Last Spring’s Quebec Student Protests
You may remember that last spring students went on strike and started demonstrating because Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government planned to increase tuition fees from $2,168 to $3,793 between 2012 and 2017 ($1,625 over five years = $325.00 a year). To my knowledge, Quebec students were then paying less than half the tuition fees students pay in other Canadian provinces. The increase was therefore reasonable.
Student demonstrations began and events became disorderly. In particular, students who wanted to complete their academic year were treated like strike breakers or “scabs.” Consequently, on 18 May 2012, former Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government passed a bill into Law, Bill 78.[i] The new law, an emergency law, was An Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend (L.Q., 2012, c. 12 / Laws of Quebec, 2012, chapter 12). (See Bill 78, Wikipedia.)
However, Bill 78 did not deter students. On the contrary. The student demonstrations were led by student unions, such as the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, and supported by workers unions, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux and the Canadian Union of Public Employees. So the students grew more defiant. On 22 May 2012, between 400,000 and 500,000 people marched in downtown Montreal.” This march has been called “the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian History.” (See 2012 Quebec student protests, Wikipedia.)
Pauline Marois as Fairy Godmother
Suddenly, as demonstrations raged, Madame Pauline Marois, the leader of the Parti Québécois, an indépendantiste party, started supporting the students whose demands grew bolder. At first, the students were protesting the increase in their tuition fees proposed by Monsieur Charest’s Liberal government, but matters changed. After Madame Marois stepped in and during the months that preceded the Summit, the students were asking for a tuition-free education.
It would be my opinion that Madame Marois knew very well that the increase Monsieur Charest’ Liberal government proposed was altogether acceptable, not to say insufficient. However, Pauline Marois needed votes and got votes. On 4 September 2012, she was elected Premier of the Province of Quebec.
It was not an overwhelming victory. Pauline Marois leads a minority government, but the students provided enough votes for her to be elected. She seemed their fairy godmother and when she took office, the students’ planned tuition increases were repealed by a decree from Madame Marois’ Parti Québécois government. Without the support of Quebec’ students, I doubt Madame Marois would have defeated Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government.
The Summit on Education
But now, at the conclusion of an expensive Summit on Education, a mere show, Madame Marois has announced that tuition fees would rise by 3 per cent annually. This increase is almost identical to former Quebec Premier Charest’s proposed increase. Therefore, it turns out that Madame Marois misled students into thinking she would protect their interests.
So allow me to bemoan, once again, the behaviour of Quebec Premier Pauline Marois. She manipulated the students into thinking she would be an ally, and they believed her. I should think there are more honourable ways of being elected to the premiership of the province of Quebec.
Toronto Star journalist Chantal Hébert has stated that “[i]n the wake of Marois’ victory, the student leadership had cause to believe that it would secure a coveted tuition freeze. The recurrent 3 per cent annual increase that the premier has now resolved to implement does not live up to those expectations.” I believe Madame Hébert is absolutely right. The students did believe that, if elected into the office of Premier of Quebec, Madame Marois would be their salvation.
Pierre Duchesne and Jacques Parizeau
During the months and weeks preceding the Summit, Monsieur Pierre Duchesne, Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, made it very clear that a tuition-free education was not in the works, which should have deterred students. In fact, he made himself so clear that many Québécois and Quebecers wondered why the Summit was taking place. It seemed an exercise in futility at a huge expense, which it was.
But, as mentioned above, the students believed Madame Marois. Moreover, as Pierre Duchesne was stating that a tuition-free education was out of the question, former Parti Québécois leader and Premier of Quebec Jacques Parizeau was expressing the view that “free tuition [was] a realistic option.” (See the report of Montreal Gazette‘s Quebec Bureau Chief Kevin Dougherty.)
Students were, of course, bitterly disappointed when news came that the Marois government would implement an increase in tuition fee, even if it is lower than the increase Premier Charest’s government had proposed. This year, the 3 per cent increase will be $65.04. Some protested and a few paid the price. On 25 February, there was one arrest (see cbcnews) and on February 26th, there were ten (see presstv.com). Madame Marois had made false promises and the Summit on Education was yet another political ploy: a turquerie[ii]. Madame Marois was trying to bow out gracefully, but did she?
I hope the students will remember that Madame Marois used them to get votes and that, consequently, they will be less likely to support her and her Parti Québécois (PQ) in a future bid for re-election. I also hope they will be less likely to support separation from Canada in a referendum.
Madame Marois has not announced a referendum, but a referendum usually follows the election to the premiership of Quebec of an indépendantiste leader and Party. At any rate, a referendum is very much on the mind of former Parti Québécois Premier Jacques Parizeau. (See Montreal Gazette & Montreal Gazette)