Students march on National Assembly
Published Thursday, March 1, 2012 1:00PM EST
MONTREAL - The front bench of the Parti Quebecois was wearing red felt squares on Thursday morning as tens of thousands of students were being bused in from across Quebec to protest outside the National Assembly.
With the Liberal government refusing to change course as it plans to nearly double tuition over the next five years, PQ members donned the symbol of the student strike.
"It's a question of fairness, between you the tax payer, who over the next five years will put $5 billion into Quebec's universities, and the students who should pay their fair share," said Finance Minister Raymond Bachand.
"Catching up for 40-years of underfunding in five years isn't a fair share," responded Concordia Student Union vice-president Chad Walcott. "Taking $850 million from students and putting it in universities without any plan for how it will be spent isn't fair, it's a money grab."
Security was high in Quebec City on Thursday, with ranks of police officers outside the legislature and the press gallery across the street was locked-down, limited to credentialed journalists.
Over 50 buses were sent from Montreal as the students are preparing to take a route from the Parc des Braves to the National Assembly.
The route itself has been kept secret, something troubling for ministers after student demonstrators briefly blocked access to the Jacques Cartier Bridge during a protest on Feb. 23.
Calling for students to be "respectful," Education Minister Line Beauchamp called Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir "irresponsible" for urging students to take to the streets and disrupt traffic in an effort to make their point.
"Protest needs to be done respectfully," said Beauchamp. "The citizens of Quebec need to get to get to work, get to daycares and I'm expecting a lot of civility. As student leaders, just like political leaders, you are expected to call for civility in Quebec."
With the hike opposed by the PQ and Quebec Solidaire, Beauchamp's office launched a new offensive against the opposition. The minister's office claimed on Thursday that after the tuition increases, students will only pay for 17 per cent of the cost of their degrees.
One protester defended the dismantling of the metal fence that was meant to keep the demonstrators away from the National Assembly.
"The fact is there is supposed to be no barrier, it's the people's parliament, why is there a barrier, we are pacifists we won't do anything and they have guns," he said.
Another demonstrator complained that the movement only gets attention when things get ugly.
"The media only shows the bad side of the protesters. They want to push police and toss objects at them, unfortunately," she said. "Most of the people are nice, walking and not searching for violence."