'A long dispute means that both parties are wrong' – Voltaire

Toula Foscolos
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The ongoing student boycott

I thought I had said my peace about the student strike, but here I am again, writing about it. Charest's recent announcement that the spring semesters at universities and colleges impacted by the 14-week old student boycott would be suspended under special legislation, resulted in a pretty predictable – and what’s almost become a nightly routine these days - protest.

Toula Foscolos

“It’s time that we restore calm. This has gone on long enough,” stated an emphatic Charest, while a visibly upset Léo Bureau-Blouin of the FECQ warned that any violence that took place after this announcement would be the Premier’s fault.

Three months of this conflict and what I’ve found most fascinating is the cafeteria-style approach both sides have in how they pick and choose what to re-tweet, re-post, and comment on, proving correct William James’ brilliant adage that “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

The sheer level of hypocrisy, selective reasoning and tunnel vision displayed by all players in this ongoing drama is both amusing and disappointing to me. Both the student associations (which, by the way, only represent a small proportion of students) and the Liberals (also a government voted in by a minority, but abstaining voters only have themselves to blame for that) have been closed off and unwilling to negotiate and reach some sort of compromise. Both sides are, of course, accusing the other side of stubbornness, while exalting their own openness to dialogue. Funny stuff…

And when I refer to hypocrisy, this is what I mean: I am not in favour of a freeze on tuition fees, but I also don’t accept a government that chooses to force special legislation down protesters’ throats, instead of sticking with what is admittedly more convoluted, messy, and time consuming but a vital ingredient of democracy; dialogue.

I am in favour of students’ right to protest and make their voices heard, but not impressed with the lack of accountability I’ve seen so far. Student associations, if you denounce violence and intimidation by the government ON students, you have to be willing to denounce the violence and intimidation BY students. You can't claim your democratic right to strike, while intimidating others from entering class (in full-on masks, no less) and preventing them from their democratic right not to. No one gets to claim moral superiority here, I'm afraid...

PQ supporters are furious at the Liberals’ stance, demanding to know how an entire student movement can be discredited because of a few violent bad apples, while the government can remain credible despite numerous accusations of corruption. They’re right.

On the other hand, I firmly believe that if the PQ were in power and currently negotiating with the students, Charest would be wearing the red square on his lapel and chastising Marois for her unwillingness to listen. Let’s not confuse political self-preservation for political conviction. Winning conditions is all any opposition cares about.

The sheer level of hypocrisy, selective reasoning and tunnel vision displayed by all players in this ongoing drama is both amusing and disappointing to me.

Many points have been argued and presented by both sides and many have merit. I can’t possibly discuss them all. Here’s one I don’t support, however: the request by students for a free education. I firmly believe that most supporters of free education don’t even know what it entails. Having lived and studied in Greece for 10 years, all I can say is “be careful what you wish for.”

While education in Greece is free, entrance to university is subject to such demanding exams (because the competition is fierce for a limited number of spots), that the process in some respect falsifies free-state education. In order to prepare for these exams, most students attend additional classes in the many private (and for profit) schools. They therefore indirectly subsidize an inadequately-funded state system.

The allocation system is also something Quebec students fighting for the right to free education wouldn’t know anything about. It often doesn’t allow them to choose what or where they will study and they’re often stuck undertaking some irrelevant subject in an institution far away from home. Who do you think bears the costs of rent, living expenses, and travel when their kid is sent to the other side of the country?

The costs are so substantial in many cases and the university degree they may be studying may be so uninteresting to them that it’s preferable to them (and often at a comparable cost) to send them at a local private college or abroad at a foreign university.  

There are many points in the ongoing debate worth discussing and debating, but this, in my opinion, isn’t one of them.

As an addendum and a final point to last night's introduction of Bill 78: Might does not make right, and introducing special legislation such as  Bill 78 will do nothing to calm things down because it offers no real solution; not even a respite from the ugliness. On the contrary, it will exacerbate things and bring out even more people to the protests because it is a serious threat to people's freedom and right to assemble.

Bill 78 is undemocratic, goes way too far (analogous to bringing a Bazooka to a knife fight) and the Liberals should be ashamed for introducing legislation that seeks to impede what should be most cherished in a democracy; dissent.





Organizations: Léo Bureau, PQ

Geographic location: Greece, Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Robin Black
    May 17, 2012 - 14:32

    If you're going to claim moral "middleground" superiority, you're gonna need to bring some objective arguments to the table. Reducing this conflict to childish "request by students for a free education" isn't going to cut it. Actually, unless you can provide some sources substantiating that argument (which would be kinda hard since none of the student associations, even the more radical CLASSE, ever made such a demand to the Minister), you’re just as guilty of bias as all those "tweeters" you admonish. So before shooting your venom them because, God forbid, they dare express their views through retweets, start by walking the walk and not just talking the talk by confusing "broader debate" with "issue at stake" (you could also just "unfollow" all those annoying tweeters and call it a day). Speaking of which, here’s an issue at stake: the PLQ. In particular, its inability to deal with ANY criticism on its way of managing OUR taxes. Whether it’s refusing to amend a defunct Mining Act (as ALL municipalities located in the Plan Nord region have demanded) to please the mining lobby, selling off our resources in the form of pennies-a-square-foot "claims" to please the foreign inverstors lobby, allowing deans to get off easy with 700 000$ severance packages to please the university (un)management lobby, allowing "public" clinics to charge their patients for the priviledge of a family doctor to please the private practitionners lobby, or allowing all public infrastructures to be built at three times the real cost to please the mafia (did you miss it yesterday? Mascouche mayor getting off in the National Assembly?). Should I go on? I am a Liberal. I have always been a Liberal. Jean Charest’s government does not reflect my Liberal values. Jean Charest is not a Liberal. He swore he would never become a Liberal and he kept his promise, and yes, I can provide that source.