University students in Quebec continued their fight against annual $325 tuition increases on Nov. 10, protesting in large numbers by skipping classes. Classes were even cancelled at Dawson College and students marched in the streets of Montreal.
It was well organized and peaceful. To get a sense of that, consider that marshals in fluorescent vests helped defuse the tense moments between protesters and police outside Charest’s Montreal office where things might have become violent. Although the sight of riot police on campus is always disturbing, there was only a small cadre of roughly 100 students outside the McGill Administration building when police moved in.
But as big and peaceful as the demonstration was, will it change anything?
Although the 2005 student strike ended with the government giving in to some student demands, Thursday’s much shorter “strike” takes place in a much less friendly political climate and a much more uncertain economy. Even as students were marching in Montreal, education minister Line Beauchamp stood up in the National Assembly to reiterate that students must pay “their fair share.”
It’s easy for her to have such bravado. Premier Jean Charest faces no threats on the left who might gain from angry student voters. The Parti Québécois, the only other party to have formed government in this province since the 1970s, is tearing itself apart.
At the moment, Charest’s biggest political threat comes from the right. François Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister, and his centre-right Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec (CAQ) are leading in recent polls. The Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), a right-wing party with four seats in the National Assembly, is entering into formal negotiations with the CAQ concerning a potential merger.
Legault is on the record saying that students in programs which lead to higher paying jobs should pay more tuition. Considering that kind of thinking, it’s safe to bet that students wouldn’t find a CAQ government any more supportive of their demands.