Québec Student Strike Has Deep Implications for Ontario Students

Guelph Students demonstrate solidarity with sisters and brothers in Québec!

(Note: this article written by a Guelph YCL activist and was first published in the Ontarion issue of April 3rd 2012.  It does not take into account more recent developments.)

By Padraic O’Brien

Guelph should be aware by now of the struggle mounted by university and college students in Québec against tuition hikes, following the massive protest that saw 250,000 people take the streets in Montreal in what was perhaps the largest single demonstration in Canadian history. This was the culmination of the student strike, which began in January and saw over 300,000 students – the majority of the province’s post secondary students – leave their classrooms and put their semesters on hold to force the government to back down from its proposal to raise tuition fees by $325 a year over a five-year period. This would take them to over $3,800 a year, representing a 75% increase that threatens access to higher education for students of lower- and middle-income backgrounds.

This tuition hike also threatens the continuity of the Quebec model of more accessible education in a Canadian context of high tuition fees and surging student debt levels. While the government has claimed this measure is fair to the taxpayer, students have countered that all of society benefits from broader access to education, and that a tax-funded education is the only fair system. They have also brought up that the $700 million necessary to pay for free education could easily be found – for example with a reversal of the government’s irresponsible $950 million tax cut that mostly benefitted the rich. The proposal to raise tuition also occurs in the midst of the global move towards austerity measures, which is being pushed by politicians and bankers to reduce public debt by cutting public services and privatizing public assets, such as health and education. Ontario is also threatened by this trend, with the recent Drummond report commissioned by the government proposing amongst other things, sweeping measures to slash payments in education and reduce quality of services accordingly.

The student protest in Québec is also taking place in a context of increasing mobilization against social injustice – with the student strike in Chile showing unprecedented determination and strength in taking on a conservative government enmeshed in to corporate interests. Massive, prolonged protests in this country have led to more funding for higher education, as well as helping generate a mass movement for social change. Students in Québec, alongside professors, parents and wide sectors of the population, have recognised the inequitable character of the proposed policies and the danger they pose, and so they too have risen against the government, holding picket lines, occupying offices and marching on the streets of cities all over the province. In so doing, the students have also demonstrated a high degree of selflessness and solidarity, baffling the commentators who had written off our generation as being the most individualistic and apathetic in history. The students promised that the Government refusal to compromise following the March 22 demonstration will only lead to intensifying political and economic disturbance. This is being backed up by more and more support by the people of Quebec.

There is a lesson here for students in Ontario, who suffer from the highest average tuition fees in the country at over $6,000 a year. Québec’s comparatively lower rates came as the result of previous political action from students, who have staged 8 general strikes since 1968, with the latest in 2005 being considered a victory after the government backed down from modifying the bursary regime in the province. Québec’s model also serves as proof that lower tuition fees are possible, and so a student defeat there would inevitably weaken the struggle for accessible education in the rest of Canada. Ontarian students, already facing unsustainable levels of debt, should heed the example of their sisters and brothers from Québec. They too can lead the resurgence of students and “the 99%” against the ploys of politicians and bankers to trample our rights. The students of Québec invite Guelph students to show their solidarity and join the movement to overturn the privatization agenda being pushed through here.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the support! Don’t worry for us, we’re holding our ground firmly – 160 000 students still on strike, an official 90 days now, the longest strike ever. It’s not to brag or anything to, but our actions of economical disruptance have reached an astronomic point just thursday, as the whole subway was completely shut down for 3 hours by some inoffensive smoke bombs. Cost evaluation in term of productivity loss : 10 millions an hour. The conclusion for our dear government (more like a corrupted elite in which no one has faith in anymore) : don’t fuck with us. And think about it twice next time before undertaking an open war agaisn’t your own youth.

    Solidarity!
    Marc-André


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