Pivotal week for Quebec students
Aug 5, 2012 / 8:07 am
Quebec's student strikes, which gained international attention in the spring, now face a pivotal week as students start voting on whether to return to class.
Students in the more militant CLASSE association will vote over a nine-day period, starting Tuesday, on heading back to school when it reopens mid-month.
The votes are the latest chapter in an improbable six-month saga that saw Quebec's tuition battle catapulted from the pages of campus newspapers into major foreign media.
They arrive as students grapple with an overriding strategic dilemma: to suspend the fight, or keep it up and risk helping to re-elect the Charest Liberals?
An unpopular government, battered by ethics scandals, appears to have some public support for its tuition increases of $1,778, or 82 per cent over seven years and it has made the issue a centrepiece of its re-election campaign.
Students are now grappling with whether to take that issue off the table during the campaign. One protest leader says students know their decision can have a major impact on the Sept. 4 election.
"I think students are very anxious to see what will happen during this election," said Martine Desjardins, head of the more moderate university students' federation.
"We think that we can have a major role ... but people will have to make very difficult choices during their general assemblies."
Student federations announced the day the campaign was launched that they would not favour any one political party, but were staunchly opposed to the Liberals being re-elected. They announced plans to protest in Liberal ridings, including that of Premier Jean Charest.
"For students, this isn't only about whether you want to go on strike or not anymore," Desjardins said. "The question becomes what the impact will there be if they strike during the election and, in some ridings, I think the impact could be huge."
One of Desjardins' former colleagues, her counterpart at the moderate federation in junior colleges, is now an election candidate with the Parti Quebecois. The rookie provincial politician, 20-year-old Leo Bureau-Blouin, urged students last week to consider an election truce.
The idea of a five-week strike break appears to have been rejected.
"The students will have to take a number of factors into consideration," said Eliane Laberge, who is Bureau-Blouin's successor.
"In the end, it'll be up to them to decide in general assemblies what road they want to take."
One-third of Quebec post-secondary students are on strike, while the rest completed their spring semester on time.
The strikers were given the summer off under the Liberals' controversial emergency law, Bill 78, which suspended their school year and pushed the end of the spring semester back to August-September.
It also set extremely stiff fines as high as $125,000 for groups and individuals who block schools with picket lines or who fail to provide police with an itinerary for street protests.
The provisions related to street protests haven't been applied by police. A lingering question in the provincial election is whether the picket-line provisions would be applied.
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