Why Vote Against the Québec Government Offer and Continue Student Strike

Since Saturday, some people have come up to me expressing their delight a strike that is finally over, now that a negotiated agreement has been made between the government of Québec and striking students. My reply is that “nothing can be further from the truth.” Here’s why.

“Education is not for sale. Yes to the general strike.” Photo March 22, 2012 by David Widgington.

1) Government Insincerity & Incompetence

The most obvious reason for rejecting the offer is that there is nothing in the so-called “agreement” that addresses the tuition fees nor offers any proposal for reducing the 82% tuition increase over seven years. The “agreement” that students are voting on this week, proposes to end the crisis with the establishment of a Provisional University Council (PUC), whose mandate would be to make recommendations to the Minister of Education by 31 December 2012 about “the optimal utilization of universities’ financial resources and show, where they exist, recurrent savings that can be freed.” These potential (but not guaranteed) savings would not reduce tuition increases but would instead transferred to diminishing the $500-$800/year user fees universities have been allowed to increase over the last few years. If no savings can be “freed” then status quo prevails. As a temporary measure, $125 in user fees will be reduced to compensate for the tuition increase during the 2012 fall semester. At the beginning of the strike, Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp argued for tuition increases to resolve university underfunding. Their offer now claims that universities have more money than they need, allowing them to squander millions on severance packages, luxurious promotional trips and marketing campaigns.

This 19-person Provisional Council would effectively audit universities to flush out administrative spending abuses. Based on the composition of the Provisional Council (six university rectors, four union members, two people from the corporate sector, one CEGEP administrator, two government bureaucrats and four student representatives) it is doubtful that it will have any genuine motivation to criticize university spending practices and recommend budget cuts to reduce student fees. And there are no provisions that prevent universities to continue to unilaterally increase user fees. Education Minister Line Beauchamp is quoted in Le Devoir as saying, “if gains for students are to be had, they still need to be calculated and are not guaranteed,” already opening the door for the Provisional Council to declare that university spending practices have been optimized and that no money can be “freed” from the budget.

I will vote against the government’s offer because it is a pre-election smoke screen aimed at further dividing the population and improving its position in opinion polls that show 62% support for tuition increases but an even higher percentage that believes Jean Charest mismanaged the student crisis.

In June of 2008, then-Education Minister Michelle Courchesne Continue reading

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