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Why Getting into Student Politics Can Be Selfish

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The Québec media has been buzzing over the announcement made by Léo Bureau-Blouin that he will run for the Parti Québécois during the next election.

This will push the former FECQ president into a new kind of politics. Will he be able to continue the fight against the tuition fee hike in this forum?

I loathe people who get involved in student politics as a springboard into partisan political life. In Ontario, all three political parties have been a disaster for higher education. Bob Rae's NDP increased tuition fees twice in one year. Mike Harris' Progressive Conservatives deregulated tuition fees and many programs experienced double-digit increases. Dalton McGuinty's Liberals maintained Harris' fee levels and layered an up to 71 per cent increase on top of them.

When I worked with people whose main interest was getting involved in party politics through their students' union, it was more often the case that their interests were with the party and not the students they were supposed to serve.

Rather than supporting what students want or need, many young partisans simply justified why a particular policy of the government should be supported.

When I see a student leader in Ontario go on to work for the Liberal government, the same group of people who have increased student debt to nearly $30,000 for a four-year undergraduate degree, my blood boils.

But, I think Bureau-Blouin's move is smart and important.

This past year, he has been the least radical of the three spokespersons. With his term finished, seeking a seat in the National Assembly makes a lot of sense.

He's challenging the current Liberal Delegate Minister of Finance Alain Paquet in the riding of Laval-des-Rapides. Aside from the Minister of Education Recreation and Sport and the Premier himself, the Ministry of Finance is arguably the most culpable for the tuition fee policies that the student federations have opposed.

If nothing else, Bureau-Blouin's campaign will be a symbol of the clash of ideals that the students on the streets have had with Liberal politicians in Québec.

If Bureau-Blouin wins, he'll have the chance to carry on the fight that has been waging in the streets to the National Assembly. With their current policy of supporting tuition fees indexed to inflation, having someone like Bureau-Blouin there could amount to enough pressure to ensure the PQ's policies don't become more regressive.

Entering into politics is an individualistic move. You put yourself forward as a leader and hope that more people agree with you than with the people you run against. This is the exact opposite of leaders who emerge within social movements, where support is earned by working beside others, then to coalesce their opinions and speak on their behalf.

Bureau-Blouin's entry into politics is not popular with many student activists.

But, it does signal a maturity of the student movement in Québec. It's also a sign that the mainstream political machine takes these protests seriously.

As the protests are set to reignite in August, Québec may well be in the middle of an election. Regardless of whether or not they have been in the streets, supporters of the student movement in Québec will have the chance to oust Charest's Liberals. Voting against the Liberals will be a symbolic act of solidarity with the student movement.

In Laval-des-Rapides, folks there will be able to not just vote symbolically, but directly against Charest's Finance Minister and for one of the movement's most recognized spokespeople.
The strength of political movements is demonstrated by the ability to force decision-makers into making change. Bureau-Blouin's entry into politics is not going to succeed or fail the student demands in Québec politics.

However, he should be an ally and an advocate within the party. Since the Parti Québécois started the ball rolling on tuition fee hikes, it can use all the internal help it can get.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, Alain Paquet was misidentified as the current Liberal Minister of Finance.