News Commentary: Mad as Hell

And We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore

Photo Riley Sparks

Ah, springtime in Montreal. That wonderful time of year when the sun starts to shine, the terrasses fill with cheerful, buzzed students and the subtle smell of tear gas wafts through the streets. It’s protest season.

This summer, we’ve got a whole lot to protest about. Your tuition is going way, way up. Over the next six years, it’s going to increase by 75 per cent. And because out-of-province and international students pay the Quebec tuition rate plus an added percentage, this means everyone’s tuition is going up.

Just how much is up to individual universities, but if former Concordia president Judith Woodsworth’s attitude about tuition is any indication, don’t expect any sympathy.

When I first moved here, I thought Montreal students just loved to protest. But then I realized there’s a reason why university tuition in Quebec is so much more affordable than anywhere else in the country: Quebec students don’t take guff from anybody.

Coming from British Columbia, where the average student debt is an insane $27,000, to Quebec, where at $13,000 it’s the lowest in the country, I’m thankful for the students here. Their hard work has so far kept my tuition affordable.

Unless you’re just here at university for the toga parties and the lols, you don’t need to be reminded of how important affordable access to education is. The simple truth is that fee increases are going to prevent people from going to school. Tuition has already gone up this year. International students, whose tuition has almost doubled over the last few years, have gotten the worst of it, but it’s going to get a whole lot worse for everyone else, too.

Over the past few weeks, CEGEP students have been on the front lines in the ongoing fight against tuition hikes. They’ve held one-day strikes and led noisy protests and occupations of the offices of Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand and the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec.

As future university students, the CEGEP students are the ones who are going to be most affected by the fee hikes, but we’re also going to feel the pain. We need to step in and help keep up the pressure on the government, and to tell Premier Jean Charest and Bachand to get their hands out of our pockets.

Unfortunately, words aren’t really working. Bachand has already said the budget isn’t up for negotiation, and that students need to pay a “fair share.” Almost 250,000 people signed a petition calling for Charest’s resignation, and his response wasn’t much more than an awkward shrug. “I will certainly finish my mandate,” Charest told Radio-Canada back in December. “And I want a fourth one,” he added, apparently oblivious of his comically low approval rating. So what do we do when our government stops listening?

At the March 31 protest against tuition increases, almost 3,000 students clogged downtown Montreal and generally caused a ruckus for most of the day. “This is just the beginning,” said young protester Arnaud Theurillat-Cloutier, addressing the massive crowd. “We will block the streets and highways. We will paralyze Quebec if we have to.”

This isn’t an empty threat. I’m not saying we should go out and riot like the Habs just won/lost—violence is never appropriate and it’s counter-productive—but we can still be a massive headache for the Charest government. To these folks, we’re just dollars on a budget line. We can be a lot more than that if thousands of us keep taking to the streets and flooding into their offices.

By peacefully and regularly exercising our right to protest, we can make this issue so difficult, so politically-costly and so expensive to deal with, that it’ll be easier for the government to just give in and say no to tuition increases.

That’s exactly what happened back in 2005, when student protests and strikes forced the Charest government to drop plans for massive cuts to student bursary funds, and there’s no reason we can’t make it happen again. If the government doesn’t back down, Quebec’s myriad student associations have big things planned.

At the March 31 protest, as riot cops were charging after fleeing protesters, one young student turned around and yelled, “Why are you running? We outnumber them!” There are a lot of pissed-off students in this province. We’ve got the numbers. We can paralyze this province, if we want to. Step it up, kids, it’s gonna be a long summer.