Better Quebec education, more Quebec education

Posted 05.03.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Students across Quebec have changed the "national dialogue" within the province. Premier Charest and his party had sunk everything into their famous Plan Nord, yet, at the peak of the Premier's campaign to sell the Plan as the means of re-setting Quebec's future, thousands of students have all but knocked that plan off the public's radar.

What the students have tried to put in its place remains only a partial success: a province-wide discussion about improving and increasing access to higher education. The government finds itself in a deficit, and sees only one solution: austerity.

Students propose cutting elsewhere and leaving the fees alone, although others want fees eliminated, plus more funding for the universities (and cegeps) to produce an educated workforce which will eventually pay more taxes -- a proven Kenysian strategy.

Not all students support this action, especially the violence of the anti-Liberal extremists. There have been marches to have classes re-opened in Sherbrooke, and some cegeps voted against the strike, including students at Heritage College in Hull. Many are worried about losing their year or losing time in the summer to work, earn, and save for next term.

As photo-dramatic as are the marches, with their red flags, there is something missing. Why are the students so worked up about their own fees, yet silent so long about other humanitarian issues of our day.

Where were the student marches around Afghanistan, against the current federal dismantling of environmental oversight, health system under-funding, Aboriginal poverty, and against the Harper assault on CBC/Radio Canada - or even against this government cutting through Gatineau Park for a new highway? Students were busy somewhere else.

Students interested only in their pocketbooks should not be using the red flag, with its militant history.

Likewise, the government has to take the high road (show leadership, not sarcasm). It is arrogant and self-defeating for politicians to claim that they need to listen to the people only once every four years, as if protests, letters, and campaigns are not all part of democracy. And Charest's open-door for mining interests (corporate interests in general, construction interests in particular) is more democratic?

If we are upset with unwise government spending, shouldn't we be criticizing those spending priorities and tax breaks -- and not hammering students just because they represent a big budget item? Why can Quebec not afford what the Scandinavian countries provide, free education and training? Are the Swedes so much smarter than us?

If this government cannot be intelligent and flexible, able to see beyond the bottom line and the next election, it will surely fall in that next election. Which could lead to an even less tolerant and less open party in power -- is that to be Mr. Charest's legacy?

Yes, we want a real, hard look at the Plan Nord, and not just the spin. To do this the government has to fulfill an earlier commitment: to create an educated Quebec.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/05.12