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Supriya Dwivedi

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Will Montreal Students Live Happily Ever After?

Posted: 03/06/2013 5:44 pm

Once upon a time, in a magical, distinct society known as Quebec, a very small portion of the student population sought to take down their government. A Maple Spring is what they were calling for; a complete ousting of the corrupt government. Their cri de coeur was a tuition increase. Quite grandiose in scope when cited in terms of percentage, but less impressive when perceived with respect to the absolute difference in regards to the rest of the country.

These students compared themselves to the people of Syria and the leader of the alleged repressive regime running the land to various murderous dictators. Accordingly, true to the general social IQ of the average protester, Nazi comparisons were made faster than we could all muster up the term Godwin's Law.

Eventually, the government that was mired in scandal, corruption and unpopularity called for an election. The students could finally take their cause from the street to the voting booth. They found allies in the opposition parties. One seemed to truly have the protesting students' best interest in mind, they advocated for free tuition, and supported a myriad of social causes that became intertwined with the student movement.

The other opposition party seemed to opportunistically seize the moment, donning the official symbol of the protest when it suited them, and then dropping it as soon as they realized it would cost them votes from the tax-paying population.

They did, however, manage to recruit one of the integral players of the student movement. Baby-faced and even-tempered, it seemed as though he was their ace in the hole. With its demographic mish-mash of socially-conscious leftists and right-leaning separatists, even the baby-faced former protester looked as though he would emerge triumphant in a hotly-contested riding.

As these stories often go, the wrong party maintained its momentum all the way to voting day, and rode the coattails of the student movement right into the National Assembly.

Now that their political party was finally in place, the students all lived happily ever after -- except they didn't.

Last night, it seemed as though the time machine that I so often haphazardly daydream about had finally worked. After the second protest in the last two weeks following a provincial summit on higher education, everything about Montreal's current spring weather seemed to have year-old maple undertones to it, including violence, arrests and injuries.

The plight of student debt, post graduation underemployment, and rising housing costs are all unarguably quite legitimate burdens faced by my generation. Will free tuition as demanded by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) and its followers solve these zeitgeist conundrums? Unlikely.

The fact of the matter is that Quebec currently offers the lowest tuition, and consequently, has the lowest student debt burden. Incongruously, however, Quebec also boasts a higher-than-average university dropout rate and has one of the lowest post secondary enrollment rates in Canada. It seems as though the cost of post-secondary education is hardly the monolithic barrier to an egalitarian utopia that my protesting counterparts suggest.

Free tuition -- or more accurately, tuition absorbed by the already overtaxed citizen -- also inherently implies a relationship that the protesters are unwilling to acknowledge: that which is paid for by the state requires that only the truly qualified obtain it. This would put an end to Quebec's decades old tradition of granting university admission as if it were fleur-de-lis flags on St. Jean Baptiste Day.

Premier Marois and the Parti Québécois reneged on their promise to the students, that much is patently clear. In assuring the students that the PQ would maintain a tuition freeze if elected, the protesting students are right to feel like they were played by a red square wearing millionaire for political gain.

The cost this time around, however, is indexed to inflation. Increasing tuition $70 a year, as opposed to the $325 a year increase proposed by the Charest Liberals. Quebec has already once let itself be overrun by a vociferous minority. I doubt it would let ASSÉ make an ass out of itself yet again.

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  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    Scores of Quebec students were baring it all -- or close to it -- for the cause of cheap tuition. A few took to the streets of Montreal wearing nothing but their underwear May 3, 2012, in the latest protest against fee hikes. (Photo Paul Chiasson, La Presse Canadienne)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    One Facebook group cited several reasons for the unique protest. They included: catching the government's attention; the mayor not wanting protesters to wear masks; distracting police officers; and also because it's spring, they said. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    However, with a low of 14°C, it wasn't exactly balmy spring weather in Montreal. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    Protest organizers asked students to arrive at a downtown park fully clothed but carrying backpacks. From there, they planned to disrobe and march across the Plateau neighbourhood. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    They encouraged students to carry signs and wear body paint, but insisted that full-frontal nudity would "NOT be tolerated." (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    Public nakedness is illegal - something the Montreal police force felt compelled to warn people on its Twitter feed. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    "It is forbidden to walk naked in the streets of Montreal, given Article 174 of the Criminal Code," the police tweet said. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    Meanwhile, the student protesters didn't just lose clothes Thursday. They also lost a few supporters. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    Students at CEGEP de Sherbrooke voted narrowly to end their nine-week strike. There are still 150,000 striking students - which still represents nearly one-third of Quebec post-secondary students but is significantly less than at the height of the classroom walkouts. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    That said, the protest leaders are sticking to their belief that the Charest government must scrap fee hikes. The government has shown no inclination of doing so. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

  • Quebec Underwear Protest May 3

    There are now fears that the current semester might have to be cancelled. (Photo by Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

 

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