The Student Stalemate

Ministry Mum About the Future

  • Graphic Paku Daoust-Cloutier

Before last night, Line Beauchamp was arguably the most sought after interview in the province of Quebec.

Pressure had steadily been mounting for the embattled Minister of Education to break her silence and reveal her position on an escalating student strike for the impending budget—especially as a movement on the street level has seen a progressively growing turnout demanding her government hold a debate on the issue.

But during her brusque appearance on the French talk show Tout le monde en parle over the weekend, Beauchamp made it explicitly clear that a lack of specific information and dialogue on the subject at hand is what we ought to expect from our government moving forward.

And we can’t do anything to change their mind.

Speaking in platitudes, with weak conviction and myopic foresight for the future of education funding in this province, Beauchamp confirmed the Liberal government is absolutely unwilling to participate in any further conversation with the hundreds of thousands of students in the streets calling for her to defend and explain the still-murky details of her budget.

But «La décision est déjà prise» [the decision has already been made], she said, unbending, yet unable to explain how or why exactly our education system is “sous-financées” [under-funded] while sticking to the regurgitated talking points and figures (without context) that we’d already heard.

Students ought to just go back to class and do their “juste part” [fair part] in paying for a 75 per cent increase that would be unacceptable had it been applied to any other age bracket for such an arguably essential service.

Quebec is also the most heavily taxed jurisdiction in North America, and the Liberal government has proven itself incapable over its tenure to prudently spend our money wisely. The fact that she seems unprepared to handle anticipated skeptics and social economists shows her weakness.

And if Beauchamp didn’t want to deviate from the script and say anything new about the increasing charges against this budget, she shouldn’t have bothered accepting to go on the show.

What her interview also revealed is that she seems to be taking it personally that students have been reacting with growing frustration and using the only tactic we have—strength in numbers—against the seemingly inflexible Liberals on an issue that’s moving dangerously close to the end of the semester.

Beauchamp actually used the protests to excuse her evasion of the necessary call for discourse with student and faculty leaders about the long-term social impacts of the hikes.

If we are living under a government that doesn’t recognize whole generations of people in the streets, what options, exactly, are left? If Beauchamp truly believes that «Une manifestation, ce n’est pas nécessairement une confrontation» yet leaves students no other choices but to continue to protest, where are we going?

She would instead have us believe that a total disregard for hundreds of thousands of people of all ages in the streets is defensible because those mobilizing around this issue are allegedly bullying her—and she dislikes the confrontation so much that she’s even cancelled a series of public appearances in the wake of this admission.

When Beauchamp is not championing a $6 million anti-bullying policy around Quebec or playing the victim card on Tout le monde en parle on one hand, the minister manages to ironically condone the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal for how they’ve handled the increasingly-violent protests of late on the other.

Specifically, she did not denounce the aggressive acts of police against student protestors—one of whom lost sight in one of his eyes after being hit with a flash bomb after he stood from being seated on the street, playing a harmonica.

Evading both the subject of police brutality and a demand for discourse taking the streets in greater numbers than many anticipated is a recipe for further destruction and confrontation that the Ministry ostensibly wishes to avoid, but is doing nothing to stop.

All the while, Beauchamp maintains she “doesn’t believe the movement is as strong as it is presented to be,” since a few CEGEP’s have voted against the strike mandate.

Seriously?

If we are living under a government that doesn’t recognize whole generations of people in the streets, what options, exactly, are left? If Beauchamp truly believes that «Une manifestation, ce n’est pas nécessairement une confrontation» [a protest is not necessarily confrontational] yet leaves students no other choices but to continue to protest, where are we going?

The last time there was a public discussion about this issue was December 2010 (not counting a failed negotiation in February 2011). Beauchamp alleged on TLMEP that student leaders attacked her in a scuffle during this time, but failed to mention that this “meeting” also ended with a student thrown by her security through a glass door.

But facing student dissent is apparently a good enough reason to remain staunch in a position, and avoid a conversation. This is not a solution.

What became abundantly clear on Sunday is that students—arguably being forced to take a much larger role as stakeholder in the future of university funding in Quebec—have been left out of the board room and bargaining table and will never be invited back.

But it’s not our job to piece together why all this is happening, with our Minister pleading us to just take our medicine. Last time we checked, it’s the Ministry’s job to defend and explain every last budget line moving forward and spend our tax money wisely, else we reach a boiling point this spring.

The tension and conflict isn’t going to go anywhere unless an attempt is made to strike some sort of compromise. A lack of discussion isn’t helping anybody.

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