Marie-Andrée Chouinard September 7, 2012
Original French text: http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/education/358624/obstacles-a-surmonter
After the issue was nearly absent from the electoral campaign, Pauline Marois had better believe that the financing of post-secondary education will be getting people fired up again. The tuition fee question remains unresolved after a spring of protest. What will it take to rally supporters of free tuition, a tuition fee freeze, indexed tuition fees, or a tuition fee increase? Talent? Imagination? Courage? A majority government?
Pauline Marois no longer wears a red square, and hasn’t been seen with a casserole again. But even without these symbols, the principles remain: Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Quebecois, confirmed this week that she will cancel the famous tuition fee increase, the cause of the social unrest we have witnessed.
The premier could effectively cancel the tuition fee increase — $254 per year for seven years, linked to a budget proposal dated March 2011 — even without the support of the opposing Liberals and CAQ. Students can breathe a sigh of relief. But it is only partial relief, and they know it. Despite Pauline Marois’ apparent openness to discuss, listen, and move forward, the PQ leader will find herself facing three sizeable problems: the elusive compromise that could unite opposing camps; the state’s financial incapacity to eventually freeze tuition fees and refinance universities; and the majority of the national assembly’s opposition to supporting anything other than a tuition fee increase.
For its financial plans, the PQ plans to cancel not only the increase that the Liberals put forward, but also all the “compensatory measures seeking to offset the effects of the tuition increase” ($150 M). Contrary to what CLASSE claimed yesterday in its press release, it will not be possible to keep extra money added to the financial assistance system. Dear students, having your cake and eating it too has never balanced a budget.
The special law, which would otherwise expire on July 1, 2013, is another thorn in the side of this 50-seat government (plus the two seats of Quebec Solidaire, who may support the PQ on this matter). The PQ criticized this law when they were in opposition, but they need the assent of the national assembly if they want to undo the law now that they have formed the government. Yet, the Liberals and Francois Legault’s CAQ do not see the antidemocratic character of this law. This is an imposing irritant.
Lastly, what about the university summit promised by Pauline Marois? It was supposed to get the affected parties together to bring forward all sorts of ideas about post-secondary financing. Don’t get me wrong, this idea had some good aspects. But it has been tried — more than once! — with no success. In 2004, a long parliamentary commission on the subject was unable to find the magic formula. Neither was the 2005 Gervais report on access to education, though it considered numerous studies of numerous scenarios, from increasing the cost of university, to making it free.
Students never recognized the latest attempt, the December 2011 Meeting of Partners, to settle the question of university finances in a forum setting: they shut the door on it because its agenda was set in advance. Mme Marois has promised a summit with no premeditated agenda, but she has clearly indicated her preference for indexing, rather than freezing tuition. This idea appeals to none of the student groups. Without a respectful forum, the opposite points of view will stay the same. Where will we find consensus?
Let’s hope that this spring has taught us something. Let’s not blindly go down the same dead end.
*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 email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.