The climate of protest and animosity between students and the provincial government is becoming the norm in Quebec. A year ago, a time better known as “the Maple Spring”, thousands of students protested against the provincial liberal party’s decision to increase tuition rates. They demanded, instead, the elimination of school fees altogether, on the basis that education is a right rather than a privilege, and on the means of promoting better accessibility to higher education.
Quebec is branded as the province with the lowest tuition across the country, and students were adamant about keeping it that way. Much of this dissatisfaction resulted in the election of the PQ, headed by Premier Pauline Marois, and many young people hoped they would get their education interests articulated. Several broken promises later, Marois finds herself in a difficult situation heading into the much-anticipated Post-Secondary Education Summit, taking place February 25th and 26th.
Pauline Marois has been tackling the crisis of education and tuition fees alongside the Minister of higher education, Pierre Duchesne. Mr. Duchesne ardently struck down the protestors’ ongoing demands for free higher education. However, he suggested an alternative: to fix tuition costs in accordance to indexation. Essentially, this would mean to model the increase according to inflation – the gradual increase of prices of goods and services over time . One thing is certain; students will express their dissatisfaction with any alternative that is not free education, so several possibilities are to be pondered in preparation for their rallying. ASSÉ, one of Quebec’s more radical student associations, already plans on boycotting the summit and is planning a probable demonstration during the summit as a means of expressing their dissatisfaction. However, there will be some student representation within the summit, acting as the voice for the student population. TaCeQ, Quebec’s Student Roundtable, will have representatives attending and participating in debates and discussions.
At the head of the agenda lies the topic of tuition. But it is not the only area of monetary concern. There has been an obvious cutback in the provision of student grants, amassing to a total loss of $124 million. In a world where education deeply affects one’s destiny and secures one’s future, this deficit is quite problematic for the myriad of students who rely on financial aid to pursue higher education studies. Moreover, as things stand as of late, there is no discrepancy in tuition based on the type of program studied. Enforcing a differentiation in prices is setting the scene for much controversy and uneasiness.
Much of the basis for justifying the need of a necessary tuition increase lies in the need to remain competitive. In a perfect world, free education might be granted. However, this wish is simply not feasible in Quebec. The dilemma of wanting to provide inexpensive education and quality professors as well as superior institutions is complex, and it is in fact almost unattainable. The contingency of quality education is reflected in the need to increase fees, to assuredly maintain and achieve high academic standards.
Upon her election, Marois announced the possibility of eventually altering language legislation. Due to widespread disagreement among the English communities, she sought to relieve and attenuate Anglophones’ worries by offering only moderate modifications to Bill 101. Although language laws have always been a controversial topic, within the recent months, language tensions add to the array of Marois’ contentious decisions. Bill 14, a subset to Bill 101 initially suggested at the end of last year, seeks to implement stricter language laws, in order to promote French speaking throughout the nation. Such laws impose limits on the use of the English language, and will undoubtedly affect businesses, institutions, and day-to-day interactions. More specifically, the French-speaking population is both threatened and affected by this ramification. In relation to education, this significantly hinders one’s potential by limiting their ability to pursue post secondary education in an English institution. Although Marois stated that Bill 101 would not apply to CEGEP admissions, she did not rule out the possibility of rectifying such a claim. Bilingualism is a prestigious asset that many render useful, but sadly Marois is making this reality less and less possible. In a world dominated and universally connected by the English language, Bill 14 puts Quebec citizens, and most importantly students, at a disadvantage.
Needless to say, Quebecers, both Anglophone and Francophone, are discontent. This climate of protest is far from over. With the passing of controversial legislation, such ambivalence and distrust is to be expected. The power of democracy allows for freedom of association, but with such an over-saturation of demonstrations, their effects are negated. People are becoming indifferent, even apathetic, to the cause and to the encompassed significance of protesting.
– Chloe Giampaolo
(Featured photo: Montreal metropole culturelle, Creative Commons, Flickr)