Negotiations collapse in Quebec, protesters take to the streets

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"Nothing is working anymore in Quebec City."

So began the report on Radio-Canada (French language CBC) regarding the collapse of negotiations between the Quebec government and the four associations of post-secondary students on strike. At 7pm on Thursday evening, Minister of Education Michelle Courchesne walked out of the talks.

Both sides held press conferences following the collapse. The government explained the sole, effective offer it made (varying only in form) over the four days of talks - to reduce its proposed hike in tuition fees by $35 to $219 for each of the coming seven years and to also reduce proportionately tax credits available to students and their families.

The last of a series of counter-proposals by student representatives was a freeze on tuition fees for two years and a reduction in tax credits such that the government would recuperate the funds it sought to obtain from its tuition hike.

Student leaders charge that the government's stonewalling was guided by its eye on an election which must take place within 18 months. They cited, in particular, the annoyance expressed by Minister Courchesne during talks on the fourth day with newspaper headlines the previous day claiming the government was "folding" from its hard line stance of maintaining its tuition hike at all cost.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the CLASSE association immediately launched an appeal to students to deliver in the streets a message to the government. He told Radio Canada, "When a government cuts off dialogue, when a government sabotages negotiations, the only place left for the population to make itself heard is in the streets. And there's where we are returning."

"For this reason, we are calling for a big demonstration this coming Saturday, June 2, at 2 pm at Parc Jeanne Mance. We want people to bring their pots and pans so we can be heard all the way to Quebec City."

Thursday night was already an evening of noisy protest throughout Quebec in dozens of cities and towns. In Montreal alone there were several dozen actions taking place, the largest of which, according to Radio Canada, gathered more than 10,000 people. In Quebec City, police moved on a large protest and arrested participants.

News reports made much hay of Minister Courschene's claim that during the course of negotiations, a representative of CLASSE "threatened" a disruption of the Grand Prix auto race due to take place in two weeks in Montreal. Capitalist interests in the lucrative tourism industry in Quebec are expressing increasing unease with the student protest because it may discourage tourists from coming to the province this summer.

Nadeau-Dubois replied by saying that CLASSE would not prevent people from participating in large sporting or cultural events this summer such as the Grand Prix, but it would make use of large events as "tribunes" to put across their message.

He also spoke of the importance of the growing solidarity actions taking place elsewhere in Canada and internationally. Yesterday was a day of 'pots and pans' solidarity action in more than 50 towns and cities in English-speaking Canada and in Europe and the United States. This included a large solidarity action in Toronto, in which more than 2,500 marched. 

There seems little doubt that just as in Quebec, so too across Canada, we are in for a rising popular movement demanding not only quality education but a different vision for society than the destructive, dog-eat-dog model of the country's present rulers.


Roger Annis is a social justice activist and writer based in Vancouver, BC. 

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