Students wait for a ‘real outcome’

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MONTREAL (CUP) — Despite a Parti Québécois victory in last week’s provincial election, student leaders say the movement is far from over.

This is despite the party’s headlining promise to abolish the university tuition hikes that prompted the protests that dominated Québec this past year.

“This is not a complete victory,” said Elaine Laberge, president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), on election night in a downtown Montreal bar as the news of the PQ and Marois’ victory came in.

She continued, “It’s going to be a complete victory when the Parti Québécois is going to cancel the tuition fee increases.”

Speaking at the election result party hosted by two of the student federations which represented students over the course of the general strike, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) Martine Desjardins expressed doubt that the election was an end to student mobilization.

“It’s only a baby step,” she said. “This is not the end of the mobilization. Our goal is not obtained yet; we need a resolution and a real outcome.”

Jérémie Bédard-Wien, an executive of CLASSE, the largest student body representing students throughout the strike, said that, for students, the main course of action in the coming days would be to “keep the pressure on the government” to ensure the PQ follows through on its promises concerning education.

“It’s really important to consider this repeal of the tuition hike not a victory of the electoral process or a particular political party,”  he added.

The day after her election, Premier Pauline Marois stated in a press conference her intention to order by decree the abolition of the Charest government’s tuition hike, to abolish the controversial Law 12 and convene a summit meeting to discuss higher education.

Whether the PQ will be able to implement its promises remains to be seen according to Concordia political science professor Harold Chorney, who specializes in public finance and policy.

“They’re a minority government. Minority governments cannot behave the way majority governments do,” he explained.

Marois promised to abolish the tuition hike through an order in council, a process that, theoretically, could be issued by the Minister of Education unilaterally.

Chorney also noted the potentially powerful position the upstart Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) could hold with its 19 seats. The PQ occupies 54 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly. The Liberals occupy 50.

With the defeat and subsequent resignation of former-premier Jean Charest, Chorney pointed to the state of internal disorganization within the Liberals as unlikely to try to defeat the PQ government unless a coalition with the CAQ is likely.

In the view of others such as another Concordia political science professor Guy Lachapelle, a coalition between the PQ and the CAQ is the more likely pairing.

Regardless, Corina Kajugiro, a student at Cégep Rosemont, said after the election results were in that she felt the PQ would be unable to handle the problems  with the student conflict alone.

Marois’ final promise in her first address as premier was a promise to convene a summit on higher education — a step that university rectors and staff have wanted to take for years, according to Lachapelle.

“We never had the debate about the place of education in our society and I think that’s very important,” he said.

“It’s a question of education in our society.”

The upcoming summit will be the next major focus for CLASSE as it will be a key opportunity to communicate the associations’ view for education, said CLASSE executive Bédard-Wien.

“We’ve always fought for a radically different vision of education — education free from tuition and from the corporatization — the influence of corporations and so we’ll keep fighting against that and so, of course, the summit is a crucial point in that strategy,” he said.

According to Bédard-Wien, the real victory for the student movement is the central role issues and debates around education assumed throughout the general student strike.

“The strength that we built through leverage in numbers allowed us to put these debates on the political map and the fear that such momentous times in Québec society will replicate itself is the main reason why the PQ is actually following up on these promises now,” he said.

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