05/22/2012 09:53 EDT | Updated 07/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Bill 78: Polls Find Quebec Split About Emergency Law Aimed At Ending Student Protests


Only days after the Jean Charest government passed an emergency law aimed at stopping the ongoing student protests in Quebec, it appears residents of the province are losing hope the impasse will be coming to an end any time soon.

Within hours of the passage of Bill 78, a poll by CROP for La Presse, a Montreal daily, found wide support for the government’s position. Fully 66 per cent of Quebecers were in favour of the emergency law and 68 per cent supported the government’s proposals on tuition hikes. Only 32 per cent supported the position of the student protesters.

Nevertheless, Quebecers were mixed on whether they thought the emergency law would have any effect. While 32 per cent felt it would help resolve the conflict, 36 per cent said it simply put a resolution off until later and 32 per cent thought it would make things worse.

Those respondents turned out to be the most prescient. Backed by celebrities and legal experts, opposition has crystallized against the legislation and students turned out over the weekend in defiance of the law. Ignoring a law passed by the City of Montreal, protesters also wore masks and some groups resorted to violence in response to the police.

CLASSE, the most radical of the major student groups, has pledged to continue the protests through the summer, at least until classes are scheduled to restart in August. And with the weekend’s turmoil, many Quebecers have become fatalistic, according to Jean-Marc Léger of Léger Marketing.

Their newest poll, conducted over the long weekend, shows that opinion is split over the emergency law. Only 47 per cent agree with it now, while another 47 per cent are against it.

The province itself is divided over the issue, with richer and older Quebecers supporting the government and poorer and younger residents siding with students. Anglophones are firmly behind Jean Charest, while francophones are more likely to sympathize with protesters. This demographic divide was also found in a Forum poll conducted on Thursday, which concluded that francophones were split down the middle while anglophones were with the government by a margin of almost two to one.

Though Quebecers are still in general agreement with the emergency law’s requirements, they simply do not believe it will work. More than three out of four Quebecers think the government needs to restart negotiations with the student associations, while 73 per cent do not think that social peace will be restored because of Bill 78. Only 12 per cent think it will.

Against the obstinacy of the student protesters, Quebecers may have lost faith that the government will be able to legislate itself out of this hole. Though most Quebecers agree with Jean Charest’s position on tuition fees, they simply want the strikes to come to an end. After 100 days of gridlock, more and more people in the province have come to the conclusion that it won’t be the students who blink first.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.

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