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Alexandre Shields August 3, 2012
Original French text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/elections-2012/355970/une-treve-avant-un-sommet
Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois kicked off her election campaign with a tour of Montreal’s streets and public markets to meet citizens.
The Parti Québécois is presenting itself as the only party that can resolve the student conflict.
The student conflict is central to the early stages of this campaign and the Parti Québécois is hoping to stand out as THE party capable of resolving a crisis that has dragged on for months. Pauline Marois pledged yesterday to organize a summit on university funding and administration to overcome the impasse. But between now and the September 4th vote, both the PQ leader and candidate Léo Bureau-Blouin are appealing to students to respect a “truce” and suspend protest.
If elected, the Parti Québécois promises to throw out Bill 78, imposed by the Liberals this past spring to quell the student movement. Likewise for the Charest government’s 82% tuition increase. All within the first 100 days of an eventual mandate.
But a Marois government would also hold a summit in order to find a solution to this sensitive issue. Students, government, and civil society —unions and management— would all have a place at the table. According to the PQ leader, a meeting would allow all parties to have a voice and be heard. The university student federation (FEUQ) has announced that it is ready to participate. The PQ has defended the idea of a simple indexation of tuition fees based on cost of living. But Pauline Marois affirmed yesterday that no options would be ruled out, including the idea of free tuition.
Léo Bureau-Blouin, questioned several times on the issue at his riding office in Laval-des-Rapides, denied renouncing his support for a tuition freeze, a position he championed as president of the college student federation (FECQ). “As a candidate and potential MP, I’ll continue to hold the same convictions that I held as a student representative. But I’m first and foremost a man of consensus. I think this summit will not only allow us to arrive at a consensus on the tuition question but also go beyond the simple debate for or against a tuition freeze.”
He feels it is important to address other issues as well like housing, financial aid and student debt repayment. However he did not comment on whether he considered indexation an obstacle to accessibility.
The PQ leader added that the “underfunding of universities” argument used by the Liberal Party to justify a $1625 tuition hike simply doesn’t hold water. She recalled that Quebec invests more for each student than the Canadian average.
Marois thinks it’s more important to look at university administration issues to avoid fiascos like the L’îlot Voyageur project and put an end to generous retirement benefits accorded to certain senior administrators. She also feels that the satellite campuses multiplying all over Quebec are too costly and create unnecessary competition between universities. She cites the amount of revenue lost because of these campuses at 56 million dollars.
University presidents may disagree
The sovereignist leader’s remarks could provoke strong reactions from the Quebec university presidents association (CREPUQ). The group recently sent a letter to all of the provincial parties indicating that their establishments were suffering from chronic underfunding. According to them, lost revenues amount to hundreds of millions annually.
Though the PQ claims to want to resolve the conflict over tuition hikes, both Marois and Bureau-Blouin stated yesterday they hope students will respect an “electoral truce.” “We have to take every precaution to avoid giving the Liberals an advantage,” said the young PQ recruit. This would mean student associations, expected to vote soon on the strike, putting the brakes on their movement.
“We always feel uneasy about others trying to influence our decision-making process. The decision to continue the strike or not can only be made by the students themselves,” replied CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Québec solidaire has also denounced the former student leader’s position.
Marois spent a good part of the day mingling amongst the crowds. Her tour included a long metro ride accompanied by several Montreal candidates and MPs, an obvious gibe at Jean Charest, who has to keep his itinerary secret up to the last minute for fear of running into any students.
The Parti Québécois has also committed to working to reduce dropout rates. Measures announced yesterday include the hiring of 600 “professionals” and the possibility of full- time preschool for four-year-olds and up in underprivileged neighbourhoods. Marois made these announcements while presenting the PQ candidate for Crémazie, Diane De Courcy, president of the Commission scolaire de Montréal.
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.