Three items enclosed.
1. Election may be upstaging class boycott
Turnout is sparse at first assemblies held to vote on continuing tuition-hike protest
By Karen Seidman, The Gazette, Aug 8, 2012
Any goal of continuing the student boycott of classes got off to an inauspicious start this week, with the first general assemblies poorly attended and the provincial election having seemingly diverted the focus from protesting to voting.
Although very few student associations have reconvened yet to take new votes on the boycott, the early buzz after the first few was that perhaps the student conflict over tuition hikes is finally fizzling out. And one of the province’s largest student associations — the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) — really shook things up on Tuesday with the acknowledgement that associations that wait to take their votes until after the Sept. 4 election might be doing the right thing.
“It kind of makes sense to do that, so we are encouraging people to go to their general assemblies and have the debate,” said Martine Desjardins, president of the FEUQ. “Students are confused now, so it might be good to postpone the vote so they can be active in the general election.”
Controversy swirled around the first vote taken on Monday night by the social work department at the Université de Montréal, where fewer than 60 students of 638 in the department participated. With only about 10 per cent of students in attendance, how was quorum reached? Desjardins expressed concern about the vote, although the association belongs to the Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), not the FEUQ. “It bothers us because we’ve been advocating for having more participation,” she said. “Usually you need a certain percentage of students to participate.”
CLASSE said the rules of that association were respected with the vote. “Obviously we hoped for more people,” said CLASSE’s chief spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. “But they went according to their rules.”
It also wasn’t entirely clear what happened at the CEGEP de St. Laurent on Monday, with the FEUQ reporting that not enough people showed up so they decided to postpone the vote till after the election, but the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) said it was just a rumour and the vote is not scheduled until Saturday.
On Tuesday, the CEGEP Marie-Victorin had only 300 students of about 4,000 eligible show up for their vote, so they have decided to postpone it till next Monday, Nadeau-Dubois said. “We’ll do what we can to make sure students come,” he said. But he doesn’t think any conclusions can be drawn after so few assemblies.
Desjardins said she doesn’t believe students are losing interest in the tuition conflict, but she does believe they may finally see a route other than boycotting classes to achieve their goal for a tuition freeze. “The strike was only a tool but students may see now that they can go back to school and finish the semester and focus on the election,” she said. “Maybe they’re starting to see we can obtain our goal without going on strike, that we have an opportunity with this election and we should try to profit from it and change the government.”
Schubert Laforest, president of the Concordia Student Union, said he’s also seeing a bit of shift of focus. “Some students are in favour of a strike but a lot more are focusing on the elections and getting people to vote,” he said.
Associations belonging to CLASSE have not been instructed how to vote, or to delay votes till after the election, Nadeau-Dubois said. “We’re not asking them to continue the strike or stop the strike, it’s all up to students,” he said.
CEGEP and university administrators are anxiously watching the events unfold, hoping that all the organization involved in setting up makeup sessions for students who missed much of the winter semester won’t be sabotaged by picketing students. After many campus clashes last spring, the Liberals adopted Bill 78, an ‘Act to Enable Students to Receive Instruction from the Postsecondary Institutions they Attend.’
The law will be put to the test this month as students decide not only if they want to continue the boycott, but if they want to risk severe penalties and still attempt to block classes if they decide to continue their protests. Just in case, the Fédération des CEGEPs is meeting with police on Wednesday to finalize plans for a possibly tumultuous back-to-school season. “We are discussing with police to plan the return to classes,” said Jean Beauchesne, president of the federation. “We will discuss what to do if there are problems.”
But he said no additional security is planned yet, the colleges just want to be prepared. He said they are also watching to see how the student votes go. “Of course we don’t want students coming back to riot squads lined up,” he said.
Neither the Université de Montréal nor the Université du Québec à Montréal said it had boosted security for the return to school, although they do always have a certain amount of campus security in place. “We are watching to see what happens in the CEGEPs too,” said Jenny Desrochers, interim director of communications for UQAM. “We have to keep Bill 78 in mind, but it’s premature to say yet what we’ll do.”
As Laforest noted, after the raucous winter and spring as students ferociously fought tuition hikes, it can go either way now. “It could go away, or it could come back five times stronger.”
2. Duchesneau opens himself to criticism
Popular CAQ candidate assailed for saying anti-corruption commission wasted his time
By Rheal Séguin and Daniel LeBlanc, Globe and Mail, Aug 8, 2012
When Jacques Duchesneau made a dramatic entry into the Quebec election campaign, his rivals didn’t know how to take him on. The fear was that any frontal attack on the popular anti-corruption crusader now running for the Coalition Avenir Québec would boost the ex-cop’s standing with voters. For a while, the Parti Québécois and the Quebec Liberals shied away from uttering his name. However, Mr. Duchesneau this week opened himself up to rebukes from the other parties and the commission of inquiry into corruption in the Quebec construction industry.
Although still a larger-than-life presence in the campaign, he no longer seems untouchable. The situation is the first major challenge of the campaign for the Coalition Avenir Québec, testing the new party’s ability to put out fires and thrive under stress.
After wrongly stating on Monday that he would select the anticorruption ministers in a CAQ government, Mr. Duchesneau faced another storm on Tuesday when he said the Charbonneau commission wasted his time when he appeared this spring. “I was examined and cross-examined for five days and I was never able to get my message across,” he told Le Journal de Québec.
The lead counsel for the inquiry, Sylvain Lussier, responded that Mr. Duchesneau underwent extensive pre-interviews with commission staff and was questioned on the stand according to what was discussed. He added that Mr. Duchesneau gave the commission confidential reports that included vague information and statements from anonymous sources identified by code names, which are still being reviewed. “Mr. Duchesneau was treated in the same way that we will treat all witnesses at the inquiry,” Mr. Lussier said in an interview. “If he had other things to say, he had the opportunity to do it.”
Mr. Lussier’s intervention is a surprising foray by the independent body into a campaign. He said his goal was to “re-establish the facts” and keep the commission out of the election.
However, the comments pose a serious threat to Mr. Duchesneau`s reputation. CAQ Leader François Legault jumped to his star candidate’s defence, saying that Mr. Duchesneau is willing to go back to the commission on Monday to answer more questions. Hearings are scheduled to resume on Sept. 17, well after the Sept. 4 vote.
Mr. Legault accused Mr. Lussier of “a serious lack of judgment,” and failing to exercise the proper restraint as a member of a commission of inquiry. In a statement, he said Mr. Lussier’s “strange” remarks “threaten to discredit the apparent neutrality of the Charbonneau commission.”
The other main parties tried to capitalize on the controversy, with Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois accusing Mr. Duchesneau of trying to undermine the commission’s work. “It is disconcerting that Mr. Duchesneau would cast doubt over the Charbonneau commission,” Ms. Marois said. “If he has something to say, he should reveal it to the commission.”
Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest has derided the CAQ, saying it is “improvising” on every big issue. On Tuesday, he attacked Mr. Duchesneau for backing away from his threat to launch new allegations of corruption at the Liberals. “If he is afraid of lawsuits, it might be because he is not convinced that his information is accurate,” Mr. Charest said.
When he testified before the commission last June, Mr. Duchesneau made a shocking claim that 70 per cent of the funding of political parties in Quebec was dirty money. At the time, the lawyer representing the PQ at the commission, Estelle Tremblay, lashed out publicly against his credibility. The lawyer was called to order by Ms. Marois, but now the PQ leader suggests Ms. Tremblay may have been right. “Some say that she was a bit too zealous in her reaction when, in fact, she was simply dumbfounded by [Mr. Duchesneau’s] responses. Perhaps Mr. Lussier’s comments show that she was right,” Ms. Marois said.
The PQ leader said that, if she becomes premier, she would implement the inquiry’s recommendations.
3. Legault promises to cut taxes, expenses
Middle class needs a break, CAQ leader tells Quebecers
By Max Harrold, Canadian Press, in The Gazette, Aug 8, 2012
Trust me, says François Legault, I know what I’m doing. The Coalition Avenir Québec leader took aim at the votes and wallets of middle class Quebecers Monday, promising to eliminate the health tax and lower taxes for Quebecers who earn less than $100,000 by $500 over the next five years.
And he made it clear he has big ideas about how he would manage the public purse if he is elected premier, with a $1.8-billion cut here, a $730 million cut there, 7,000 public service jobs cut here. “Don’t worry, I’m a chartered accountant,” Legault said Tuesday, saying he’ll provide more details in the coming days. “It will balance out. We will explain exactly the revenues and expenses columns and how we’ll meet our financial promises.”
For starters, Legault said the CAQ would cut $500 in annual fees and taxes over five years for each person who earns less than $100,000 per year. The first cut would come from the elimination of the $200 per-individual annual contribution for health-care services for people who earn no more than $100,000. It would be cut by $100 per year over two years.
After that, each person in the same income bracket would also get a $100 tax cut per year each year for three years. “It’s important to give the middle class a break,” Legault said.
The health-care fee cut would trim $730 million annually from the government’s coffers while the tax cut would slash a further $1.8 billion annually, he explained. Martin Koskinen, a Legault adviser, said special “arrangements could be made for single-parent families, where the financial burden is greater, through child tax credits.”
Legault said the public already knows some of his plans to obtain savings elsewhere in government. “There’s going to be a whole cleanup in the (regional) health-care agencies, in school boards, Hydro-Québec and other areas, too,” he said, referring to the CAQ’s plans to streamline health-care bureaucracy, abolish school boards and cut civil service jobs.
Legault took aim at the Parti Québécois, for which he was once a cabinet minister, saying the CAQ is best placed to institute serious reductions in the size of government. “I know the Parti Québécois very well,” Legault said. “I know that they have something like 15 or 17 candidates that come from unions. So of course (the PQ) will never decrease expenses. We will do so, and in doing so, we’ll have money available to decrease income taxes. Mrs. Marois will never be able to do that with the Parti Québécois.”
In a planned visit, Legault went to the home of Geneviève Laurin and Dominic Brassard and their two young children. Brassard told Legault, “I’m looking for someone who can do a cleanup” of government. Some unionized employees seem to think they are entitled to their jobs, he said, but they need to change their attitude. “Everyone has to tighten their belts, including me,” Brassard said. But shoppers at the IGA where Legault made his tax cut pitch were not so certain. “It’s all garbage,” said one 71-year-old man at the grocery store who would not give his name. “All the parties today say one thing and do another. It disgusts me.
“They will say anything, actually, to get in power.”
The man, who was active in politics long ago, feels he has no real options in the current election. “If we vote for a small party (like the CAQ) then Jean Charest’s Liberals will get back in. What can we do?” he said, throwing his hands up near the bakery counter.
Jeannette Bernard, 57, was interested by the CAQ tax cut idea, but skeptical it could actually be implemented. “They come and promise things but at the end of four years they haven’t done it,” said Bernard, who works in a hospital where she rents televisions to patients.
“I have a daughter who has two young children. Believe me, at the end of the year, they are tight financially,” Bernard said. “They have to figure out how to do manage. This would help.”