I was one of the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets last year to protest the tuition increases proposed by then-Premier Jean Charest. When a provincial election was called for September 4, voices within the student movement, such as that of Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), called for students to stop protesting. The idea was that if we stopped protesting and voted for the Parti Québécois (PQ), who promised to repeal the tuition hikes, our problems would be solved.
I did not believe the PQ would cancel tuition hikes, and I was sure ending the strike would destroy any pressure we had put on the government. Though the PQ did in fact repeal the tuition increases on September 20, my pessimism was warranted as the PQ have embarked upon a path nearly as destructive as Charest’s Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ) since then.
For example, at the Summit on Higher Education on February 26, the PQ announced that it plans to increase tuition annually by 3 per cent, which means a raise of just over $65 for the 2013-2014 academic year. The summit was also boycotted by one of the main student unions, the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), after the government announced that free education would not be discussed despite the clear desire for it from a sizeable portion of society.
The student movement will not allow the PQ to continue in this manner without resistance. We took to the streets in thousands last year, were arrested and assaulted, had arms and ribs broken, and even lost an eye. We will not allow those months of protest to go to waste, as was made clear by the protest involving nearly 10,000 people on the second day of the Summit, as well as ongoing strike votes. However, with that said, if we are to have a more successful run this time around, we should change our strategy, and McGill students should be part of those new efforts.
While I will always support the idea of free education, both in theory and in practice, I do not think student groups should organize their efforts solely around this goal right now. So far protests have focused on the claim that we currently receive a service, and the amount we pay for said service should not increase, and in fact should not even exist. Protests should now focus on the service we are getting for the tuition we pay. Of course, the two can go hand in hand, but the focus needs to be on the latter example as the attacks the PQ have proposed on university funding are quite serious.
Just after cancelling the tuition increases in September, the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology retroactively cut university funding by $124 million, $19.1 million of which were at McGill. The PQ expected university administrators to make these cuts in four months. A few months later, on February 8, the PQ announced that these cuts were to double, and if at least 50 per cent of the cut was not made by April of 2014, another $32 million would be cut from McGill alone.
As Principal Heather Munroe-Blum stated in an email to McGill staff, students, and community members on February 19, “These unprecedented cuts are not abstract. They will hurt people we care about in our McGill community, and families across Quebec.” Yet despite what the administration has claimed, it seems that these cuts have already begun to make their impact. Munroe-Blum has indicated that in the future McGill will start “eliminating positions and pulling back on services, supports and programs.”
While tuition increases will reduce accessibility for students in the future, the massive cuts by the PQ will drastically reduce the quality of our education right now. This is something that should concern all of the students in Quebec, even those at McGill who actively seek to separate themselves from Quebec politics. Rich students may not have cared about the possibility of tuition increases, as they could afford them. Yet can any of us truly afford to have the quality of our education further diminished while carrying the same monetary weight upon our backs?
We came together as students and fought the tuition increases – now we should come together once more to fight the cuts. The PQ has other ways to save money; they just believe we are the easiest to rob. Let’s take to the streets once more until this belief is shattered.
Davide Mastracci is a U2 History and Political Science student. He can be reached at email@example.com.