Critical of the rising trend of political conservatism in Quebec – exemplified by the Liberal government’s budget cuts and the emergence of right-wing political movements – a new coalition of labour and student unions has formed to speak in favour of strong public services and against tuition hikes.
In an open letter published in Le Devoir on Friday, the newly formed Alliance sociale (Social Alliance) promoted a return to Quebec’s legacy of strong public services and left-of-centre politics. The Alliance will include the Fédération étudiante universitaire de Québec (FEUQ) and the equivalent federation for CEGEP students: the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ).
The movement originated as a response to dissatisfaction with the provincial government’s last budget in March. The new budget cuts spending in a variety of social programs.
“The Quebec government’s budget was very poorly received among our ranks,” Claudette Carbonneau, president of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), told The Daily in French. “It was seen as a breach in the social pact between citizens and the Quebec government. It was a violation of values of solidarity, of the capacity to intervene not only in public services, but also in the environment, in economic development, and in support for employment. [Each member of the alliance] reacted strongly from its own side … So we came to the idea to try to join our efforts to put forward another dialogue,” she said.
Among other issues, the Alliance is opposed to the government’s proposal to increase university tuition rates.
“This will put into question the accessibility of the majority of the population to higher studies, and it will impose a burden that is too heavy on students from lower and middle income families,” said Carbonneau. “It will contribute to a rate of debt that is overwhelming … In Quebec, we are already below the Canadian average in terms of higher education rates. We think that we should not accelerate this.”
The Alliance was also formed to act as a counterweight to the rise of right-wing political movements. Réseau Liberté-Québec – which echoes the U.S. Tea Party’s right-wing libertarianism – and the conservative movement headed by former PQ ministers Francois Legault and Joseph Facal have recently sprung up to shift the political dialogue in Quebec to the right.
“These are movements tha go a bit in the same direction as Quebec’s last budget,” FEUQ president Louis-Philippe Savoie told The Daily in French. “They put forward propositions that are regressive and that go against what made Quebec strong in the last forty years.”
“It was evident to us that we could not leave the public dialogue open so that people would only hear one point of view, only one way of seeing the future of Quebec society,” said Carbonneau.
The provincial budget reduced spending on social services in order to help remedy Quebec’s budget deficit. The Alliance believes that cuts to education spending will not solve this problem, and may potentially exacerbate it.
The Alliance is planning to organize several events to promote their message in the following months. In December, it will hold a meeting to bring together different actors from the educational sector, though plans are still being hammered out.
“It’s certain that at that moment there will be a student mobilization to bring forward the message that tuition hikes are not a viable solution for solving the problems of students,” said Savoie.