Wednesday, March 16, 2005

En grève

There is a province-wide student strike today in Quebec. I don't have to teach classes today, so the strike does not affect me directly, other than making me reluctant to go to the university library to do some research.

At issue is the Charest government's decision to cut $103M in student bursaries and transform this into increased funding for student loans. The CEGEPs have been on strike for weeks now, and have recently been joined by some of the universities. McGill, Concordia and most of the rest of the province's universities are joining them today for a day-long strike.

The outcome of this confrontation is hard to predict. Every group seems to be hostile to the Charest government right now. The province has been riddled with protests, labour confrontations, and general hostility towards his two-year old government. In this province, Liberal weakness in government means that the sovereigntist PQ gains support. This makes for a rather sick political climate in which governance is always tainted by the separation question, and voters find themselves continually faced with a choice between the right-leaning, but nominally federalist Liberals, and the left-leaning, but sovereignty-prone PQ. Some would throw the ADQ (soft-sovereignty, harder-right) into the mix, but come election day, the big choice almost always comes down to the first two. But I digress...

Will the Charest Liberals hold firm in face of yet another instance of bad press and political unpopularity, or will they cave into students, for fear that they will run (more) to the PQ? Right now, the average tuition in Quebec is less than half that in the other provinces. It makes it difficult for the students to make a particularly strong case about their crippling debt loads, when one compares them to their counterparts elsewhere.

So, do I support the students? To be honest, I'm of two minds on this one. I think that in many ways they are fighting a losing cause. They already pay the lowest tuition in the country, and vehemently oppose tuition raises (which might theoretically free up more money for bursaries for low income-students). It's hard to have a lot of sympathy for students paying $1850 a year in tuition (in Ontario, it's in the neighbhourhood of $4500, last time I checked).

But it was not so long ago that Ontario approved massive tuition hikes for its students, and there was a chorus of protest against that decision of the Harris government - which came to naught. My own tuition rose from $2000/year in my first year to almost $4000 by my fourth. Should Quebecers have to face the same fate, simply because Ontario (and other provinces) set a bad precedent? Can Quebec universities stay competitive and retain high-quality education without taking the same measures as their counterparts elsewhere? How can the government pump more money into university education without either a) tax hikes or b) tuition increases?

I realize that this post doesn't really come to any conclusions. But I felt like pondering publicly today. Especially since I can't really go into work.

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