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Paul Journet August 2, 2012
(Laval) CLASSE has rejected the appeal for a truce, put forward by Léo Bureau-Blouin, the PQ candidate for Laval-des-Rapides. FEUQ and FECQ remain “neutral.” The three student associations say they are nevertheless interested by the PQ’s idea of a summit about higher education, though they have some reservations.
Léo Bureau-Blouin says he doesn’t want to wade into student politics, but nevertheless, he does have one wish: that students “imagine an electoral truce.”
CLASSE believes Bureau-Blouin should have kept quiet. CLASSE co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was brusque: “There’s always a sense of malaise when people from outside the movement weigh in on the student debate to give advice.”
The return to classes is approaching and students are about to decide if they will take up the strike again. The first vote will take place on August 7 at Cégep Marie-Victorin, whose students were still on strike at the time that classes were suspended by the special law. Strike mandates remain in place because no one has voted to end them. CLASSE continues to defend those strike mandates, but will not try to influence its member associations when whose mandates come up for vote.
Marois and Bureau-Blouin have come out saying that it could help the Liberals if they take the strike back up during the electoral campaign, when no negotiations are underway. Among other things, the Liberals want to make the vote a referendum on the student conflict.
Nadeau-Dubois is not so certain. “We could turn this argument around,” he says. “People could also say that Liberals are inciting disorder and that their election will therefore resolve nothing. It’s hard to say, with 40% of voters undecided and the election just begun. Nothing is in play yet.”
Truce: FEUQ and FECQ stay neutral
FEUQ’s response to the prospect of an electoral truce is “neutrality.” “We want to let our members speak in their general assemblies,” said FEUQ president Martine Desjardins. Likewise for Éliane Laberge, president of FECQ. Still, she says she hopes students “will take all elements of the real context into account” before voting, including the fact that Liberals will derive “political capital” from their conflict.
Desjardins points out that university students will return to classes after Cegep students. The return to classes in universities will happen at the end of August. She says she is “cautious” for she fears “giving ammunition to the Liberals.” If there are protests with arrests or violence, “there is a danger of helping them.”
The leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, François Legault, has said since the start of the week that students have to return to classes in an orderly way. But he gives no credibility to the appeal for a truce launched by the Parti Québécois.
“Unless I saw wrong, I saw Mme. Marois in the street, encouraging protesters,” he decried. “Today, that same party is telling people to stop with the protests.”
Tuition fees: the PQ proposes a summit
The PQ has stated its position regarding tuition fees: within 100 days of taking power, the PQ would cancel the special law as well as the tuition increase. There would then be a summit on university financing, which would address tuition fees, university management, financial assistance, debt payback and student housing.
This summit would be made up of equal parts students, government and “civil society,” notably members of unions and management.
The maximum yearly tuition increase would be indexed to the cost of living. Bureau-Blouin says he will continue to advocate his own position, which is a tuition fee freeze. ”My convictions have not changed,” he said. He promises to act on them, but also “to listen,” and to be “non-dogmatic.”
Summit: FEUQ in agreement, CLASSE worried
CLASSE is satisfied with the PQ plan to abolish the tuition fee increase and the special law. And it is not opposed to the summit. ”If this allows for an in-depth discussion (of secondary studies), then it is a great idea,” thinks Nadeau-Dubois. But he worries that tuition fees will be indexed to inflation. And he is worried about the make-up of the panel. He would like “the university community” — students, teachers and their assistants, and support staff — to make up half the number of panel members. These groups will have to be represented in the “civil society” that Marois has referred to.
FEUQ and FECQ have also positively received the idea of a summit. While saying she is “vigilant,” FEUQ president Marine Desjardins is satisfied that the discussion panel will talk about university management, like advertising budgets and satellite campuses, as well as tuition fees. ”We have to talk about having universities collaborate, rather than compete with one another,” she said. She thinks a summit should cast a wide net and last a long time. ”We would not support a summit that lasts just one day,” she said.
FEUQ is still concerned that the PQ wishes that tuition fees be indexed to inflation. ”It’s interesting, to us,” says Desjardins. ”This part of their platform wasn’t agreed to by vote in their last congress, and it’s not based on evidence. ” ”Indexing to inflation is obviously not what we are proposing,” adds Laberge.
In Montréal for the night, Jean Charest said that Pauline Marois, “is getting a taste of her own medicine,” namely “intransigence,” since “even those she supports are refusing her solutions.”
“What is hiding behind her politics,” he asked? ”If she is saying she will cancel our policy, where is the money going to come from? Who is going to pay the bill? The middle class? Yes, Pauline Marois thinks highly of the middle class: she thinks they are a bank machine that keeps dispensing money.”
Marois: “Where is the money going?”
Marois points out that Québec invests $29,242 per student per year. This is more than Ontario ($26,382) and more than the Canadian average ($28,735). “Where is this money going?” she asks. She figures that universities have spent a million dollars on “golden parachutes” in the last two years, and $56M on satellite campuses.
The Conference of Rectors and Principals of Québec Universities says that it is precisely because it is difficult to reduce expenses that financing should be increased.
On May 5, 2012, student leaders and the government reached an agreement in principle that, if universities were able to make savings in management costs, those would be used to lower fees paid by students. But before student associations voted on the measure, Jean Charest hinted he was sceptical there were any money found to save. ”I have read the agreement, and the savings don’t come automatically,” he said. ”We hope to be able to find money to save, but it’s not automatic.”
— With Martin Croteau and Tommy Chouinard
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.