tuition hike at the meeting, and that the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale etudiante would not be invited.

The CSU decided in a unanimous motion that it will only support negotiations between the provincial government and the student leaders if all student associations are invited.

Following a presentation by CSU President Lex Gill, the special council meeting was quickly voted into a committee of the whole, allowing for more informal dialogue and an open discussion for those present at the meeting.

Gill emphasized that at the last FEUQ meeting it was clear they were not willing to engage in negotiations without the CLASSE, who has been very active throughout the year in the fight against tuition increases.

“There is a consensus at the CSU that the CLASSE should be at that table as well,” said Gill.

Beauchamp stated earlier in the week that she would only extend an invitation to the CLASSE if the student association agreed to condemn acts of violence and vandalism as means of protest. CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said at a press conference held April 16 that while the association does not associate itself with these acts, it cannot condemn them. Nadeau-Dubois said the CLASSE would not change its position without consulting its members first.

“We find it unacceptable that our coalition, which represents 47 per cent of the people on strike right now, is being rejected from the negotiation process,” said Nadeau-Dubois on Monday. “If our coalition is not part of the solution, there won’t be any actual solution to the student strike.”

More protests are underway this week. On April 19, a morning demonstration is planned for the downtown core. That same day  in Gatineau, students will be protesting the injunctions ordered against striking students at L’Université du Québec en Outaouais. On Sunday April 22, students will join in what is expected to be a large march coinciding with Earth Day.

With files from Sarah Deshaies and Marilla Steuter-Martin.



Students take to streets of Sherbrooke

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Over 5,000 students and citizens attended a demonstration on Wednesday in Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s home riding of Sherbrooke.

Students bused in from across the province representing high schools, CEGEPs and universities which have been protesting the province’s tuition increases.

The Concordia contingent, which was organized by student union VP external Chad Walcott, lost a large number of supporters before the bus even left the Hall building.

Earlier in the day, about 60 students were arrested during a protest which occurred at the Eaton Centre shopping mall as well as the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Police say that those arrested were involved in “mischief” though it is not completely clear what the students have been charged with.

Walcott confirmed that a number of those arrested were Concordia students who were supposed to be on the bus, which departed at 11 a.m. Ultimately the group leaving from campus was quite small, with only six people travelling to Sherbrooke for the march.

The protesters congregated at the University of Sherbrooke and met up with an even larger group before walking all the way to the premier’s local office. Once there, students continued to cheer and chant as leaders of the movement made speeches.


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Quebec students set to strike March 22

MONTREAL (CUP) — After a day-long meeting on Jan. 21 in Quebec City, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) have reaffirmed the intention to strike on March 22 to protest rising university tuition fees.

But first, the individual member groups need to seek approval from their constituents.

“We have the mandate to ask our associations to go on strike, but first they need to ask their members if they want to, and then we will be able to say the FEUQ is on strike,” said president Martine Desjardins, who made the announcement with FECQ president Léo Bureau-Blouin in Montreal on Jan. 23.

The date was chosen earlier in December to coincide with the timing of the release of the finance minister’s budget. Desjardins said that FEUQ, the student lobby group that is often a government negotiator, has not been invited to sit in on the pre-budget consultation meetings that are now taking place.

FECQ president Léo Bureau-Blouin and FEUQ president Martine Desjardins reaffirmed the intent to strike on March 22.

After walking out of the same meetings in December 2010, she said their calls have not been answered by the finance department: “We asked them to talk with us. But they won’t do it.”

Several associations are planning longer strikes at different times, confirmed Desjardins.

“We talked a little about the different waves of strikes that are going to be happening,” said Chad Walcott, VP external for the Concordia Student Union (CSU), which is a FEUQ member. “Whereas some schools are going to strike earlier in February, and others later in March, [there’s] a wave of pressure that’s moving toward March 22 and the end of the academic year for that last push.”

On its own, the CSU is planning a school strike for March 26 to 29, a city-wide Montreal protest on March 1 and a sleep-in at one of Concordia University’s 24-hour libraries in February.

“I don’t think anyone’s officially ready to go on strike, but some departments are starting to talk about it,” said Walcott, who is working on a booklet for Concordia students who are considering strike action.

Desjardins added that a protest is also planned for Feb. 14, when the National Assembly returns from a break, and stunts will be staged at different campuses on a weekly basis up until March 22.

“There [are] a few things that we have to do, and it won’t be easy, and we know that,” said Desjardins. “But people are willing to do this and are very optimistic.

“We can make history [with this]. We held the second-biggest protest [in Quebec] on the 10th of November,” she added, recalling last semester’s day of action, when about 20,000 students marched to Premier Jean Charest’s downtown Montreal office. The day culminated with a handful of arrests and a confrontation between riot police and students on McGill University’s campus.

Charest has said the government will go through with gradual tuition hikes, beginning in fall 2012, to culminate in a total rise of $1,625.

Quebec permanent residents currently pay the lowest tuition fees in Canada, but FEUQ and FECQ, which represent about 200,000 students in universities and CÉGEPs across the province, assert that further tuition hikes could harm students’ finances.

The education ministry could not be reached for comment.

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