Quebec Students Win: What Happens Next

- May 27th, 2012

The Quebec student strike against the Charest government’s plans to increase tuition fees is over — and the students have won.

 

Oh, there are still meetings and negotiations and roadblocks and stumbles and flare-ups and shouting and tears and more marches ahead, but the path and the end result are now clear. It’s just a matter of getting there.

 

When student leaders and government representatives sit down at the negotiating table on Monday afternoon, there will be only two significant points on the real (secret) agenda: 1. Rolling back the planned tuition hikes and 2. Allowing Jean Charest and his government to save face by appearing to have not caved in to the Vietcong, I mean students.

 

Because this is Jean Charest’s Vietnam and he (through his minions) is negotiating a defeat, not a compromise.

 

There is a third item on the agenda — the repeal of the hated Bill 78 anti-demonstration law. But that won’t take more than a few minutes to wrap up because the Charest government knows it gambled and lost playing the tough guy and wants to make nice with the pot-banging electorate as quickly as possible.

 

Many, many things can go wrong in the next few weeks and the situation still has the potential to get very ugly. But if the student leaders and the Charest government both get what they’re after in the coming days, here’s what could — and probably will, at the end of the day — happen:

 

Both sides will claim victory because (for the students) tuition will be frozen or any increase will be just a token amount and (for the Quebec government) the $216-million-a-year savings the government would have reaped from the tuition increase  will still be found (they will say).

 

How can those two apparently contradictory outcomes be reconciled?

 

I certainly don’t have any inside line on the Quebec government’s thinking (nor would I want one, frankly; a gruesome locale) but I’ve seen enough cornered politicians scrambling for a bolthole to hazard a guess:

 

A tripartite commission composed of representatives from the student unions, university and CEGEP administrations and the Quebec government will be set up to find, oh, somewhere in the range of $216 million a year in savings from the province’s annual $4-billion-plus post-secondary education budget.

 

It really doesn’t matter what the actual dollar or percentage amount is or what, exactly, the deadline is for the commission’s report. Because it will all be for show, a way for Jean Charest to walk away from the table with head held high and his boyish, wavy locks (he’s getting a little old for that, don’t you think?) blowing in the breeze.

 

There will be a Quebec provincial election in the next year or so and, if polls are any indicator, there’s a very good chance that Jean Charest will not be the premier of Quebec after that election.

 

In which case, the Quebec budgetary deficit and student tuition fees and all the rest of that frappe will no longer be his concern. Charest will take a nice, long vacation before assuming his duties as Canada’s next ambassador to France.

 

If he’s unlucky enough to win re-election, well, commissions have a habit of having their report deadlines pushed back.

 

And that, kids, is the way I see it.

 

The best thing to come out of this situation? A new generation of tough, cool, articulate politicians seems to be emerging in the ranks of Quebec’s student leaders. Lucky them. Where’s Ontario’s crop of pot bangers? Sigh.

 

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2 comments

  1. Jimmy says:

    Before saying that the students have won, maybe one should wait and see if they can stay put and discuss for more than 20 minutes before walking out again this afternoon. Of all the things you predict will happen, surely one, or maybe even a few will take place. But don’t mistake “wishfull thinking” with accurate political and social behavior analysis. It’s too easy to evoke a “hidden agenda” to claim that you were right, but will never be able to prove it because it will be kept a secret.
    One can’t help but notice that since bill 78 was passed, regardless of the fact these poor babies, with of course the help of the media, have claimed that we now live in a shamefull dictatorship, the rioting and violence has stopped. And that’s what 70% of the population wanted.
    I wonder what argument these spoiled brats will now come up with to pin everything on the government again?

  2. Peter says:

    The Anarchists have won ! They forced the Gov’t to negotiate and your Gov’t backed down. Wait for the next flare up, (Toronto, Vancouver ?), this could get dicey.

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