On September 4, the Parti Quebecois (PQ) won a minority government in the province of Quebec. This meant that they won the most seats in the legislature, but did not win enough to form a majority government – placing them in that particularly Canadian predicament of sharing power with the opposition – in this case the Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ).
Following their victory, party leader Pauline Marois addressed one of the biggest issues during the campaign: the university tuition hikes. The former PLQ government put into motion a plan to raise what is now the lowest tuition rate in Canada to a sum of $3,793 through an annual, cumulative hike of $254 over a period of seven years.
Student-led groups such as the Fédération des Etudients Universaires du Québec (FEUQ) and the somewhat more militant Coalition des Associations pour une Solidarite Syndical Étudiante (CLASSE) responded to the tuition hike plan by organizing what eventually became the largest student protest in Canadian history.
Shortly after winning the election, Marois announced the hike would be cancelled. In a CBC news release, the president of FEUQ, Martine Desjardins, called this announcement “a victory” while CLASSE was said to have promised it would continue to pressure the government until it would promise free tuition.
Reactions to these student protests on a nationwide scale have been, in many cases, very negative. In a comment on the aforementioned news report, CBC user QC2ONCDN said, “the spoiled kids got their wish” winning 276 likes to 60 dislikes for their contribution to the conversation. Others who weighed in suggested the students had learned they could “hold the government for ransom”, and accused them of being too lazy, irresponsible, and greedy to plan their savings so that they could purchase their education and pay back loans.
I have written before on this subject, and I continue to find myself unable to choose sides. However I will argue against those who accuse all of these students of – let’s be blunt here – spoiled stupidity.
Accusations of this sort are largely misplaced. The argument could be made that this current generation in the global north display an overwhelming tendency to take things for granted. However, construing the students who organized the protests as lazy and entitled ignores the fact that they are becoming effective political organizers. It took an enormous amount of energy to facilitate some of the protests and I would argue that the students are working for what they use, but they are also working for how they want to use it.
If students must pay for university, must they also pay for high school? Where do we stop putting a price on education?
I will maintain that accessible education is a subject that should be the subject of national debate. If students must pay for university, must they also pay for high school? Where do we stop putting a price on education? It must be acknowledged that not everyone is in a financial position where it is practical for them to attain post secondary education, hence the pre-existing low tuition rates in Quebec.
However on the opposing side, one could argue that university prepares students for the workforce and as such they must learn to be fiscally responsible. Tuition also provides for better education (arguably), and social services for students from which they benefit greatly on a social, intellectual, and fiscal level. Moreover, Quebec must find a way to deal with its deficit, and rising tuition fees could be a way to balance the books.
I would not claim to know the answer to these questions but I would offer this: in many of my lectures the professors ask the students how we would like to see Canada. If I can reference Robert Reich, I would like to envision a country that moves “beyond outrage” in response to issues such as this. Simply put, those who protested peacefully were exercising their democratic right, and those who were aggressive and/or violent were not.
These youth are entering into a political consciousness – so let us provide for them spaces in which they can develop this burgeoning awareness. Putting them down will either further inflame them or direct them towards indifferent complacency; neither of these options is conducive to a vibrant political citizenry. Or are we ourselves so attached to apathy, to going through life (in all of its stages) as it has been laid out, that we can’t cope with a good debate?