Quebec Ministers meet with Student Leaders in an Attempt to Reach an Agreement

Move is a last ditch effort to quell furor about controversial tuition hikes

Written by Khristopher Reardon, Staff Writer

Student holding sign by shahk (Flickr)


Student leaders meet with Quebec ministers following another weekend of protests both in support of striking students and against newly legislated rules regarding public protests.

Education minister Michelle Courchesne and junior finance minister Alain Paquet hope to hammer out a deal with the coalition of student and labour groups known as CLASSE.

The move is a last ditch effort to try and reach an agreement over the controversial tuition fee hikes in Quebec that started the hotbed of protest.

“The last time we met with Ms. Courchesne, it was followed by the adoption of the emergency legislation, so we are being very cautious. One thing is certain – there can be no settlement if the government refuses to discuss the tuition-fee hikes,” said Martine Desjardins, president of the Federation of University Students to the Globe and Mail.

The emergency legislation, known as Bill 78, requires group protests with over 50 people to give eight hours notice about protest routes and the times the protests are scheduled to begin and end.

It was introduced 10 days ago in an effort to quell the weeks of protesting but it seems to have only invigorated protestors into further furor.

[pullquote]The move is a last ditch effort to try and reach an agreement over the controversial tuition fee hikes in Quebec that started the hotbed of protest.[/pullquote]Many organizations in Quebec, including student groups and labour federations, claim the law is unconstitutional and restricts both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Many have taken to the streets in demonstrations spreading from Montreal to Levis to Quebec City, banging pots and pans in defiance of what the say is a repressive law.

Lawyers on behalf of the students and other groups have filed legal motions against the bill.

“We are doing this because we are genuinely worried that basic important rights such as freedom of association, freedom of expression and the right to hold peaceful demonstrations are being attacked,” explains Leo Bureau-Blouin, leader of Quebec’s college student federation.

However, continued protests have been met with mass arrests of not hundreds but thousands of Quebec civilians, bogging down an already over burdened judicial system.

Three weeks ago, it seemed that a tentative agreement had been reached with the help of union leaders at the table but the terms of the agreement were rejected by both college and university organizations. This time, union leaders are being sidelined.

Recently, former Parti Quebecois premier Jacques Parizeau characterized the protests as the awakening of a generation and compared them to the Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s which birthed a powerful nationalist movement.

The youth protests that were originally about tuition hikes have snowballed to include messages against Bill 78, globalization, neo-conservative policy and a slew of other ideas and messages.

“When I started working for the government, it was to nationalize the electricity companies and I was 31 years old. The atmosphere at the time was irresistible,” said Parizeau, as a keynote speaker at a meeting for pro-sovereignty groups who were preparing for a forum on Quebec independence scheduled for the Fall. “Well, it feels like that again … It is an extraordinary awakening of an entire generation. It is quite fascinating.”

Parizeau quoted the late French President Francois Mitterand as a warning to the figures who would take the fight with the protestors: “Young people are not always right. But a society is always wrong to beat them up”.

ARB Team
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