Quebec students a model for union group

If students in Ontario ever needed an example of what a solid union can accomplish they can look at the recent student strike in Quebec.

Over a hundred days of protest over a bill to hike tuition rates shook the province and when things finally settled, the Quebec Liberal government was defeated in a provincial election that saw longtime Premier Jean Charest lose his seat.

Newly elected Premier Pauline Marois of the Parti Quebecois stayed true to her election promise last week and squashed the tuition hike in her first day at office. For the students and people of Quebec it was a monumental fight.

In the beginning, the protest was about the students, but as the protest gained momentum and the movement grew, the protests became more about a way of life than simply tuition.

So why aren’t we protesting in Ontario?

Our tuition rates are the highest in the country. On average, a full-time undergraduate degree is Ontario will cost $ 7, 180 this year. That is up 5.1 % from last year’s fee average of $6, 640. Compared to Quebec, the average tuition fee this year is $2,774. Which is the lowest in the country after Newfoundland and Labrador, which haven’t seen tuition hike since 2003/04.

To put that into perspective, in just two years, Ontario students paid an average of $8,452 more for a post-secondary education than in Quebec. Yet the average post secondary student aged 15-25 in Ontario makes an average of $13.05 an hour compared to $13.24 in Quebec.

How do Ontario schools get away with charging so much money? Perhaps the availability of student loans is the answer –temporary relief for students who, for the time being, can put their debt in the back of their minds. Come graduation, a massive bill is hard to swallow.

Quebec students don’t have to have loan options and perhaps the province is more moneywise than we are. On the other hand, who says buying an expensive education doesn’t make us make us feel better, like buying a new jacket to cure the blues.

The student union groups in Quebec seem better organized, and their leaders are vocal. Students seem more engaged and are a part of the education system.

The student group La Coalition Large pour une Solardité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE) became the voice of the student protests. Their spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was at the forefront with other student union leaders and led a unified movement.

Students marched and the crowd gained attention like a passing parade. There was a beat to it. People joined in and banged pots, pans, and casserole dishes. There were also mass arrests, violence and tear gas and still the movement never skipped a beat.

The student protest grew and became more about a way of life than just education. Especially when the liberal government tried to squash the protest and impart rules and laws against public protest. These measures helped give the students momentum and brought the public into the protest, as their rights to public protest were being infringed upon.

Our tuition in Ontario consistently goes up and we fail to do anything about it and now looking back we missed the chance to align ourselves with the student protest in Quebec and let our voice be heard. The College Student Alliance (CSA) a governing body for Ontario colleges, which the Humber Student Federation is apart of, never publicly addressed the issue and failed to inform students about what was going on in Quebec.

Instead the CSA advocated for the 30% tuition rebate, introduced by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal party. The rebate was a deflector for tuition hike protests here in Ontario – a band-aid on the tuition sore. The program gives students a 30% tuition rebate to new high school graduates.

The problem is the rebate doesn’t apply to all post-secondary students. The fine print reveals the rebate only helps those students who make an immediate transition to post-secondary school. The more years you take off in between, the more years you lose off your rebate eligibility. Only a select number of students get some money back in their pockets. Too bad only half the students qualify; it excludes mature students and those with a household income over $160,000.

Classes have resumed in Quebec and things seem to be back to normal but we’ll see how long that lasts.

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