We can draw an interesting - if at first sight unlikely - comparison between Quebec Student Protest Leaders and the US Congress. Unlikely, because their ideologies are diametrically opposed. But similar in their unproductive unwillingness to compromise or stray even the slightest bit from their convictions.
Not that compromise is always necessary: with respect to the gravest human rights violations, for instance, we should be absolute and unwavering in our convictions. But as much as the student leaders may justify their black-and-white approach to the issue by citing accessible education as a human right, their overarching vision is far too grandiose and simplistic.
The tuition debate is not a simple one: it is inseparable from the realities of the provincial government’s finances, and accessibility to education is far more complicated than a one variable problem involving only cost. Recently, student leaders have been posing more problems than solutions, and in many ways they risk becoming a regressive force for the cause they believe in.
The government’s original position was to increase tuition by $325 a year for the next 5 years, while the student groups wished for the tuition freeze to continue. Since then, every attempt the government has made to meet them in the middle has been met with the rejection by student protestors of everything including their own original position, as the two sides continue to shift further apart.
The most recent terms dictated by CLASSE, a group representing roughly half of the striking students, called for Quebec to eliminate tuition by 2016, enforce a blockade on satellite campuses and restrict the ability of universities to advertise in order to attract students. The vocal rhetoric regarding capitalism and “the 1%” is also becoming somewhat more intertwined with the battle over tuition increases as it continues to evolve.
While the terms of the protestors have become increasingly difficult for an aspiring deficit neutral government to meet, the government has made some major concessions to the student leaders. They have agreed to extend the tuition increase over the course of 7 years, increased student aid drastically, proposed tying student repayment to post graduation income, recently replaced the minister of education and even agreed to reduce university fees by the amount of the tuition increase.
The student response: more protests; smoke bombings in Montreal's Metro (which some fringe student groups have already endorsed); destruction of private property; and perhaps worst of all, using Mr. Charest's attempts to compromise to further fuel their unwavering conviction that the government will meet their demands, unequivocally.
Quebecers will soon become too livid to give the protestors the support they need to continue. The act of disrupting the Metro and shutting down roads and bridges has at least as many direct implications for those who have jobs to do as it does for the students, who are themselves susceptible to fatigue. If these disruptions weren't enough to sway public support, a recent poll found that 79% of Quebec would be opposed to lower tuition if it meant higher taxes.
Given recent events, the public's view is undoubtedly aligning more closely with those of Mr. Charest's government as the media continues to report on his revised propositions in a continual effort to compromise and end the strike. The students, with the major concessions they’ve been granted, would be wise to promptly agree to the terms and justified in proclaiming this a victory rather than a loss. After being publicly humiliated with every attempt to compromise with the students, Mr. Charest is likely to assert his authority more strongly and the students will certainly not be given larger concessions.
In the same way that Mr. Obama will be likely to blame his government's shortcomings on a steadfast Congress that sought to block many of his compromises (justifiably or otherwise), Mr. Charest will likely use the inflexibility of the students as grounds for his own re-election. Another term for Charest is a prospect which seemed all but impossible until recent polls showed the Parti Québécois - who have strongly endorsed the students - promptly losing their lead over the Liberals. As such, protestors may be wise to focus their attention on the next election rather than grant Charest the continued public disruptions he needs for the chance at another term.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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