NEWS

Student leaders say Liberals, CAQ "disregarding" youth

08/22/2012 10:53 EDT | Updated 10/22/2012 05:12 EDT
Quebec student leaders are urging people to question every political party in the upcoming election and say they are confident the Jean Charest's Liberal Party will not be reelected on Sept. 4.

According to estimates, over 10,000 people gathered at Montreal's Place du Canada as they have been doing on the 22nd of every month since March to protest the planned tuition increase and to denounce law 12, formerly known as Bill 78.

Éliane Laberge, president of the Quebec federation of college student associations (FECQ), and Martine Desjardins, president of the Quebec federation of university student associations (FEUQ) were present to lead the protest.

Protesters walked through the city's downtown core as they have been doing since the student movement began in February of last year.

The protest ended peacefully at Place Jacques-Cartier where thousands regrouped to listen to speeches, music and waving election-related signs.

During a news conference before the protest, Laberge said "in 14 days, every Quebecer will have to assess Quebec's Liberal Party. They will have to assess nine years. Nine years where we saw corruption increase. Nine years where we saw public services fees increase in every domain."

Desjardins added that students were also putting pressure on people to vote, saying that the Coalition Avenir Quebec, like the Liberal Party, was making unilateral promises and disregarding the student population.

Both student leaders urged Quebec citizens to be critical of political parties running in the provincial election. They also added that they would revise their platforms and strengthen student mobilization if the Liberal Party kept its top seat in Quebec's National Assembly.

Véronique Laplante, spokeswoman for the more militant student association CLASSE, said citizens need more debate with politicians and ask tougher questions.

She added that the student organization will not recommend which party students should support in the election, but says students should make an educated decision.

"Democratic movements need to have discussions with their [candidates]. The message we can send is that we should ask people what they think and what they plan on doing."

Laplante says despite the ongoing student protests, the political parties are not suffciently responding to students' demands.

Jeanne Reynolds, another spokeswoman for CLASSE, said even if the elected government decides to freeze tuition fees, her organization would continue to protest to seek free tuition.

CEGEP closes to protect "personal safety"

Earlier Wednesday, while students were protesting outside as part of a province-wide series of demonstrations, a Montreal CEGEP cancelled classes, reversing an earlier decision not to suspend teaching.

Collège Bois-de-Boulogne, a CEGEP in the Ahuntsic borough, said in a statement on its website that it was taking the step to "avoid any situation that might compromise personal safety."

The day's regular classes will be held Saturday, Sept. 15, instead. Continuing education courses scheduled for before 5 p.m. have also been cancelled, while those starting after 5 o'clock are going ahead.

Several dozen students were picketing Wednesday morning outside the north-end school. They unfurled a banner and stood on a set of entraceway steps, but there were no reports of confrontations as of 9:20 a.m ET.

The CEGEP's students had voted last Thursday to end their five-month-long strike, but with a one-day exception for Wednesday to join a day of student-movement protests across the province. Bois-de-Boulogne's administration, however, initally refused to cancel classes and as a result was targeted by picketers.

Quebec's contentious Bill 78, also known as Law 12, makes it an offence to organize or partake in a protest "that could result in" a student being blocked from a classroom, where the demonstration is in or within 50 metres of a school building. It is also an offence to "contribute to slowing down, degrading or delaying" university or college classes.

But Montreal police have said they won't enforce those provisions unless school authorities ask them to.

About 43,000 post-secondary students are still taking part in a general strike in Quebec, down from a peak of 150,000 in the spring, but not at any CEGEPs, which have all voted to go back to class.

The 22nd of each month is a symbolic day for student demonstrators, however, and 10 CEGEP student unions representing nearly 50,000 pupils opted for a one-day strike to take part in Wednesday's rallies.

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