Quebec tuition protesters’ winning streak just never ends


Jacques Boissinot/CP Images

Bliss it is in this dawn to be alive, and to be young, Trotskyist, and a Quebec Cégep or university arts or humanities student or loosely-affiliated hanger-on is very heaven! What a time our friends are having. One of them’s on the cover of L’actualité! And that’s just the beginning.

The protesters have lately won a string of victories over the courts and over students who want to get to class and finish the academic year, but whose court injunctions to that effect have been voided by mobs of protesters blocking the students’ path. Then just over a week ago they forced the governing — oops, “governing” — Liberal party to decamp a party meeting from Montreal to Victoriaville under threat of violence. The protesters got their violence anyway, and they wrested a deal from Education Minister Line Beauchamp. It would have installed student representatives in a permanent governing directorate at every university in the province with a mandate to divert the schools’ finances from operations toward student-fee cuts. But Beauchamp and Jean Charest made the mistake of claiming not to have caved, and for their bravado the deal was rejected in wave after wave of (poorly-attended) student votes.

Then today Beauchamp resigned. So it’s going better every day. Guess who the protesters’ next trophy will be. No, guess. Think curly hair.

This morning’s La Presse had a column by Michèle Ouimet calling for Beauchamp to be removed from the negotiating table, so I guess Michèle gets part credit for today’s events. Elsewhere in the column she writes, “the government must negotiate because the street is getting more radical.” She lists verbal intimidation, smoke bombs, and threats against journalists among the protesters’ techniques, before calling on Charest to “resolve the impasse.”

By Ouimet’s logic, if the impasse isn’t resolved soon, it must be Charest’s fault and he too will have to be — what’s the euphemism? Oh yes — removed from the negotiating table. D’you suppose this hasn’t occurred to the blackmailers and smoke bombers?

Meanwhile you can have hours of fun by looking on Quebec universities’ websites for any hint or signal that the universities’ administrations support the tuition increases that are supposed to help them. While searching in vain for any hint that UQAM is still in some line of work besides extracurricular smoke-bomb design seminars, I noticed that it raised barely $6 million in its annual fundraising drive this year.

Not far away, but crucially outside Quebec, little Trent University, with one-quarter UQAM’s undergrad student population, is aiming for $50 million in its fundraising drive. It’s an imperfect comparison; Trent’s isn’t a one-year target. But it’s more ambitious all the same, and Trent can have that kind of target because for alumni and local grandees the idea of giving voluntarily to the local university hasn’t become some sort of sad joke, far from it.

Charest’s tuition policy for his first four years in power was to maintain the freeze he inherited from Bernard Landry. In his second term he increased fees by $50 a semester. After six years in power he decided at last to keep up. His goal today is to require, after four years, half as much in total tuition fees from students for a Quebec-standard three-year university degree as the average Canadian student outside Quebec pays for a four-year degree. I’m not saying he brought this on himself. No premier could deserve this mess. But his courage came to him late, and the price he is paying, in peace and dignity, is commensurately higher.



Quebec tuition protesters’ winning streak just never ends

  1. These students are fighting for their future. It is the sons and daughters of the working classes of Quebec that are fighting for their future and trying to get out of the cycle of
    poverty. I guess if you can afford to pay your school tuition like this middle class writer then it becomes a winning streak contest instead of a struggle against the cycle of poverty trap that most of the students are fighting against.

    • So now you are coming for the “middle class” as well? Pathetic poseur.

    • Income and parental education are one of the best predictors of university attendance. These protesters are, disproportionately, fighting for the government to subsidize well-heeled people. If this was about the sons and daughters of the working class, why not just fight to freeze the tuition of lower income people instead of everybody – destitute and Desmarais alike?

      Yes, it stinks that people graduating today face a tough job market. But if you think university graduates have it bad, look at the unemployment figures for people without degrees. It is substantially higher. Indeed, part of what is happening is that a bad job market is compounding the ordinarily unrealistic expectations young people have that a degree will quickly translate into riches and a professional career (the average HS grad thinks they will make $90,000/year within a decade of graduating).
      Quebec graduates – even after tuition hikes – will do so having paid the lowest tuition rates in North America. The cost of a world-class education at a place like McGill (I’m a U of T grad, so you can understand how hard it is for me to praise McGill) will run you less than the cost of a new car. Maybe these kids should protest their nearest Ford dealership instead.

      • Of course, most of the McGill students aren’t striking.

        • Your statement could apply to any Quebec university, when considering that none of the engineering, sciences, medicine & business (& also law, if I’m not mistaken) students are striking… from McGill or any other Qc university.
          Those studying in the above-mentioned disciplines did not have their courses disrupted, and will complete their studies on-time and as-planned.
          (For some reason, this is an under-reported fact in the media.)

          • Sure, but at McGill it’s the VAST majority of students who aren’t striking. The Faculty of Arts and Science voted not to strike. A few student groups voted to have 1-3 day strikes back in March, that are long over, but almost no students from McGill WHATSOEVER protested for more than a symbolic day or two.

            I do find it strange, all this media discussion of “striking Quebec students” with so little mention of the fact that something like two thirds of post-secondary students in Quebec are not on strike.

          • has a list of all student unions supporting the strike, and the # of students each union represents. It’s an interesting list, to see which unions support/oppose the strike.

            It’s true that McGil has the fewest students on strike, although Laval and Sherbrooke are not *too* far behind. Surprisingly, about 1/3rd of UdeM is on strike. I didn’t realize it was so high for UdeM.

            Also interestingly, ZERO Bishop’s U students are on strike, from what I gather.

          • I wonder if this is an English-French thing. In France, one of the challenges the government faces is that people tend to take the side of striking workers and protestors (unless the protestors are Muslim). In the English world, I perhaps our instincts are a bit more Burkean. I know that whenever I see a protest, part of me yearns for somebody to channel Prime Minister Bennett: “And we ask that every man and woman put the iron heel of ruthlessness against a thing of that kind!”

    • Data?
      What about the substantial changes announced to the bursaries and loans programs?
      Students struggling “against the cycle of poverty trap” that they “are fighting against”, will likely be better off!

    • Students from low- to middle-income families will actually be richer after having completed their studies than those from upper-income families, when considering changes to the bursaries program proposed by Charest (in the sense that their costs for tuition would be completely reimbursed, and then some).
      I recommend Googling “Les calcul de Luc Godbout explique que la CLASSE rejette l’offre qui enrichirait les étudiants.” Check out the video. Even if you don’t speak French, the spreadsheets are fairly self-explanatory.
      (I would post a link, but I believe Macleans/Disqus screens comments with links, and my comment would risk disappearing if I linked to it.)

  2. Well, just think. If the Liberal-of-convenience Charest hadn’t used his
    windfall from the feds to cheerily wave around tax cuts perhaps he
    wouldn’t now be faced with “sorry, kiddies, we need your bucks “.

  3. Charest is on the wrong side of history with this.

    And as a Quebecois, he should have known better.

    So now he’s between a rock and a hard place….serves him right.

  4. You know it’s one thing to give your opinion and another one to just misrepresent the facts in order to validate it. Charest and Beauchamp, when faced with over 200 000 students on strike and in the streets on March 22nd, did not budge. In fact, in 14 weeks of strike, they have not opened talks on the main reason for the strike: the drastic increase in tuition fees. The strikes are voted democratically by all the members and the injunctions are asked by a very small minority. And a big part of these students are not fighting for themselves since they will be gone by the time the hikes take full effect. They are fighting for everyone, even those that enjoy the injunctions will benefit from the gains that will be made. But there is nothing surprising about getting such a narrow-minded view from Maclean’s. Always in line with those who line their pockets, never a tender word for the masses that rally for higher causes. Another note: The majority of students voted against the offer, not even just the majority of those on strike.

    • Sibel: “The majority of students voted against the offer, not even just the majority of those on strike”.
      False! Or at least the data I’ve seen would indicate otherwise. Sure, the majority of unions rejected the agreement (often by large majorities), but participation in these votes was often very poor. At my son’s school, 450 out of ~ 6000 voted ( .I’m guessing that at the other CEGEPs mentioned in the linked article, participation rates were also under 10%. André Pratt writes this morning that for Concordia`s Graduate Students’ Association, only 74 of its 6000 members voted.

      Most of the students are not on the barricades, Most have not voted in strike votes or to reject the last offer (a collective silence I find bizarre) and 70% are still in classes. I expect students don’t want the fee increase, but most seem prepared to accept it. I doubt that at the provincial level, the student leadership is representing the views of the majority their members, they are certainly not serving their members best interests.

      P.S. it doesn’t matter if the number of students seeking injunctions is very small. An injunction is an injunction and the student unions and their more enthusiastic members should recognize their validity. The democratic vote of a student union (or a parliament) is not sufficient to strip someone of their rights. Such questions are invariably resolved via recourse to the law (to the benefit of many, including women, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, etc.,). This point and respect for the decisions of the courts are as much defining characteristics of a functioning democracy as collective decisions by majority votes.

  5. So, maybe Mulcair’s Anti-Alberta schtick was just a ploy to distract the media, and through the media – a wider Canadian public (who still cares), as to what a pathetic, childish, and failed society Quebec is

  6. I think, to address this mess, you have to go back to the ideas at its centre:
    (1) University education is a human right.
    (2) Human rights must be made available for free.

    I happen to disagree with both, but that’s because I’m a right-wing whack-job with a heart the size of a dust-mite. For your average NDP-or-Liberal-voting Quebecois progressive, it’s not clear to me that there’s ground on which to contest the protesters’ claims.

    • Although I do agree with you, to boil it down to “NDP-or-Liberal-voting Quebecois progressive” is a bit reductive. This right stems from the new social order that emanated subsequently to the quiet revolution and has permitted thousands of quebecers to elevate their status and better their lives through higher education. There’s a long history behind it that cannot be ignored.

    • This comment sounds very entitled to say that University education is a human right. Human rights are rights provided by your government through the social contract you have with it, and it does provide you with 13 years of free education if you count primary. University is further education and study which the government can offer, but not without pushing itself further into debt. This is the key because what we need to understand is that not everything can be provided for by a government. What disgusts me the most is that out of all the human rights your fighting is the lack of education for at this point it is a luxury. Food, water and shelter are basic human necessities which people are not getting and are DYING from lack of so that should be provided to those who can’t afford it. So fighting over an extra what, $400 dollars a year from people who can afford is ridiculous and petty human rights complaint.

  7. It sounds like significantly more franco males drop out of high school than go to university and that’s the real crisis facing Quebec. Entitled middle class kids are on strike to benefit themselves, it is ridiculous, Quebec society very narcissistic.

    Martin Patriquin – Apr 2012:
    “For Ross Finnie, the University of Ottawa economics professor and author of the study, part of the problem of low university enrollment is rooted in Quebec’s history. According to the study, young people are more likely to go to university if their parents did the same, regardless of family income …… Quebec has one of the highest high-school dropout rates in the country. Among male Quebec francophones, for whom the problem is particularly acute, one in four drops out of high school before completion, according to education ministry statistics.”

    • People on strike to benefit themselves. Shock horror!

  8. Geoffrey Miller ~ Spent:
    The irony about general intelligence is that ordinary folks of average intelligence recognize its variance across people, its generality across domains, and its importance in life. Yet educated elites meanwhile often remain implacably opposed to the very concept of general intelligence, and deny its variance, generality, and importance. Professors and students at elite universities are especially prone to this pseudohumility. They socialize only with other people of extraordinarily high intelligence, so the width of the whole bell curve lies outside their frame of reference.

    I have met theoretical physicists who claimed that any human could understand superstring theory and quantum mechanics if only he or she was given the right educational opportunities. Of course, such scientists talk only with other physicists with IQs above 140, and seem to forget that their janitors, barbers, and car mechanics are in fact real humans too, so they can rest comfortably in the envy-deflecting delusion that there are no significant differences in general intelligence.

    • You’re talking like IQ is something static, of course as you get older it’s harder to improve, but I have seen studies where they took ‘difficult’ kids and give them a good education, that increased their IQ by about 30% within a couple of years. People are as dumb as the status quo wants it to be.

  9. Interesting that he is coming out in support of Jean Charest’s Liberals.
    “Lucien Bouchard takes on Quebec’s ‘general malaise’ Today, at 73, Bouchard is a high-priced corporate lawyer. Many companies seek out his advice and the negotiating skills he developed through years of practising labour law, becoming Canada’s leader of the Official Opposition and then Quebec’s premier.
    He recently became a spokesman for the companies seeking to develop the controversial shale-gas industry in Quebec. When I pointed out to him that many student leaders would say that he represents the greedy older generation, the fat-cat one per centers, Bouchard says that is a diversion. That has become an element of today’s debate, he laments —
    “You know, ‘I don’t contest your arguments I don’t attack the logic of your argument, but I don’t like you because you’re rich, because you’re this, because you’re that'” — and he feels that kind of argument diminishes people.
    “I don’t think it’s about rich and poor people,” he says of the current situation, reminding me that his father was a truck driver who sacrificed much so that his children would have a university education. That was a choice that many families made and he questions the fairness of the current low-fee system that effectively forces lower-income taxpayers to fund the education of people who will enter high-paid professions shortly after graduating.
    “Many of those students will, of course, be very successful in life. They will be doctors or lawyers, dentists, finance people. “So it doesn’t make sense that this training, sometimes very expensive, is paid by the average taxpayers.”

  10. Comparing UQAM to any mildly-respectable university in the country is an unfair comparison.
    Potential donors, and UQAM alumni, can be forgiven for NOT donating to a school notorious for fiscal mismanagement, incompetent leadership, and whose latest achievement is the years-old skeletal 8-storey structure of a mostly-abandoned construction project in fairly-prime downtown Montreal real estate.
    Frankly, I’m surprised they were able to scape up 5M$ after such fiascos.
    Furthermore, it’s most probably the least-respected university in Montreal. UdeM, McGill and Concordia are far more respectable institutions.

  11. It bothers me when people- especially in the media- compare Quebec’s tuition with that in the rest of Canada. It’s not the same. We pay low tuition, yes, but the universities tack on fees for everything from administration to new building fees to recycling fees and these fees nearly double the actual cost of attending universities. Notice how in the rejected deal, the tuition increase was offset by lowering these fees? Exactly.

    • The fees are higher because the tuition is regulated so low. The Quebec Unversities need some way to scrape together funds, because they can’t charge a reasonable tuition. Except raising tuition is far more equitable and efficient than charging the various fees to which you refer.

  12. Charest had common sense and public opinion on his side, so he caved. What a moron!

  13. This is ridiculous…..the protest is ridiculous…….get these houlighans off the street. Do Quebecers honestly think that Provinces like Alberta are gonna watch transfer payments that they are basically funding, go to Quebec in the form of 4 billion and have lower tuition than their own province. I was born in Quebec and not very proud of it these days. Spoiled brats is what you are, Quebecers!!!