Eye of the Storm

Graphic Eric Bent

While September typically means back to school for students, this year it means back to strike.

But the universities and CEGEPs that closed their doors early due to Bill 78 don’t even need to wait that long. The winter semester is slated to resume August 17 for the Université de Montréal and the Université du Québec à Montréal, as well as numerous other schools in the province, due to the contentious back-to-school legislation.

That date will mark the end of protest off-season. And if Premier Charest is going to hold a September election, the student movement will resurrect with a rumble.

Things have been quiet lately. The packed streets and ringing of casseroles largely petered out after Grand Prix weekend. But the student movement isn’t dead; it’s just biding its time. While the government is moving into campaign mode, we’ve been resting, waiting for round two.

Student groups have been focused on an information campaign. As this editorial hits the stands, members of CLASSE are touring through the Greater Toronto Area to spread their message of direct democracy to a province that has endured tuition hikes for the last six years.

For his part, Charest has not handled the student conflict well.

The government has been playing things politically, when they could have acted pragmatically to end this conflict months ago. We’re students, the polar opposite of this antiquated, bloated representative government. We don’t play the political game; we don’t need to. The strength of Quebec’s social unrest is rooted in the misdeeds of Charest’s nine-year reign. And now, it’s clear saving face is more important for him than solving problems.

The Liberals refused to negotiate with student leaders until it was politically impossible not to. They refused to negotiate with CLASSE until the face of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was all over the mainstream media. Charest didn’t show up to negotiations until Amnesty International was calling him out.

But this poor leadership bolstered the cause. The PLQ learned that a hard line against students is political suicide. Line Beauchamp, the former education minister, ended her career in provincial politics by resigning in the face of a stalemate in negotiations with student leaders. Her replacement, Michelle Courchesne, won’t be running in the next election.

The fate of Charest’s most recent ministers of education illustrates his scapegoating fashion. Charest has been separating himself from the students and student leaders as much as he can, trying to destroy the credibility they earned in the last several months, and the series of education ministers filing out the door is just collateral damage.

Charest doesn’t have a plan; he’s just trying to stay afloat, all the while letting the conflict fester and expand until it became the longest and largest student movement in Canada’s history.

CLASSE has already promised to follow him wherever he campaigns. Numerous Days of Action have proved Quebec student unions have no trouble packing thousands of protesters in buses to get their voices heard. It’s hard to imagine any large Liberal publicity grab going unchallenged by the red squares if their numbers endure.

If Charest decides to hold an election before the Charbonneau commission can resume and further reveal links between organized crime, the construction industry and the provincial government, the students will be ready, and The Link will continue to keep you informed on how to get your voice heard, both on the streets and in the ballot boxes.