Quebec students set to strike

MONTREAL (CUP) — After a day-long meeting Jan. 21 in Quebec City, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) have reaffirmed the intention to strike on March 22 to protest rising university tuition fees.

But first, the individual members groups need to seek approval from their constituents.

“We have the mandate to ask our associations to go on strike, but first they need to ask their members if they want to, and then we will be able to say the FEUQ is on strike,” said president Martine Desjardins, who made the announcement with FECQ president Léo Bureau-Blouin in Montreal on Jan. 23.
The date was chosen earlier in December to coincide with the timing of the release of the finance minister’s budget.

Desjardins said that FEUQ, the student lobby group that is often a government negotiator, has not been invited to sit in on the pre-budget consultation meetings that are now taking place. After walking out of the same meetings in December 2010, she said their calls have not been answered by the finance department: “We asked them to talk with us. But they won’t do it.”
Several associations are planning longer strikes at different times, confirmed Desjardins.

“We talked a little about the different waves of strikes that are going to be happening,” said Chad Walcott, vice-president external for the Concordia Student Union (CSU), which is a FEUQ member.

“Whereas some schools are going to strike earlier in February, and others later in March, [there’s] a wave of pressure that’s moving toward March 22 and the end of the academic of year for that last push.”

On its own, CSU is planning a school strike for March 26 to 29, a city-wide Montreal protest on March 1 and a sleep-in at one of Concordia University’s 24-hour libraries in February. “I don’t think anyone’s officially ready to go on strike, but some departments are starting to talk about it,” said Walcott, who is working on a booklet for Concordia students who are considering strike action.
Desjardins added that a protest is also planned for Feb. 14, when the National Assembly returns from a break, and stunts will be staged at different campuses a weekly basis up until March 22.

“There [are] a few things that we have to do, and it won’t be easy, and we know that,” said Desjardins. “But people are willing to do this and are very optimistic.
“We can make history [with this]. We held the second-biggest protest [in Quebec] on the tenth of November,” she added, recalling last semester’s day of action when about 20,000 students marched to Premier Jean Charest’s downtown Montreal office.

The day culminated with a handful of arrests and a confrontation between riot police and students on McGill University’s campus.Chrest has said the government will go through with gradual tuition hikes beginning in fall 2012, to culminate in a total rise of $1,625.

Quebec permanent residents currently pay the lowest tuition fees in Canada, but FEUQ and FECQ, which represent about 200,000 students in universities and CEGEPs across the province, assert that further tuition hikes could harm students’ finances.

When contacted, the education ministry declined to comment.

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