Quebec protest

By Stephanie Shewchuk

Despite the relatively long duration of the student strike in Quebec, enthusiasm for the cause has not declined. Since Mar. 16, approximately 200,000 Francophone students have entered the strike at one time or another, in response to budget cuts to the province’s student bursary program.

Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier has been at the helm of the $103 million per year budget cuts, which will drastically reduce the amount of funding lower-income students receive in the form of scholarships and bursaries. The reduction in funding will not only make education less accessible to Quebec students, it will also greatly increase the average amount of student debt.

“It’s just not equal,” said Alex Marchand, a student in the CGEP [junior college] program at Collège Shawinigan. “They could have cut this money gradually, but they didn’t. It’s ridiculous.”

Although tuition in Quebec is among Canada’s lowest, students remain aghast that the cuts are targeted towards the less privileged segment of society.

“Personally, I think the amount you pay for a semester is very low,” stated Frederic Poulin, a graduate student from the student newspaper Le Collectif, at the University of Sherbrooke. “So for people who have more money, why are they paying the same amount? It cuts the scholarships for the people who need it but the people who have more money are not being affected,”

University of Calgary Students’ Union President Bryan West emphasizes that cultural differences may have prevented the occurrence of a similar situation in Alberta.

“It is pretty amazing that for about $100 million in grants, the students have put up such a fight,” West said of the situation. “Alberta’s government is unique. This year the provincial government is putting $5 billion into the system, which would not happen anywhere else. Compared with the large sum here, I don’t think the tactics out here are bad.”

Student associations in Quebec have continued to pressure Fournier in negotiations and his latest offer comprises a contribution of $70 million this year, with an additional $103 million contribution in the next four following years. Critics argue that this most recent proposal is not an improvement on past efforts, as a large portion of the new endowment has not been made available by the provincial government but instead through federal funding.

As the semester nears its end, the deadline for finalizing negotiations without greatly compromising the remainder of the semester is quickly approaching. Some post-secondary institutions have accepted Fournier’s offer, while others will vote on the proposition later this week.

“The administration understands the demands of the students,” said Jacques Viens, Director of Communication Services at the University of Sherbrooke. “We try to be helping but time is running out.”

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