Quebec's student movement and their allies have succeeded in blocking regressive tuition hikes and a law aimed directly at suppressing their rights to mobilize and speak. The newly elected Parti Quebecois (PQ) granted both student demands on the first day of taking office after its September 3 election victory.
“All this has the right-wing in Canada pulling out their hair,” according to Derrick O'Keefe, editor of the online daily Rabble. “It is definitely a huge and significant win,” he affirmed.
Longtime Vancouver activist and researcher Colleen Fuller predicts that the success will be felt all across Canada. A cross-country tour involving the most visible student spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, is being launched to consider the lessons.
The new PQ premier Pauline Marois wore a red patch of solidarity with the students throughout the political campaign. The tuition hike was to be at least $254 per year for seven years (from $2,168/year to $3,793/yr. In addition to eliminating the tuition increase, Quebec's new budget includes a $39 million boost in student aid.
Quebec's outgoing Liberal premier Jean Charest also made a “major miscalculation,” according to O'Keefe, in passing emergency legislation (Bill 78) restricting the rights to assemble and picket, “a key turning point with public opinion turning against him, including from many not really that sympathetic to the students.”
The students' power results partly from their own long traditions of militant activism – “combative student unionism,” as they call it – as well as strong coalition building with broader Quebec civil society. On May 22, between 400-500,000 people marched in downtown Montreal, estimated to be the largest demonstration in Canadian history.
The Liberal government was dogged by corruption, including serious exposes of links with the mafia; the PQ knew that opposing the tuition hike and Bill 78 was good politics.
“They also knew that if they tried to wriggle out of these election promises that the students would mobilize again and they would have a big headaches,” O'Keefe said.
The PQ government also moved quickly to ban fracking in Quebec, de-funded the last remnants of the asbestos industry, “and are now moving to increase taxes on the wealthy, although we'll see if they follow through,” said O'Keefe.
For more, please see The Toronto Star, "Quebec students hail their movement’s victories."