Quebec student struggle stops tuition hikes

The first official decree from Pauline Marois, the new Quebec premier and leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ), at her victory party, rescinded the tuition increases the previous government had proposed and annulled the law forbidding demonstrations, especially near schools.

All the major student confederations that had led a series of student strikes beginning in March applauded Marois’ decision during their interview by Radio Canada.The most radical of the three, CLASSE, the Broad Coalition of Students and Unions, now intends to raise the demand for free public higher education.

These strikes shut down a number of Quebec’s community and senior colleges and brought hundreds of thousands of students and their supporters into the streets in all of Quebec’s cities, particularly Montreal. There were large “illegal” daytime demonstrations and more than 100 somewhat smaller, but also “illegal,” nighttime demonstrations.

All of the student confederations said that their struggles against the tuition hikes played a part in defeating the Liberal Party (PLQ) in the Sept. 4 elections.

However, there were other factors in the elections. The PLQ has been mired in a series of corruption scandals in the past three years. The party did a horrible job with the economy and sold off Quebec’s resources at fire sale prices to foreign companies in the U.S. and Japan.

Ever since the PQ was formed in the early 1960s to obtain Quebec’s independence, it and the PLQ have alternated control of the Quebec government. This is comparable to how the Democrats and Republicans have alternated in the United States.

This last election, which saw the PQ replace the PLQ, had a few new wrinkles. The Coalition for Quebec’s Future, a center-right split from the PQ, formed in early 2011, got 27 percent of the vote. Québec Solidaire, a party that raises many progressive issues from ecology to women’s rights and which strongly supported the student protests, got 6 percent. Basically, Quebec’s national assembly, its parliament, is split into a bloc of thirds.

The coverage in the English-language Canadian and U.S. press concentrated on the right-wing assassination attempt against Marois, which she survived, but which killed a worker. The same media also mentioned the likelihood, which is probably not very high, of the PQ holding another referendum on independence.

The powerful student struggle has gotten very little coverage outside of the French language press. However, the students are undaunted. They won a big victory, but they appear willing to struggle for more.

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