There has been a significant clash over values and higher education taking place in Québec over the past few weeks. There is an on going student strike and there have been daily demonstrations at many of the university campuses in Montreal and large well atttended marches involving more than 100,000 marchers opposed to the increases.
The popularity of the Charest government appears to be falling in the polls and the apparent unwillingness of the Premier and his key ministers to negotiate a compromise has led to a sense of heightened conflict.
Ever since the Parent Commission on Education in Québec reported in 1966 and recommended an overhaul of higher education in the Province complete with free tuition at the junior college level, the goal of greater access to higher education has been a top policy goal in Québec which in the years before the Quiet Revolution had suffered from a much lower participation rate in higher education. Unfortunately ever since the storms of neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism have disrupted the post war consensus in global politics, politicians even in relatively progressive Québec have increasingly undermined this progressive policy goal.
In today’s Le Devoir, a Montréal based nationalist leaning intellectual daily paper there is an important article and open letter by Yves Perrier and Guy Rocher calling the struggle of the students’ federation in Québec to rollback the proposed $1625 fee increase in student fees which the neo-Liberal leaning government of Québec intends to implement in stages over the next five years a just cause. Rocher is a distinguished and influential sociologist who has retired from the Université de Montréal and Perrier is a junior college professor of political science. They present a powerful argument for the logic and practicality of abolishing tuition fees for higher education in Québec pointing out that this was the original intention of some of the original Parent commission in 1966, and that a number of Scandinavian countries already successfully follow this approach. They estimate the cost at about 750 million $ given that tuition fees which already have been increased by about 30 % over the past five years are currently at on average $2167 and cover some 188,000 full time students and 84, 000 part-time students in Québec.
If we use these numbers for our estimates of the cost involved in abolishing the fees and foregoing the first year of increases in the coming fiscal year, the cost involved would be roughly 600 million dollars, a relatively small percentage(less than 1 %) of the global Quebec annual budget of 116 billion dollars. Furthermore there are currently 351,000 unemployed persons in Québec. If we reduced this number by 100,000 we could then generate an additional 500 million to 1 billion dollars of tax revenue which alone would easily pay for this reform. Enlarging the pie rather than increasing conflict and class cleavages is always a better option . It represents a sane and rational middle way. Bombardier is building a high speed monorail in Brazil.Why not create a similar project in Québec linking Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Québec City and New York. If we create a more dynamic Québec economy, increase local employment, including highly skilled university trained labour and lower the unemployment rate much more becomes possible than the damaging and sterile downward spiral that austerity and increasing tuition fees and user charges delivers.
So merci à M.Rocher et à M.Perrier pour votre lettre, et vive le Québec social et progressif ! Ce fédéralist le soutient.