We’ve been duped, strike leaders claim
Early student voting a “disaster” for government side
By Karen Seidman, The Gazette, May 8, 2012
MONTREAL – Far from being closer to a resolution, the tuition crisis veered toward disaster on Monday as students began largely rejecting an offer that was supposed to settle the three-month student strike.
Voting results weren’t helped by student leaders’ accusations that government officials had doctored their verbal agreement before putting together the final draft to present to students. And anger mounted on the part of students, who said they were starting to feel they had been duped by the government and university officials.
“The document doesn’t represent what we had been talking about in those 22 hours,” said Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ). “The government said they were trying to create a win-win situation; now they’re saying students are the losers. “That’s not a way to solve a crisis.”
She said students had tried to reach Education Minister Line Beauchamp to discuss the issue, but hadn’t heard back from her. In an interview on Monday, Beauchamp disputed their contention and said the agreement “reflected what was said around the table.” Despite the intense situation, she said no one was pressured to sign anything and the students were always accommodated if they wanted a break to make a consultation.
“Everyone had time to read the final text,” Beauchamp said, specifying the agreement was put together in the spirit of trying to end the crisis and have students return to class, while creating a place where the financing of universities could be discussed.
And despite disappointing first-day votes, she said it was too soon to predict how the votes would play out over the whole week, that she was still hoping students would realize the agreement was simply “a step to enable a return to class” before broader discussions would begin.
The weekend negotiations resulted in a tentative agreement that still includes a tuition increase of about $250 a year, but aims to offset it by reducing ancillary fees students are obliged to pay. For September, the result would be a de facto tuition freeze, with the $125 increase wiped out by a $125 deferral of other student fees.
The deal proposed the creation of a provisional council that would review spending by universities, turning over the savings the council finds to reduce extra fees that students pay on top of their tuition fees. But Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), said students believed all the money found would go toward reducing their fees, but the government seems to have reneged on that. “There is a lack of clarity about any surplus,” he said.
However, Beauchamp said the agreement specifies that all the money would be returned to students and it names the concerns they have, such as advertising and construction.
Desjardins said students took issue with some of the wording in the document as well as the concept behind finding those savings in university budgets. She said her perception was that the committee – made up of student, union, government, university and CEGEP representatives – would work together to find these savings. But the government, she said, has put the onus entirely on the students.
“The premier is turning this committee into a confrontation between the government and students,” said Desjardins. “We thought we were going to be working together toward the same goal.”
Those concerns were reflected in the first student votes that took place on Monday, with almost all of the associations rejecting the offer. In fact, none of the student leaders have endorsed the deal; they have only promised to present it to their members for votes.
Still, there seemed to be a bit more goodwill behind it on Saturday, when Desjardins said it could be “the beginning of the end.” Less than two days later, she presented a different sentiment: “I don’t think this is the end at all.”
You can listen to an interview with CLASSE’s Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois yesterday on CBC Radio One’s The Current, http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2012/05/07/quebec-student-protests-as-game-changer/.