Tuesday, August 28, 2012–Yesterday, classes resumed at the five universities in Quebec whose school year was suspended last May 18 by Bill 78 (become Law 12). Student activists in Montreal sought to close down classes at the two French-language universities. Police were called into the Université de Montréal by administrators and arrested 19 people. They are the first to be charged under Law 12 (Bill 78). They were not called into the Université du Québec à Montréal and students there had some success in closing down classes for the day.
According to news reports, this morning police arrested nine more students at U de M and they were called into UQAM for the first time. Fewer classes at UQAM were cancelled compared to yesterday.
The website of the CLASSE student association lists as 31,000 the number of students in university departments that have voted to continue an “unlimited” strike against proposed tuition fee hikes. Note that these are departments in which a majority of those students who voted opted to continue their strike. The actual numbers who took part in votes is considerably lower than 31,000. You can read the list of those university departments whose students are on strike here.
Parti quebecois leader Pauline Marois has clarified that if elected she will not entertain the idea of free university education. Several months ago, she said she would resolve the student strike by holding a broad discussions with students within 100 days of being elected in which all future options for post-secondary education would be entertained. Her proposal, she said, would be to index university tuition fees to the rate of inflation. She has engaged to cancel the app. 15 percent per year fee increase over the next seven years that the Liberal Party government imposed in Bill 78.
On Saturday, Quebec solidaire held its largest election rally to date. In Montreal, 1,200 people gathered to hear party co-leaders Francoise David and Amir Khadir speak in support of an independent Quebec. Other speakers added their views on the kind of socially-progressive society and social programs that an independent Quebec must create.
That same day, the CLASSE student association held a one-day national conference to assess the state of the student movement. The affiliated associations of the group reported one by one on the results of the votes taken in the past several weeks at universities and CEGEPs (colleges) on whether to continue or not their strike during the electoral period. Most affiliated associations voted to return to class and examine anew the struggle against university tuition fee increases following the September 4 election. The most substantial resolution adopted said CLASSE will join other student associations in meeting with whatever government is elected on September 4.
Four news articles are enclosed.
1. Tension at universities as classes resume
Arrests made under Bill 78 after protesters try to shut down classes
By Rene Bruemmer and Jan Ravesbergen, The Gazette, Aug 28, 2012
In a small classroom at the Université du Quebec à Montréal’s downtown campus, about 30 young, mostly masked protesters clattered desks, blew horns and banged pickle jars on desktops for more than 45 minutes straight Monday, creating a cacophony so loud it was physically painful. In one corner, about 15 students who wanted a class sat penned in like livestock, eyeing the protesters in quiet, simmering defiance.
The professor tried to explain she couldn’t cancel class immediately because she needed permission from the administration. But the protesters drowned her out. “We can play the whole day,” they yelled, drumming on cowbells and snare drums.
The 15 students, all but two of them female, stayed on anyway, to the obvious annoyance of the protesters. “I’m standing up for my convictions,” said Amelie Bleau, who is majoring in sexology. “I think I have the right to class and I’m staying. And we want to show them that this is what we want.”
The season of defiance and counter-defiance erupted anew on two Montreal university campuses as those in favour of boycotting classes to protest university tuition hikes disrupted classes and clashed with police. They blocked journalists from taking images or videos, and warned of repercussions.
The protests of the spring were truncated by the Liberal government’s Bill 78, which ordered a suspension of university classes on May 18, and their reinstatement this week. The return of CEGEP classes last week was peaceful.
Bill 78 requires schools to restart classes even if the students of departments have voted to continue their walkouts. It also promised hefty fines for anyone who impeded classes, starting at $1,000.
At the Université de Montréal, police said a group of protesters causing an on-campus disruption obeyed — in an orderly manner — an eviction order issued shortly before 11 a.m. In total, 20 were arrested, 19 under the terms of Bill 78. One 21-year-old male was charged with assaulting a police officer. Montreal police, who have specified they will only come to a school to enforce Bill 78 if called by the institution, said the university had requested their aid.
Roughly 2,000 students at the school, in departments including anthropology and cinema, are members of student associations that voted to continue the boycott.
Police said the information on protesters will be passed on to the prosecutor’s office as required under the criminal code. It will be up to the prosecutor’s office whether or not to press charges.
Protesters at the school attempted to disrupt classes all day, and evade police. Administrators said three classes had to be cancelled.
Administration at the Université du Québec à Montréal have a policy of not calling police officers onto campus unless personal security is threatened. On Monday morning, about 100 protesters gathered and then split into groups to disrupt as many classes as they could in the departments of arts, social sciences, and political science that voted to continue the boycott, numbering about 9,000 students. Often, protesters seemed to be wandering lost, fuelling the hypothesis many were not students at UQAM.
In most cases, professors called a halt within minutes of their noisy entrance.
Of 180 morning classes scheduled in those departments, 60 had to be cancelled, UQAM spokesperson Jenny Desrochers said. Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois Monday appealed to students to respect Bill 78, which makes it illegal for them to block access to classrooms.
“Even though Bill 78 is a bad law, you have to respect it,” she said.
If elected, Marois has promised to repeal the law and cancel the tuition hikes. Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault, who had said he would increase tuition fees, altered his stance Monday and said he would negotiate with students. Only Liberal leader Jean Charest said nothing on the issue Monday.
2. Students rethinking support of PQ
A series of missteps has been costly as other sovereignist parties gain
By Christopher Curtis, The Gazette, Aug 28, 2012
Heading into the provincial elections, Pauline Marois may have thought her party had the student vote locked down. The PQ leader has been an ardent critic of the Liberals’ plan to increase tuition fees. She donned a red square, the ubiquitous symbol of the student movement, in March and took to the streets in May.
Then, on July 24, Marois snatched up student union leader Léo Bureau-Blouin to run as a PQ candidate in the Laval-des-Rapides riding. It seemed as though a generation of young, disenfranchised voters would flock to the PQ in droves.
But with polls set to open in just one week, the party’s grasp on student voters appears to be tenuous at best. On Sunday, former student protest figurehead Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois railed against the PQ, calling their politics vulgar and patronizing. “Your strategy will be the death of democracy,” Nadeau-Dubois wrote in a Facebook post. “(The PQ) wants to lock Quebec into a sterile bipartisan alternance. What’s their solution, to be elected in perpetuity?”
The online tirade came a few hours after Marois warned Quebecers not to split the sovereignist vote by casting a ballot for nationalist parties like Option nationale and Québec solidaire. Her comments clearly struck a chord with the popular student leader, who likened the PQ to the Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec, which have endorsed a tuition hike.
It was the latest misstep by Marois in a campaign that has seen her increasingly alienate young voters. At the outset of the election, the PQ called on students to reach a truce with the embattled Liberal government. Marois said it was time for protesters to leave the streets and have their voices heard at the voting booth.
“There was a time when students were talking about swallowing their pride and voting strategically,” said Jess Corneau, an executive member of CEGEP de St. Laurent’s student union. “But that conversation is over now. We’re hearing more and more people say they’ll vote Québec solidaire or Option Nationale because they don’t feel represented by the PQ.
“The PQ’s campaign isn’t even about issues anymore, it’s a campaign of fear that says ‘voting Québec solidaire is dangerous, vote strategically.’ They take us for idiots.”
Marois drew more fire from young voters Monday, when she urged students to obey Bill 78, the controversial law designed to end spontaneous protests and force boycotting students back into class. Bill 78 has been criticized by Quebec’s Bar Association and student groups, who have either been defying it on the streets or challenging it in the courtroom.
“It’s insulting that the PQ just assumes it can speak on behalf of an entire movement,” said Concordia student Robin Sas, a supporter of the boycott movement. “Québec solidaire never claimed to represent our movement, they’ve actually been a part of it. They were out on the streets with us since the beginning.”
Québec solidaire hasn’t had much traction outside of activist circles since its inception in 2006. But after party chief Françoise David impressed viewers during the first televised leaders’ debate on Aug. 19, Québec solidaire has cemented itself as the alternative voice for young leftleaning Quebecers.
“We’re the party of the 21st century, a party of inclusion,” said Manon Masse, who’s trying to unseat PQ candidate Daniel Breton in the St. Marie-St. Jacques riding. “We didn’t just support students when it was convenient or easy, we always have. We’re far more environmentally conscious than any of the other parties, we have progressive policies that stand against poverty.”
The sovereignist Québec solidaire is poised to siphon support away from the PQ in several key downtown ridings, where it’s been difficult for residents not to feel their presence. Marois’s “votesplitting” comment seems to indicate that she’s caught on to the Québec solidaire’s surging popularity.
“Québec solidaire is just a really accessible party,” Sas said. “I’ve met a bunch of their candidates at protests and spoken to (Québec solidaire MNA) Amir Khadir a bunch of times. They may be a nationalist party, whereas I’m a federalist. But we’ll vote on that issue when it comes time to vote on it.”
Masse said she’s encountered disappointed Liberal and PQ supporters throughout her campaign. She said the secret to her party’s emergence has been rather simple. “I think people want to vote for something they believe in, not against something they’re afraid of,” Masse said. “We’re not out to create a country that excludes anglos, immigrants, or First Nations peoples. We just want to figure out what kind of society we can build together. That kind of message always beats fear.”
3. Marois argues for PQ majority
Charest accuses CAQ of seeking to dismantle civil service, but Legault seeks to reassure voters
Rhéal Seguin, Daniel Leblanc, The Globe and Mail, Aug 28, 2012
Pauline Marois is urging voters to give her Parti Québécois a majority government, warning she will be helpless to fend off a right-wing federalist coalition of Coaltion Avenir Québec and Liberals in order to pursue “progressive” policies.
The PQ Leader warned that unless she wins a majority, the student strike over tuition-fee hikes will remain unsettled, mining companies will pay fewer royalties, there will be no new language law and little improvement for daycare services or home care for the elderly. Sovereignty would also have to take a backseat in the event of a PQ minority.
“What we are saying is that in order to do this, it will take a Parti Québécois majority government,” Ms. Marois said. “A minority government would find itself up against a coalition of people who would prevent us from adopting bold progressive policies.”
The PQ leader refused to speculate on how she would handle being at the head of a minority government. She said she would accept the verdict of the people but that a majority government was within reach. “I am fighting hard for a majority government,” Ms. Marois said. “That is what is at stake in the election.”
Ms. Marois also made a pitch to middle-class voters by siding with the majority of Quebeckers who were against tuition-free universities – a demand at the heart of last spring’s student strike.
Ms. Marois blames the Liberals for the confrontation with the students. But she urged protesters at two Montreal universities who blocked access to classes on Monday to obey what she called a “despicable” law that limits protests in order to defeat the “right-wing” forces in the election. “I am telling these students, ‘You have a way to solve the situation: Go out and vote on Sept. 4,’” Ms. Marois said.
With his upstart Coalition Avenir Québec now threatening both PQ and Liberal ridings, Leader François Legault sought to reassure voters by vowing the CAQ will behave responsibly if elected.
Liberal Leader Jean Charest attacked Mr. Legault for “wanting to take a chainsaw” to the public service, an important employer in Quebec City, and pick a fight with Quebec’s powerful unions.
Another snapshot of the intense competition the CAQ is posing for the Liberals emerged Monday with a Segma-Le Soleil poll showing the CAQ at 34-percent support and five percentage points ahead of the Liberals in Quebec City region – an area where Mr. Charest won eight of 12 ridings in 2008. The provincial capital is one of several battleground areas that will decide the Sept. 4 election.
Mr. Charest became angry when asked about the Quebec City poll but pointed out the numbers have actually improved compared to a previous survey – even if he’s lagging far behind the result four years ago.
Campaigning in ridings north and south of Montreal, Mr. Legault sought to smooth out the impression that his government would slash and burn its way through the Quebec bureaucracy and launch skirmishes with unions and student bodies.
The CAQ Leader insisted he would be flexible on his plans to hike university tuition fees in the province by $200 a year. For the first time, he said he is open to looking at various scenarios involving loans and bursaries with student leaders that could lead to a lower tuition increase.
“If my party is elected, we will sit down with the students and seek a reasonable compromise,” he said.
Mr. Legault is seeking to attract more female voters to his upstart party and he is also campaigning heavily in suburban ridings, where his party is trying to appeal to centrist voters and Parti Québécois supporters.
At certain moments Mr. Charest tried to strike a more conciliatory tone, saying quarrels are the last thing Quebec needs. He noted Quebec’s unions have never done him any favours but he did manage to negotiate recent collective agreements with them.
“I’m still waiting for them to organize a support rally,” Mr. Charest said. “But the day after my election, I will be working with everyone. The premier’s job is not to categorize people.”
4. Marois backtracks on conservative sovereigntists
By Rhéal Séguin, Les Pérreaux, Daniel Leblanc, Globe and Mail, Aug 27, 2012
After telling conservative sovereigntists that they should vote elsewhere if they can’t accept the progressive policies of the Parti Québécois, Leader Pauline Marois moved quickly to defuse the latest controversy in her gaffe-filled campaign. At a news conference on Sunday, Ms. Marois spoke about the need for Quebeckers to elect a progressive PQ government in the Sept. 4 election.
Twice the question was put to her: “What suggestion do you have for conservative sovereigntists?” At first, Ms. Marois shrugged off the question with a laugh. Then she answered: “Let them choose.
“They have two conservative parties before them,” she said, meaning the Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec.
It was not the answer her advisers wanted to hear, as the PQ continues to lead in public opinion polls but is believed to be short of support for a majority government. So after meeting with her advisers and shaking hands with voters in a Montreal restaurant, Ms. Marois held an impromptu news conference on the sidewalk and told reporters she had not properly heard the question put to her earlier.
“I truly did not understand the question. I thought you were asking me what federalist conservatives should do,” she said. “I have one thing to say to conservative sovereigntists. The Parti Québécois has always governed Quebec responsibly in its economic and social policies. …What I am telling conservative sovereigntists is that I will govern Quebec responsibly.”
It was the third time in less than a week that Ms. Marois was forced to backtrack on comments that created confusion within her own ranks. First, she said that Quebeckers who fail to adequately speak French would be barred from seeking public office. She later clarified her position, saying the ban excluded those already living in Quebec.
That incident was followed by more confusion on the issue of citizen-initiated referendums. After saying earlier this year that a citizen-initiated referendum calling for a vote on sovereignty would be binding on a PQ government, she reversed that position during the campaign, saying that her hands would not be tied by such a demand.
Skepticism within sovereignist ranks will likely grow deeper after Ms. Marois was sideswiped by former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau, who publicly endorsed the leader of another pro-sovereignty party. It was revealed on Saturday that Mr. Parizeau donated $200 to the campaign of Jean-Martin Aussant, leader of the newly founded separatist Option nationale party.
Mr. Aussant, along with Mr. Parizeau’s wife Lisette Lapointe, was among the four who quit the PQ in June, 2011, expressing concerns over Ms. Marois’ true desire to achieve political independence.
One candidate said there were serious concerns within the party that Ms. Marois’ gaffes and divisions within sovereigntist ranks could hurt at the ballot box. “I am worried because it is too close to call in several ridings. I am worried that at the end of the night we will be missing just one riding to be ahead of the rightwing federalist parties,” said PQ candidate Jean-François Lisée.
François Legault, the CAQ Leader, said the comments by Ms. Marois highlight her party’s inability to offer a clear alternative to the outgoing Liberal regime. “Everyone who is looking for a change is welcome to vote for the Coalition Avenir Québec,” he said.
Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Jean Charest had other concerns to deal with. With his party trailing badly among francophone voters, he turned his attention to campaigning in areas of traditional strength, brushing off questions about whether his presence in stronghold ridings shows his desperation or whether he has given up on some places.
“You always have to be present in all the regions,” Mr. Charest said. “But time is the rarest currency in any campaign,” he added. “We will hit as many regions as we can.”