Three articles from the May 4, 2012 Gazette (Montreal):
* Charest, Beauchamp looking for dialogue with students
* CLASSE student group presents demands in Montreal
* Injunctions against student strike are “unenforcable”
Charest, Beauchamp looking for dialogue with students
By Kevin Dougherty, The Gazette, May 4, 2012
QUEBEC — Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp met Thursday with representatives of Quebec’s university and CÉGEP administrations to discuss the continuing tuition strike. The premier’s office had no immediate comment but Chantal Pouliot, communications director for the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec, confirmed the meeting took place “to try to find room for dialogue.”
Also on the agenda, said a government source, was discussion of “an open space for discussion of the post-secondary system.” An aide to Charest said the premier called the meeting to assess the situation noting that the dispute has reached “a critical moment” in the academic year, when students should be finishing their academic year and writing exams.
Another source, on the academic side of the table, said the government showed “a real willingness” to act soon.
Earlier, Beauchamp hinted she is trying to restart negotiations with the more moderate student federations to end Quebec’s 82-day tuition strike. “I offer a hand,” Beauchamp told reporters, saying that her office has been in contact with the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, representing university students, and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, which speaks for CÉGEP students, about their proposal for a council of universities that would look into how Quebec universities could be better managed.
But Mathieu Le Blanc, press attaché for the FEUQ, said Beauchamp’s chief of staff phoned the FEUQ with technical questions about the FEUQ-FECQ position on improving university management. “There were no discussions,” Le Blanc said. Asked whether the approach to the FEUQ and FECQ seemed to be a way to exclude the more militant CLASSE, the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, from the talks, Le Blanc said, “The CLASSE must be at the table.”
Beauchamp said the government is on the same wavelength with the students on the idea of a council to monitor university spending. “I want to repeat that is a good subject for discussion’” she said. “There are elements we could move on,” Beauchamp said. “We could have discussions on that subject. We are very open on that.”
The FEUQ and FECQ have proposed a two-year moratorium on fee increases and new investments in Quebec universities, a proposal Beauchamp said was puzzling.
Commenting on proposals by the CLASSE to roll back this hike and previous tuition hikes to 2007 levels, financing the plan by shifting money for university research to university teaching, Beauchamp said, “What I understand is that their position remains the same on the side of the CLASSE, defending completely free tuition to go to university.
“You know as well as I do, it hasn’t moved. They have been stuck in this position from the start. It doesn’t make it easy to find grounds for agreement and a resolution,” she said. “They don’t seem to recognize that the government has moved,” Beauchamp said. “When we can manage to reduce the bill, without transferring it to the backs of Quebec taxpayers, when the bill goes down, they can’t say we are standing still.”
CLASSE student group presents demands in Montreal
Quebec officials contact FEUQ, FECQ to discuss plans for council on university management
By Rene Bruemmer and Kevin Dougherty, The Gazette, May 4, 2012
MONTREAL – For the three-month-old student strike to end, the government must freeze university tuition fees at 2007 levels, cut university research budgets and cap the “exploding costs” associated with high administrative wages. In the longer term, it must offer free university tuition in five years, paid for by a capital tax on financial institutions.
These were among the counter-offers presented to the Liberal government Thursday by the student federation Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE). It proposed a series of measures to offset the loss in tuition payments, including cutting research funding, university advertising budgets and putting a freeze on administrative wages and the construction of satellite campuses.
If the demands are not met, the strike will go on, said CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. “We will go back where we belong – we will go back in the streets … Mr. Charest at one point or another will have to find a complete solution to the crisis, because the semester will have to finish one day.”
CLASSE represents half of the roughly 180,000 students boycotting classes in the province.
Education Minister Line Beauchamp, who has long maintained that tuition hikes are non-negotiable, called the counter-offer a disappointing repeat of previous demands. She added that her officials have contacted the two other striking student federations in the province to discuss their proposal for a council on university management.
The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, representing university students, and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, which speaks for CEGEP students, have proposed better university management, rather than a tuition hike, to finance Quebec’s universities. FEUQ and FECQ contacted Beauchamp’s office on Tuesday, when they made a counter-proposal to the $1,778 tuition increase the government has offered to phase in over seven years, with $39 million more for bursaries, cancelling the impact of the increase on low-income students.
The two federations proposed a two-year freeze on the hike and a two-year freeze on new investment in Quebec’s universities, a proposal Beauchamp described as puzzling. The minister also appealed to students blocking others who want to return to class to let them enter their colleges and universities.
CLASSE spokespeople classified the government’s offer as a “non-compromise” that increased the previous tuition increase proposal, and whose changes to the bursary program would come from the pockets of middle-income taxpayers. It offered four ideas it said could raise funds needed for education, without raising tuitions or taxes.
Saying 26.2 per cent of Quebec university budgets go toward research as opposed to 21.5 per cent in the rest of Canada, CLASSE suggested the gap between the provincial and national averages be cut in half, which would free up $142 million that could be invested instead in teaching. Much of the research conducted profits private corporations as opposed to students or taxpayers, CLASSE argued.
It wants to cut the practice of universities advertising to compete against each other to attract students, saving $18 million a year. These two measures alone would raise $160 million annually and negate the need for tuition hikes, CLASSE said.
It also called for:
* An immediate freeze on the wages and hiring of university administrators, which have “exploded” in recent years.
* A moratorium on the construction or expansion of satellite campuses far from universities’ home sites – institutions Nadeau-Dubois said only result in schools stealing students from each other without improving accessibility.
In the long term, CLASSE wants the government to start an Estates General on education this fall or winter, and to institute the gradual insertion of a capital tax on banks and financial institutions, growing to 0.7 per cent by 2016. This would raise $400 million a year, allowing the province to offer free tuition, it said.
Also Thursday, students at CEGEP de Sherbrooke voted to end the boycott and return to class on Monday.
Protesters thumb their noses at injunction
Injunctions against student strike are “unenforcable”
By Monique Muise, The Gazette, Friday, May 4, 2012
MONTREAL – As dawn broke over Montreal on Wednesday, a group of about 30 people slowly began assembling outside Collège de Maisonneuve on Sherbrooke St. As they had done every day since Monday, they stood stone-faced and arms crossed, shoulder to shoulder in a large clump in front of the CEGEP’s main doors, blocking access to the classrooms and lecture halls inside. Some wore black clothing and scarves over their faces. Others donned ski goggles, so that even their eyes were obscured. Their message was clear: No one gets through.
The protesters were there in direct defiance of an injunction issued by a Quebec Superior Court judge on behalf of 16 students a few days earlier that ordered the school’s administration to continue providing access to classes for those who say they are not participating in an ongoing strike. Those students were able to get into the building on Thursday following a meeting between administrators and the strikers, but the blockade of the building Wednesday morning was, simply put, illegal. Still, no one was arrested. No one was charged, or even ticketed.
It was by no means an isolated event. Over the past several weeks, students at post-secondary institutions across Quebec have gone to court and asked for injunctions (court orders that prevent someone from performing a particular act or require them to perform a particular act) to compel their schools to keep classes running, ensuring that they don’t lose their semester. Many of those injunctions have been issued, and the schools have dutifully announced that their doors would be open and their teachers ready to teach, only to backtrack when protesters turned up on their doorsteps. The chance of a violent confrontation is something administrators say they are simply not willing to risk.
So has the rule of law failed, or been circumvented somehow?
No, says Université de Montréal law professor Stéphane Beaulac, but the fact that the injunctions are being ignored so wilfully suggests that they may not have been appropriate in the first place. “One of the tests followed in order to decide whether to grant an injunction is to evaluate the so-called balance of inconveniences,” Beaulac said. “You also need to take into account factors linked to the administration of justice.”
Essentially, he explained, before issuing an injunction a judge must take into account how likely it is that the order will be respected, and whether it can be enforced if it is not. “In the present circumstances … we’ve seen that they’re really not enforceable, or certainly not easily enforceable.”
The police cannot intervene to break up the blockades unless a criminal act (a verbal threat, for example) has been committed. Instead, they have to wait for someone to go back in front of a judge and file a motion to find the door-blockers in contempt of court. One such motion was filed this week in Sherbrooke, and a decision is expected on Monday.
“In view of the facts presented to the court, the court may then order the police to apprehend the violators of the court order, to bring them before the court so that the judge can actually pronounce them in contempt of court,” Beaulac said.
This may seem convoluted, he acknowledged, but it works under normal circumstances. But what is happening in courtrooms and on campuses across the province right now, said Beaulac, is extremely abnormal and may start to shake public confidence in the justice system as a whole. “We’re still too close to the trees … but I’d be surprised if the justice system and our rule-of-law liberal democracy will be seen as the winner in these episodes,” he said. “To a certain extent, the very essence of our democratic system is in part linked to the respect of different public authorities, including the judiciary.”
The outrage from the legal community, meanwhile, has been palpable. On Wednesday, the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Quebec, François Rolland, was quoted in La Presse as saying that the situation is similar to a hockey team continuing to play after a referee has blown the whistle. He even suggested that the province’s attorney-general, Jean-Marc Fournier, should step in. Fournier refused.
Yvon Garneau, a Drummondville lawyer who acted as a legal adviser to a Université Laval student who sought an injunction so he could access his anthropology classes, said he is “surprised and astonished” by what he has witnessed over the last few weeks. “I have never, ever seen injunctions not being respected to this point in Quebec, not even in the area of labour and unions,” he told The Gazette. “I think that right now, the police forces, the authorities at CEGEPs and the universities – really all of those who are involved in these orders – are not taking their responsibilities seriously at all. We’re in a situation where there is a tolerance, but that tolerance is illegal.”
Beaulac cautioned that the current turmoil “does not mean we’re going to have anarchy in Quebec tomorrow,” but it should serve as a lesson in the decades to come. “A good system based on the rule of law is somewhat fragile,” he said. “This is all very troubling.”
Young NDP MPs left sitting on their hands in Quebec tuition protests
By Stephanie Levitz, Canadian Press, published on Globe and Mail April 30, 2012.
OTTAWA — Young New Democrat MPs who likely once would have been among the thousands of Quebec students hoisting placards in opposition to higher tuition are instead being forced to sit on their hands.
At least five Quebec NDP MPs were students in the province before being swept unexpectedly into federal office during last year’s election, and several others were only a few years out of school. But even as the 11-week-old feud between the provincial Liberal government and students gains international attention, the rookie MPs are learning that being Quebec’s voice in Ottawa sometimes also means they need to shut up.
There’s nothing to be gained from weighing in on a provincial matter that’s out of their hands, they’ve been cautioned, so best not to say anything at all. Especially because there is something to lose: support in the province that handed them their official Opposition status in the Commons. “Hiding behind the jurisdictional issue over the student strikes is good politics because there are few benefits for the NDP and a number of risks,” said Bruce Hicks, a political science professor at Concordia University in Montreal.
There has been speculation that the strike could become the catalyst for a provincial election, and Hicks said any support for the students benefits the Parti Quebecois.
That’s bad for the federal NDP, because a PQ government in Quebec will use its resources to support the Bloc Quebecois at the federal level. Which could end up sending those student NDP MPs right back to school after the next federal election.
Plus, being seen as supporting a protest movement that’s led to violence and dozens of arrests is risky, Hicks said. “The NDP being so silent on this question is obviously the result of the party leadership doing a risk-benefit analysis,” Hicks said.
In an interview on CPAC earlier this week, New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair stayed away from weighing in directly on the protest, saying it was up to the provincial government to discuss the choices its made on the cost of going to school. “Let’s hope there will be a settlement,” he said. “Violence is not the right way to do things,” he said.
The Charest government wants to raise tuition by $1,625. Initially, the increase was to be rolled out over five years but in a bid to stop the strikes, the government said Friday they are willing to phase it in over seven. Quebec student groups were meeting over the weekend to decide whether to take the offer.
Canada’s youngest MP, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, did acknowledge that had things been different, it could have been him out on the streets in Quebec. The 19-year-old said he believes in education being accessible, but wouldn’t comment on what he thought about the cost of it in his home province. But he said he thinks the protests generally are an important symbol for democracy.
“I’m not for the violence, but I’m for people who have the right to say what they want,” he said.
One Tory MP is hoping the NDP’s condemnation of the violence will convince them to back his private member’s bill that would make it a criminal offence for people to wear disguises during violent protests. Blake Richards, an Alberta MP, said the New Democrats voted against his bill on second reading.
“I would hope that given these incidents they will rethink that,” he said in an interview. “They’ve seen the kind of destruction that’s occurred in Montreal and they have a number of members that represent the city and I would certainly hope they would rethink and protect public safety and protect businesses.” Richards’ bill is expected to go before committee this week.