CEGEPs back to class -- but not back to normal
Published Tuesday, August 14, 2012 11:28AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 14, 2012 11:29PM EDT
MONTREAL - After a day where the tides seemed to change in Quebec’s long-running student conflict, yet another group of CEGEP students has decided to return to classes.
Under the provisions of Bill 78, an emergency law pushed through by the Liberals in the waning days of the National Assembly, all students and professors must return to CEGEPs impacted by the student walkout this week.
Of the student bodies at seven CEGEPs who have voted, only two have elected to continue marching under the red square. Students at College de Saint-Laurent and CEGEP du Vieux-Montreal voted to continue an “unlimited general strike,” the latter by the smallest of margins.
The bellwether for Quebec’s more radical students, 861 voted against continuing the boycott at Vieux-Montreal, with only 878 voices for the continued #ggi—the twitter hashtag for the protest that has become synonymous with the ongoing student anger.
Despite the votes to return to school, student associations have so far refrained from interfering with their members.
“We obviously wish that the students would continue to strike, but it is up to the general assemblies of the CEGEPs to decide if they want to continue to strike or not,” said CLASSE representative Hugo Bonin.
On Tuesday, students at CEGEP Montmorency voted to return to class. though students were divided over the decision.
““For me it's really a nice feeling, cause after six months and this is my last session, I want to finish now,” said student Marie-Pier Ranno.
Emilie Pinard felt voting to return meant the movement was all for naught.
“It's a shame that we did six months of battling and walking in the streets and then just going back to class,” she said.
Students from CEGEP Lionel-Groulx were also expected to vote about whether to respect the law and return to classes.
At CEGEP de Maisonneuve on Monday, 1,444 students voted to return to classes as riot police and protesters faced off outside. Only 855 voted to return to the barricades. At College Edouard-Montpetit, 80 per cent of the 1,700 votes cast were in favour of returning to class. One third of the 3,146 students at CEGEP Marie-Victorin voted to end the strike, only 590 voted to continue.
With the student conflict remaining unresolved, professors at some CEGEPs have voiced concerns about their work conditions. At CEGEP de Maisonneuve, professors announced on Monday that they would support a boycott if students chose to not respect Bill 78.
“What do we do if there are tensions in the classroom? We have to re-affirm that the teacher is the teacher of everybody,” said Jean-Felix Chenier of the CEGEP Maisonneuve Teachers’ Union.
Despite the strong majorities in favour of returning to classes, the votes at Quebec’s universities could still swing towards continuing the six-month conflict. Led and staffed by university students, CEGEPs were a latecomers to the long-simmering conflict.
Due to the suspension of classes in the spring, student now have their work cut out for them. A typically 15-week semester will be compressed to eight, and the majority of students have not been in a classroom since Feburary.
Condensing the semester will affect the quality of education, said CEGEP Maisonneuve student union delegate Thomas Davidnon.
“Their main goal is that we get out of here with a diploma, not that we get out of here with the adequate information we were supposed to receive,” he said.
Even if students do vote to walkout, schools are required by Bill 12 to hold classes.
The simmering student movement could be seen by many as a victory for Premier Jean Charest.
“It's not about winning or losing,” said Charest from the campaign trail Tuesday. “It's about doing what's right for students and making sure they have access to classrooms.”
The votes should also not be conflated with support for the Charest government’s plan to increase tuition or an end to the evening protests that rocked Montreal for much of the spring. Most of the CEGEPs have elected to walk out of classes on Aug. 22 to join a Quebec-wide day of protests.
The arrest of a protester on Monday evening as thousands walked through Montreal’s streets, only hours after the votes were held at CEGEPs, is proof that Quebec’s red squares will live on.