Student group calls for 'Quebec Spring' as protests continue
Published Monday, April 9, 2012 2:23PM EDT
MONTREAL - Students gathered in downtown Montreal at noon Monday for another demonstration against tuition hikes, which eventually attracted about 1,000 demonstrators after a slow start.
The Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) said the meeting at Berri Square is part of a movement ‘Toward a Quebec Spring,' a reference to the sweeping changes in the Arab world a year ago.
The midday demonstration was one of several planned for this week, including a major march on Saturday to mark nine years in power for Quebec's Liberal government.
As usual, the protesters were happy to share their views about the conflict. One expressed optimism that the government would back down.
"I think somehow that the way that things are going it will do the same as in 2005. The government will negotiate, it will have no choice," said demonstrator Constance April."I was in the streets on March the 22nd and I finally understood what a society and a movement could be and I thought it was very important for me to be here today," she said.
Others articulated different inspiration for continuing to support the cause, in spite of no real progress towards a negotiated settlement, or even any signs of impending talks.
Another demonstrator said that he can't pay both his own student loan debts and his children's tuitions.
"As a parent today I think I'm doing my fair part. You know the government is saying everyone should make their fair contribution to public finances and I think I'm making my fair contribution as a taxpayer and I'm still paying a lot of my student loans today," said Louis Gaudet.
"Twenty percent of my available income is going to repay my student loans and I'm not able to save any money to send my kids to school today," he said.
Last week, the Quebec government proposed changes to its student-loan program, which some interpreted to be a sign that the government was trying to gain favour with students to end the protests.
The government later emphatically denied that they were considering any sort of negotiations with the students.
The government said loan reimbursements will be pegged to the income of students and their parents.
It remains committed to hiking tuition fees by $325 a year for the next five years. The increases would still leave Quebec with among the lowest annual tuition rates in the country, at around $3,800.
But protest leaders say they would limit access to affordable education and leave students saddled with debt.
The students have been warned their semester might be cancelled if they don't get back to class this week.
They are also facing legal threats from students who have successfully filed for court injunctions ordering some schools reopened.
Some protest leaders have acknowledged that protest-fatigue has started to set in.
"I think after eight weeks of strike it's not surprising that some people decide to go back in class but the majority of people till in the strike and I think that makes our movement pretty strong," said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
Nadeau-Dubois is still visualizing a victory in the struggle against the tuition hikes and has even organized plans to usher the students back to their seats.
"We are in contact with the professors' unions each day and we will continue to be in contact with them, but to understand how it works, when the strike will stop, each student association on campus will have a negotiation with the administration to build a plan to return to class and this plan will be approved by students in general assemblies, this plan will be approved by the teachers everyone will find a way to go back in class," he said.