How the Anglo Punditocracy Demonizes Québec’s Student Protests

Anglo Canada is sticking its fingers in its ears and humming a happy song. Many in the English-speaking punditocracy and media (or perhaps mediocracy?) are doing their best to persuade us that student protests in Québec are nothing of any consequence.

This is getting a little harder to do, now that so many other folks are joining the students. But it is not too late to jump on the bandwagon to ridicule or demonize the protesters. Just follow these simple steps. (Steps can be rearranged and amplified for dramatic effect.)

Step 1: Set the stage with a dismissive tone.  Many like to scorn protesters as naïve over-entitled brats. If you really get huffing and puffing, brand students as anti-social radicals. This leads nicely into step 2.

Step 2: Suggest a sinister undertone. Highlight any behaviour suggesting that protesters are undisciplined violent thugs. (Take care to frame this in a way that denies the possibility that the noble police force ever provokes any unpleasantness).

Step 3: Explain WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON. This is your chance to look like you are magnanimously enlightening those poor confused students. Remember, it is your job to reassure English Canada that the status quo is entirely reasonable and the forces of authority radiate with the glow of legitimacy.

Protestors walk north along Berri Street under the Sherbrooke Street overpass in one of Montréal’s nightly demonstrations prior to the introduction of Law 78. May 14, 2012.

Now that you have concluded that protesters are in the wrong, find some evidence

Steps 1 and 2 can usually work just by evoking appropriate stereotypes, but in step 3 you will likely have to introduce something that passes as evidence. Naturally you will want to select evidence that supports your point of view. But at all times, maintain your Continue reading

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Don’t Kid Yourself: We all pay for the defunding of higher education

I went to McGill in the late 80s and early 90s when tuition fees were less than $1,200 a year, so with summer jobs and some parental help I graduated from my first degree debt-free. For my MA, which I took in Ontario, I worked part-time and graduated after one year with a debt of $10,000.

By way of comparison: my partner went to university in Ontario after grants were eliminated, and when the first round of tuition fee hikes were implemented. He completed a BA and then an MA, and graduated with a debt load (and compound interest) requiring monthly payments of around $650 for 10 years.

We know we benefited, and are benefiting from, our education. Both of us have found employment that allows us to make use of what we studied, and each of us paid back our loans. But that debt (particularly my partner’s), until it was fully repaid, impacted every major decision we made as a couple and then later as a family. And we still live with those decisions: when we bought a house, when we had kids, how many kids we could afford to have, the fact that we don’t own a car, how often we see our families who live out of town. (The other determining factor is the high cost of child care outside of Québec.)

“Have you set up RESPs yet?” we’re often asked. Are you kidding—with both kids still in child care? And since we have fundamental issues with the RESP system, the public money it represents and how, like the RRSP system, it’s geared to the wealthiest families who can most afford to save, we’ll be exploring other ways—once child care expenses go down—to save for our kids’ education so that they can start their adulthood as debt-free as possible.

Of course, if our house needs major repairs it promises to throw a huge wrench into “the plan”. Because for many of us, life is as precariously balanced as a three-legged stool: alter one element (like when I broke my leg last year, rendering me immobile for several weeks) and the whole thing threatens to topple.

Our societies are likewise delicately balanced: educated societies are healthy societies; equitable societies are safer societies. There is no one panacea—these elements work together. And they need to work well together—which requires accountability, sufficient financing, transparency, and effective administration. So the question is not “health care or education, what’s it going to be?”; the question is, what do we need in order to create an equitable, healthy, educated and engaged society, and what’s the best, fairest, most efficient way to get it?

It is within this context that we need to examine the rhetorical criticisms levied against the Québec student strike and the people involved.

Discarded placards in Place Jacques-Cartier, Old Montréal after 200,000 people marched through the streets against Québec’s tuition increases on March 22, 2012. photo by David Widgington

Tuition fees in Québec are the lowest in the country. What have they got to complain about?

It’s less surprising that Québec students are protesting than Continue reading

270+ Concordia Professors Oppose the Privatization of Universities

A growing number of university professors in Québec are joining the protest movement against the government’s funding plan for higher education. The letter below is signed by more than 270 Concordia University Professors. Many McGill University, HEC Montréal and Université de Montréal professors have also added their names to the letter open letter.

Professeurs contre la hausse have also written a manifesto that so far has more than 2100 signatories.

Students, professors, parents and their children walk eastward on Ste-Catherine street on the Sunday, March 18 family march against tuition hikes and in support of accessible education. Photo 2012 by David Widgington.

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Add your name to the below letter.

(version française)

Concordia Professors Opposed to Privatisation of Universities

The efforts of the Charest government to privatize university funding in Quebec have sparked widespread protests.  180,000 students are on strike across the province. Classroom teaching has ground to a halt at many CEGEPs and universities across Quebec, including the University of Montreal, University of Quebec at Montreal, and much of Concordia University.

Students are at the forefront of an important struggle over public education and its role in Quebec society. As professors at Concordia, we join our voices to those of our students. We call on the Quebec government to revisit the university funding plan and rescind the measures that would further privatize our universities through tuition hikes and increased reliance on corporate funding of research. 

Historically, Quebec universities have been funded by the public on the grounds that society is enriched as a result. With public funding, tuition fees have remained low and higher education has remained accessible. Under Quebec’s educational social contract, university graduates who achieve success in the labour market keep university costs low for the next generation through their tax dollars. This arrangement is a crucial part of maintaining a more equitable society in which people have access to health care and education no matter what their income is. This is what the student movement is fighting to defend today. 

The government’s plan is an attempt to break Quebec’s hard won social contract on education. The proposed 75 percent increase in tuition fees will undermine Continue reading

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