Tag Archives: FEUQ

The tuition debate is over

As if to deliberately underscore how chaotic and disorganized the student activist movement is, two separate, competing protests are being organized over the next two weeks concerning tuition and accessibility of higher education.

The first, by the CEGEP-heavy, highly militant unlimited-strike-at-the-tip-of-a-hat ASSÉ, is this Thursday afternoon. (The event’s tagline is telling: “Parce que la lutte continue, tabarnak !!!”)

The second, by the bigger-budget, more organized PR-savvy FEUQ, is the following Thursday.

The reason behind the two protests is nothing more complicated than the two groups engaging in a pissing contest with each other. Rather than put aside their differences and come together, student groups prefer to fight and sue each other.

But even if this wasn’t the case, the protest is pointless for one simple reason: They’ve already lost the battle.

In the last provincial election, Liberal leader Jean Charest made it abundantly clear he intended to unfreeze tuition and raise it by a small amount. ADQ leader Mario Dumont even wanted to go further. Those two parties took over 2/3 of the seats in the National Assembly.

The public, meanwhile, made it very clear that keeping Quebec’s tuition the lowest in Canada is not their top priority. Even some students think our tuition is too low, and would prefer to see more student money go into the education system.

These protests (and the laughable “unlimited general strike”, which hurts no one but the few students participating in it) are organized on the assumption that the public supports them. But it doesn’t. And tying up downtown traffic so that some hippies can yell how $200 a course is too much to pay for university education isn’t going to help their cause at all. It will just piss people off and make them think that these students have far too much free time on their hands that they could be spending earning money to lessen their tuition load.

The tuition debate is over as far as the government is concerned. If you’re going to try to revolutionize the way Quebec finances post-secondary education, you have to convince the voters to think like you. That means a big, honest education campaign, not a protest.

And don’t hold your breath expecting attitudes to change overnight.

Student lobby groups need a reality check

You gotta love student politics in Quebec. We have the lowest tuition fees in Canada, the highest taxes, and Montreal has the highest number of students per capita.

Yet this province seems to be the largest battleground for student protests in North America. They protest tuition fees, which are too high because they’re above zero (some protests involve CEGEP students, whose tuition fees actually are zero). They protest government cuts to loans and bursaries. They protest the colonial capitalist imperialistic racist empire bent on … evil of some sort.

And, of course, they protest each other.

Five student associations from Concordia, McGill and Dawson are suing each other over control of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students. Concordia’s graduate association is planning to pull out of the organization over this dispute which has seen two competing executives appointed. (UPDATE Sept. 13: The Concordian — yeah, I know — has a detailed story on what’s going on)

“Regional” (read: not Montreal or Quebec City) groups at UQTR, UQO and UQAR are threatening to leave the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) over their concerns the group is too Montreal-centric, and create their own lobby group to represent just their interests.

Currently there are three post-secondary lobby groups in Quebec. In addition to FEUQ (considerd the grown-up group because they sit down and negotiate with the government) and CFS-Q (considered almost renegade by its parent national organization and with little weight in Quebec because it only represents the two anglophone universities and an anglophone CEGEP), there’s ASSÉ, the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, which is a newer, more militant group that accepts nothing short of free education for all.

To give an example, the Concordia Student Union has been a member of all three organizations over the past few years, paying student money to three redundant organizations. They recently dropped ASSÉ (which was the cheapest of the three but also the most ineffective), and now pay money only to two.

And yet despite this, Jean Charest was returned to power with the clear intention of raising tuition, and fees are going up. FEUQ is threatening strikes, but they’ve already lost the battle. The public voted for tuition increases, and a few hundred students choosing to waste their money by not going to class isn’t going to get anyone to change their mind.

All three groups need to take a moment to figure out why they’re losing (even many students don’t support their positions — though I don’t see too many of them lining up to donate money to the universities), and change their strategy before they become even more irrelevant than they already are. Once that happens, student unions will start pulling their funding and the Quebec student activist movement will implode.

UPDATE (Sept. 25): A judge decides to keep the offices off-limits to both groups until the issue can be reviewed further. The SSMU is happy, while the CSU is not.