February 19, 2013

Editorial: Unrealistic protests


---- — On April 15, 2012, we editorialized in this space about how college students in the Province of Quebec, our nearby neighbors, had been taking to the streets and sometimes damaging private property over a plan by Premier Jean Charest to raise their tuition.

Since then, the issue not only hasn’t been settled, the gulf between the students and their government has widened.

In Quebec, the government decides how much colleges will charge for their services. The premier had proposed tuition increases amounting to $1,625 over five years — virtually negligible, by New York standards, but an outrage to Quebecers, even though they enjoyed the lowest tuition in Canada.

In response, students took to the streets with pots in one hand and something to bang them with in the other. Up and down the streets the protesters went nightly, making a racket while trying to summon popular sympathy for their plight. At times, they got out of hand, once entering the iconic Queen Elizabeth Hotel and causing mayhem.

Charest is now practicing law, having lost his re-election bid Sept. 12 and resigning as premier Sept. 19. The new premier is Pauline Marois.

The students, however, are much the same. We haven’t heard much about their rampages — it’s cold on those streets this time of year, which could be the reason. But tuition is still on their minds.

A Summit on Higher Education is scheduled for Feb. 26. At the summit, the tuition problem will be addressed. That problem has only gotten worse: Now the students not only reject the $1,625 increase — they don’t want any tuition at all. They are calling for free college education throughout the province.

How the province is supposed to pay for this has not been explained to most people’s satisfaction. That was the reason for the proposed tuition increase in the first place.

The students have decided not to attend the Feb. 26 meeting out of frustration that their side of the argument has thus far been given short shrift. The Association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante (ASSE), a coalition representing about 70,000 Quebec students, has announced it will boycott the meeting.

Instead, the students will again flood the streets in an even more massive protest.

Marois and others have expressed regret that the students won’t be at the meeting, as that seems to be the most promising forum for mutual understanding, if not outright agreement.

But a spokesman for ASSE, Jeremie Bedard-Wien, was quoted in the Montreal Gazette last week as saying, “History has shown that this (protests) works much better for students than discussion. ... We could just as well be talking about pink elephants.”

Students in the United States have historically chosen protest during times of stress. But, most times, what was at stake was not something as fatuous as free tuition.

It seems as if the protesters would be better off signing up for an economics course.