Montreal – Montreal students were back on the streets yesterday in their monthly protest against hikes in tuition fees, ahead of Quebec’s general election on September 4.
Thousands marched through downtown Montreal on Wednesday, prior to the general election in Quebec, set for September 4th. This election will decide whether Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal Party is re-elected. The Liberal Party plans to drastically increase tuition fees to US$ 1,794 over a seven year period, which is a hike of 82%. Students have been protesting on the 22nd of every month, for the last six months, over these tuition hikes. According to the Montreal Gazette, the number of protesters was smaller than in previous protests, however organizers are saying that it was the largest planned demonstration seen during an electoral campaign, and that this signals the revitalization of the protest movement started last spring. Jeremie Bedard-Wien, spokesman for CLASSE, said, “We already have far more than seen in the summer protests held on the 22nd of each month which drew about 10,000 people.” “The mobilization is starting up again,” he added. CLASSE is the largest and most militant of the student groups. Student associations FEUQ and FECQ also called for students to vote en masse in the upcoming elections, to oust the Liberal government and avoid fee hikes. Many students took the decision to return to class, while others intend to remain on strike, protesting the planned tuition hike and controversial Bill 78 – an emergency law that restricts demonstrations and has introduced enormous fines. Bedard-Wien said, “The strike is continuing in many faculties and many departments and universities and it will continue afterwards. What we’ve put forward for students is this idea of popular mobilization.” He also believes that the current election – and the avoidance of student issues – explains why many of the protesters distrust the traditional political parties: “We recognize that the three main parties that can seize power haven’t made much of a case in support of education. They haven’t supported us much during the strike and we don’t expect much from them at all – and that is why we argue for sustained mobilization,” said Bedard-Wien. Martin Godon, who is a professor of philosophy at CEGEP college and describes himself as one of several “teachers against hikes”, had this to say: “The people will vote to elect a new government and that new government will feel pressure from the students.” “Students have learned a lot about democracy, civics and engagement, and that’s worth all the diplomas they could receive,” he added, expressing the hope that these lessons “will impact youth voters” for the coming vote. The student protest movement has the support of many opposition parties in Quebec, including Parti Québécois, Québec solidaire, Option Nationale, and workers unions. From center-left Parti Québécois, Marie Malavoy has urged students not to pay their fees for the semester. She says that her party promises to scrap Charest’s planned tuition fee increase should they get elected. In the meantime, Premier Jean Charest called on students to go to classes and said that he hopes the issue can be resolved before September’s elections.