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For more useful English-language sources on the conflict, see:
Staff note: Le Monde, one of France’s most important newspapers, has published a series of articles by notable Quebeckers on the student conflict, entitled Au Québec, les raisons d’un soulèvement, or, In Quebec, the causes of an uprising. This article is the opening letter by Jean Charest. The following post will be Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’ reply. We will attempt to translate the whole series.
Jean Charest June 7, 2012
Many things have been said about the boycotting of classes by a minority of québécois students. Let’s discuss the facts.
Firstly, it’s important to take into consideration that at this time, over 70% of québécois students have finished their classes and trimesters as planned. However, another group, representing less than 30% of the student body, made the choice of boycotting their classes. Within this group, a significant number of students couldn’t attend classes they’d paid for seeing that access to their academic institutions had been blocked by students who chose intimidation to prevent them from attending classes.
It goes without saying that education plays a central role in society’s development and success. In light of this, Quebec must increase the funding of its universities, which are in trouble due to underfunding. Everyone must pitch in on this point : the State, the academic institutions, the private sector and the students.
After decades of debates, our government conducted a broad consultation in 2010. All the partners in the educational milieu were invited to discuss the issues surrounding the future of our colleges and universities. We led this exercise with rigor, openness, and frankness. Consensuses were reached. The government believes that it is now time to act.
On this question, our position is fair and just. It stems from our objective to ensure accessibility to all areas of study, to all students, and this, all while respecting the taxpayer’s capacity to pay. It should never be the case that tuition fees should be an obstacle to access higher education.
Let’s remember that tuition fees in Quebec are the lowest in North America. Quebec also offers the most generous loan and bursary program on the continent. The government is asking students to do their part by contributing towards what amounts to 17% of the cost of their education. That represents an annual tuition fee raise of 39 euro cents per day.
In order to ensure access to education, since March, we’ve subsidized the loan and bursary program and announced the setting up of a revenue-adjusted student debt reimbursement scheme. Nevertheless, certain student association leaders continue to campaign for a tuition freeze. They encourage boycotting classes in protest.
It is in this context that the government passed law 78, “an Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend”. This law means to guarantee access to education, to allow for students to safely attend their classes. It also is attempting to limit protests while ensuring individual safety, all while preserving the right to protest and the right to accessible education.
Quebec is a modern and democratic society with an independent judicial system. Our government has the obligation to protect its citizens, as stated in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec. In this respect, the scope of the freedoms and rights, and limits to their exercise, may be fixed by law.”
To conclude, let us be reminded that Quebec is a state of law and a democracy, expressing itself in one of the world’s oldest Parliaments. Our society possesses a long tradition of debates held in mutual respect. This is the Quebec I know and the one you appreciate.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.