Students in Quebec face a big decision right now. CEGEPs and universities are legally required to reopen before the end of August to finish off the terms that were put on hold when students boycotted classes to protest tuition hikes this spring. If they continue to skip, they’ll lose their semesters.
Almost all shuttered CEGEPs will reopen by Aug. 17. Universities will also reopen later in the month. The Université du Québec à Montréal, most widely affected by the boycotts, reopens Aug. 27.
Conveniently for Premier Jean Charest, there’s an election scheduled for Sept. 4., just a couple weeks after when—in his own words—the public must choose between classes and “the street.”
If the return to classes is marked by violence, as it was during several attempts to reopen shuttered schools in the spring, public opinion will most likely drift further away from the student movement, thereby increasing the chances Charest’s Liberal government stays in power.
That appears to be exactly what he wants. It also happens to be exactly what the opposition Parti Québécois, which supported the students by wearing Red Squares, desperately wants to avoid.
On Wednesday, Charest told reporters that he doesn’t expect there to be disruptions when students return to classes. That’s naive at best. CEGEP administrators have already started meeting with police to discuss security plans and later that afternoon Montreal police clashed with protesting students.
Meanwhile, the PQ and their star candidate Léo Bureau Blouin, the 20-year-old who led the student federation that represented skipping CEGEP students, has called on his peers to return to classes until after the election. The PQ has also promised to cancel the proposed tuition hikes and withdraw Bill 78.
While a return to school would be a pragmatic move on the part of students who want a PQ victory, Quebec’s anti-tuition movement isn’t exactly known for its pragmatism.
It’s unsurprising then that social work students at the Université de Montréal and some humanities students at Université de Sherbrooke voted against returning to classes. On Tuesday social science students at Université du Québec à Montréal also voted to continue their boycott, despite a warning from the university that they won’t get another opportunity to make-up for lost time.
At Cégep de Saint-Jérôme, where around 250 of the school’s 3700 students voted to continue their boycott, administrators said that they expect around 87 per cent of students to return next week.
It’s still too early to know what will happen next week, but PQ leader Pauline Marois seems cautious. She’s now calling for a review of the rules governing student associations.
Oh, and there’s another factor that could make this even messier. At least 200 university and CEGEP teachers have said that they won’t teach if students vote to continue their boycott. Under Bill 78, those teachers could face fines of $1,000 to $5,000 for each day that they don’t work.