From Strike to Boycott

ASSÉ Unlikely to Attend Higher Education Summit

ASSE Unlikely to attend higher education summit photo Jane Gatensby

Barring a complete turnaround by higher education minister Pierre Duchesne, the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante will not be attending Quebec’s summit on higher education.

In response to Duchesne’s Jan. 27 announcement that discussion of free tuition was off the table for the summit—set to take place Feb. 25 and Feb. 26—ASSÉ’s members voted to submit an ultimatum to the minister at the organization’s congress in Saint-Félicien last weekend.

The ultimatum, along with plans to hold a “manifestation nationale” protest during the summit, was announced at an ASSÉ press conference on Feb. 4.

The ultimatum calls for Duchesne to allow for the consideration of free tuition at the summit, to consider other options for tuition than indexation and hikes, and to not include quality assurance mechanisms in plans for a proposed council on universities.

“These expectations are not unreasonable,” said ASSÉ finance secretary Jérémie Bédard-Wien at the press conference. “The government has told us repeatedly that everything would be on the table […] If Minister Duchesne is honest, he will respect these engagements and he will meet our conditions.

“During the summit, everything must be on the table,” he added. “It is the difference between an open debate and a PR exercise.”

When asked why ASSÉ was so opposed to indexation—which would result in hikes of $46 to $70 per year—Bédard-Wien replied, “It is not a question of money, it is a question of principle. Indexation to the cost of living represents a never-ending tuition hike.”

“It is not a question of money, it is a question of principle. Indexation to the cost of living represents a never-ending tuition hike.”
—Jérémie Bédard-Wien, ASSÉ Finance Secretary

Unlike March 22 and many of the major student movement protests held last spring, ASSÉ is not coordinating its action with the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec.

“There is some amount of dissent within the two associations,” Bédard-Wien said when asked in an interview with The Link about the possibility of reaching out to the FEUQ, which has also posited the idea of holding a demonstration during the summit.

“We are inviting [FEUQ] to our demonstration, of course,” Bédard-Wien said. “There have been instances in the past when the two federations have held different demonstrations on the same day.”
ASSÉ’s demonstration is scheduled to begin at Square Victoria at 2:00 p.m. on Feb. 26.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Montreal police chief Marc Parent said that the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal would be “watching closely for protest” at the summit, and that it was “prepared to make whatever surgical interventions we need to.”

According to ASSÉ, three student associations—CÉGEP Saint-Laurent’s student association and Université de Montréal’s music and social services student associations—have voted to strike during the summit.

The Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec, which represents CEGEP teachers, has also threatened to boycott the summit.