FEUQ and FECQ Try to Get Out the Youth Vote

Quebec Student Federations Publish Electoral Demands Ahead of Provincial Election

FECQ president Éliane Laberge (left) and FEUQ president Tierry Morel-Laforce (right) speak at a press conference about the student federations’ electoral demands on March 13. Photo Michael Wrobel

Two of the student federations representing Quebec university and CEGEP students have put forward a list of demands ahead of the provincial elections taking place April 7.

The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec jointly presented their electoral demands at a press conference on Thursday. The Concordia Student Union is a member of the FEUQ.

“The question of youth participation in elections has never been solved, so we have work to do—the student federations—since we are in direct contact with our members,” said FECQ president Éliane Laberge.

“We are putting tools in place to ensure that youth turnout increases, but we expect the political parties to respond to some of the electoral demands of young Quebecers, in terms of the accessibility of education, in terms of the governance of college and university institutions, but also in terms of the place of young people in state-owned enterprises and consultative and decision-making bodies.”

The last provincial election in September 2012 was held after months of protests against university tuition hikes proposed by the then-Liberal government. The Parti Québécois formed the government after the election and decided to index tuition to annual growth in disposable income.

The FEUQ and FECQ have not wavered from the position they adopted during the 2012 student strikes and are continuing to demand that tuition fees be frozen.

According to a document detailing the student federations’ electoral demands, “the best policy to combine financial accessibility [to higher education] and the state’s capacity to finance our universities is a freeze on tuition fees.”

Additionally, the student federations point out that students are currently penalized in their applications for financial aid or bursaries if they work full-time for 10 weeks a year at minimum wage—effectively meaning they’ll receive fewer grants if they work a full-time summer job. The FEUQ and FECQ asked that changes be made to the financial aid system so that this is no longer the case.

Laberge added that younger voters want the government to provide more funding to the province’s CEGEP network so that colleges can provide access to nurses, social workers and psychologists, as well as create an “active student life” on campus.

Beyond higher education, the federations asked Quebec’s political parties to commit to dealing with so-called “orphan clauses” in collective agreements that allow for employees to be treated differently based on when they were hired.

“There are still inequalities during the hiring of young people in the labour market,” said FEUQ president Tierry Morel-Laforce. “The Act respecting labour standards is deemed to have prohibited orphan clauses, but young people who are hired still find themselves in situations of inequality compared to their work colleagues. That has to change. There must be concrete measures put in place to put an end to these intergenerational inequities.”

Additional representation in governmental decision-making bodies is another item on the student federations’ wish list.

“The next government should guarantee a more prominent place for young people in the decision-making bodies of the state,” said Morel-Laforce. “Presently, on the boards of directors of state-owned enterprises, there are no reserved places for young people. In fact, only 2 per cent of the administrators are youth.”

Rounding out their electoral demands are environmental concerns. The FEUQ and FECQ want the province’s political parties to oppose pipeline projects by Enbridge Inc. and TransCanada Corporation meant to bring Albertan oil eastward.

“With all the media around this issue, students were concerned,” said Morel-Laforce. “Yes, we take positions on education, but we make sure to talk about students before, during and after their studies too—and the environment is obviously a subject that touches everybody.”

In addition to publishing electoral demands, the FEUQ and FECQ are also planning to mobilize students on voting day, the student leaders said.

According to Laberge, voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds increased to 62 per cent in the last provincial election, which followed an extended period of student protests and strikes, considerably higher than the 38 per cent turnout among youth in 2008.

The student federations are encouraging students to use the hashtag #jevotepour on Twitter to discuss election issues that are important to them.

“The goal is to reach out to young Quebecers so that they feel included in this election campaign,” said Laberge.