Last Thursday, a panel of four discussed the negative effects on education of the Quebec government’s recently introduced austerity measures at a conference titled “Austerity in education: Who profits?” The conference, held in French at Centre St-Pierre, saw a turnout of about fifty people, including students and retirees.
Each of the four panelists – author, student, and former Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois; QS militant Wilfried Cordeau; Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) representative Jacques Dionne; and Véronique Laflamme, community organizer with the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), a housing rights coalition – gave a presentation on a particular angle of austerity’s effects on education.
Cordeau presented QS’ position, notably saying that “we can observe a partisan dimension to these compressions [of education budgets].” Educational institutions, he said, have suffered cuts to infrastructure, library, and service budgets, while “on the other hand, we have money for Smart Boards.”
Nadeau-Dubois focused on austerity’s effect on CEGEPs, calling it “the most dangerous and most imminent threat to post-secondary studies.” He denounced the effects of austerity on the quality of the services provided by CEGEPs, and more importantly on the content of the classes. Cuts in the humanities are “an attack on citizenship,” he said.
Laflamme spoke about a campaign of the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics titled “10 milliards $ de solutions,” or “$10 billion of solutions.” The coalition provides 19 fiscal alternatives to austerity that would balance budgets with minimal effects on the non-financial classes. The unnecessary character of austerity was Laflamme’s focus as she presented the most intuitive of these 19 solutions.
“I will concentrate on another aspect, that of the money which is missing [from the budget],” said Laflamme. “I will look at the revenue column and where we can go get the money which is missing to fund these services like education.”
The room was then opened to questions; the crowd was largely in agreement with the panelists, prodding them to further explain the negative effects of austerity. The shadow of mobilization loomed over the conference, with repeated calls to mobilization from both the panel and the audience.
Stating in French that she is a mother and citizen, Pascale Chémy said, “What I found most interesting and will retain is that education has to become a political issue again.”
Although QS organized the event, it attracted people from outside the party, such as École Polytechnique de Montréal student Antoine Bourdon, who told The Daily in French that he had no political allegiance and attended the event “out of curiosity.”
All of the panelists stressed the importance of a cohesive movement against austerity. In an interview in French after the conference, Laflamme emphasized the importance of solidarity between students and administration in the face of these cuts, which negatively affects them both.
“Currently, the discourse of the government blames the administrative levels […] when the problem is not with the direction of universities, but with the government itself who has imposed compressions which are impossible to put into effect,” said Laflamme.
Nadeau-Dubois, in an interview after the conference, was less optimistic. “Unfortunately, rectors have more often shown themselves allies of the neoliberal agenda,” he said in French.
Nadeau-Dubois concluded the conference with a diatribe against neoliberalism, which was among the strongest moments of the evening. The room remained quiet as he spoke, only breaking its silence with loud applause to bring the night to an end.