“Socially Responsible” Indeed

  • Graphic Eric Bent

There’s been some talk in the press lately about students who are pro-tuition hike.

Specifically, a group called the Mouvement des étudiants socialement responsables du Québec has been making waves; one of its members, Université de Montréal student Arielle Grenier, has been getting a lot of coverage after her pro-hikes stance earned what she called death threats.

The press’ interest in getting both sides to a story, and, perhaps, the strangeness of students actually wanting higher tuition, makes it worth covering, but after Grenier and the infamous death threats were the front-page story in La Presse on Thursday, it’s clear that there’s a muddying of the waters on a discussion that should otherwise be very straightforward.

On the one side, masses and masses of students—students who turn out by the tens of thousands for anti-hike protests, who face down riot cops, who are preparing to strike and who will continue to do so in order to protect their right and the rights of future students to affordable education.

On the other, a small but vocal minority of rich, politically affiliated students asking for higher tuition—painting it as the “socially responsible” thing to do—and getting a disproportionately high amount of press coverage in the process.

Last week, it was pointed out in an image macro on the UQAM Memes Facebook group that two of MESRQ’s spokespeople, Jean-François Trudelle and Marc-Antoine Morin—who appeared on French television station TVA recently, promoting the pro-hike cause—were both members of the Commission jeunesse du Parti Libéral du Québec, a training ground for Liberal Party hopefuls.

Grenier herself turned out to have ties to the Commission jeunnesse as well, along with being the daughter of an ex-Liberal MP.

It wasn’t long before the conflict of interest horse here was flogged well to death. La Presse blogger Patrick Lagacé grilled Trudelle about her lack of disclosure and attempts to dance around the subject in interview, but Lagacé’s superiors turned around and boosted the MESRQ cause the next day by painting Grenier—and her rich politico compadres—as the victims.

I don’t condone death threats, but it’s a sad reality of the nature of the situation—the anti-tuition hike movement is large enough, wide-ranging enough and passionate enough to produce some who would go too far. The actions of a few nutjobs should not colour the coverage of the greater whole, however.

Meanwhile, the MESRQ has the gall to tell us that their agenda—which will, increased bursaries or not, ultimately equate to shutting out thousands out of a university education—is somehow “socially responsible.”

The people heading up this movement are rich student politicos for whom the concept of a university education was never in doubt. They’re on the fast track to careers with major political parties or big businesses. They don’t care about the students deep below the poverty line.

They don’t care about the effect that the hikes will have on people whose parents aren’t paying their tuitions, on single mothers, on people without affluent connections for whom a degree is the only shot at a life free from the jaws of want and debt.
If there’s a better description for ‘socially ir­­­­­responsible’ than people throwing their generation—and future generations—under the bus in order to advance their own political careers, I’d be happy to hear it.

In the mean time, all those reminding students that Quebec tuition’s already comparatively low, all those telling students they can’t have both an iPhone and a leg to stand on when it comes to opposing the hikes, all those accusing students of being whiny, selfish troublemakers, to you we say this:

The students may be many things. We may be idealistic. We may be causing a stink. We may be alienating people instead of converting them to our cause.

But we are not equal parts for and against the hikes.

The MESRQ does not deserve equal screen time just because they have an opposing point of view. They do not represent some silent majority. The green squares do not outnumber the red squares, and rightly so.

Whatever the outcome—whether we strike, whether we affect political change, whether the roar of our voices thundering as one gets the Liberals to sit up and take notice—let’s not pretend the MESRQ are socially responsible. They are an out-of-touch minority trying to deny their fellow young people their rights.

Socially responsible, my ass.

Alex Manley
Copy Editor

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