Tag Archives: Pauline Marois

Drawing blood from stones: the relentless tuition fee hike

28 Mar

ABasQPsmallOntario announced a new tuition fee framework today. It’s the first time that the Liberal government has changed it in seven years

In 2006, Dalton McGuinty punched students in the face with a five per cent, on average, fee increase. It was supposed to last four years, but was extended, painfully, until 2012.

During the 2011 Ontario election, the Liberals introduced a grant to help offset the burden of these fees for some students. To those of us who spent days analyzing the Liberal proposal and strategy, it was clear that they had hoped to divert some of the negative attention on their tuition policy by offering a confusing, runner-up prize.

In the same vein, the kinder, gentler Liberal party, now lead by a grandmother rather than a seemingly ageless dad, is trying to help students out.

Today, they announced that the fee increases: 5% for most programs, 8% for the programs where university administrators want to screw students the hardest, has been replaced with 3% and 5% respectively.

McGuinty’s (and now Wynne’s) fee increases were historic: they pushed Ontario’s fees to be the most expensive and they allowed for different fees to be charged to different programs. Today’s increase puts tuition on track to double under the Liberal reign alone.

Now, students sitting in a second-year elective are paying a combination of a bunch of different fees for the same class. I say “a bunch” because I stopped counting at 10 different combinations, depending on the year they started, the actual year of the class, their program of study or their citizenship. Yes, added bureaucracy is necessary to keep track of these divisions. Yes, students will pay more and receive the same instruction as other students.

This was a clever idea: charge incoming students the most (because high school students don’t protest), charge engineering students the most (because they’re way too busy to protest), charge graduate students the most (because they’re too busy rocking back and forth under their desks to protest) and charge international students the most (because Jason Kenney will deport them if they protest).

For some, it has meant an increase of more than 71%.

High tuition fees are the best example of the insanity of austerity. Despite the fact that people who are better educated will earn more and pay more taxes (thereby paying for the cost of their education), Kathleen Wynne and her Neoliberal crew don’t care about the facts. They care about privatization. They care about eliminating the public system by stealth so that they don’t have to pay for it.

Indeed, Liberal, Tory… you know the rest.

Some “student groups” call it a step in the right direction. Of course, it isn’t. It’s a smaller step in the same direction. And, when walking towards a cliff, any steps in the direction of the cliff will lead to the same result. Wynne has smaller legs than McGuinty, this is just a difference in stride.

Actual students know that any tuition fee increase is simply going to exacerbate an already crisis situation. The Liberals hope that the pressures that are created by high tuition fees will be enough to continue to keep Ontario students quiet. And, it may. The crushing combination of high fees, high rents, youth unemployment and needing to, you know, live, depoliticizes and disenfranchises.

But, there is a breaking point. The question will just be how it manifests among Ontarians.

Today’s announcement does not come in a vacuum. The sustained political pressure that students have placed on the Liberals has helped to “win” this policy. The highly unpopular 30% off grant exposed a floundering, rudderless Liberal party that realized that they were losing the war over the message. Ontario students should take some comfort in that.

But the other political context, the waves made by the student protests last year in Québec must also be considered. The impact their protests had on Ontarians, to teach that another system is possible, cannot be understated. The Maple Spring created spaces in Ontario where student activists could actually talk about free tuition fees and be taken seriously by their peers.

That’s the power of a peoples’ movement: raising consciousness and building capacity. Ontario was lucky to benefit from some side effects. Québec students will be reaping the harvest of their work for years to come, and the story isn’t anywhere near finished yet.

But the 3% fee increase is a necessary reminder: Wynne, bowing to pressure and trying to distance herself publicly from McGuinty settled on a tuition fee increase lower than the past seven years. In Québec, Pauline Marois picked the same percentage to increase students’ fees, despite the fact that she rolled in on a wave that was absolutely opposing a hike. What’s the lesson here?

The line between demands made by social movements and minor policy changes is sometimes direct, sometimes crooked and most times non-existent. Marois tricked Québecers into voting PQ and turned around and went all Charest on them. Wynne was elected as the moderately progressive alternative and has turned around and gone all McGuinty on Ontarians.

Meanwhile, students in both provinces will be paying 3% more next fall.

Political ideology is the domain of the Conservatives. Today, the remaining Neoliberal parties are populist, gauging where public interest is and governing accordingly. Under these conditions neither Ontarians nor Québecers have any chance of witnessing fundamental change. Austerity and populism has too great a control over the brains of our politicians. Instead, we’ll have to force it.

What the student movement in Québec does is reminds us that these battles, if fought and won in the streets, will be won by the people. The campaign will last longer than a semester. It’s origins will be theorizable but it’s effects can only be told in retrospect. Its existence gives hope and a path to follow.

So Ontarians, how will you play your hand?

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The neoliberal attacks on Québec higher education

4 Feb
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The president of Université Laval has actually started his own campaign against the PQ’s cuts. It says: I SUPPORT the position taken by the president in the face of under-funding of Québec universities.

For a post-secondary education junkie like me, my move to Québec couldn’t have been better timed.

I left Ontario in June, amid inane ramblings emanating from the cerebral cortex of Glen Murray. His planned changes to Ontario’s higher education sector were outlined in the leaked document, 3 Cubed, that had been widely panned in the winter of 2012. Not one to give up after a failure, Murray repackaged his scheme and tried to shop it around again in the summer. This rollercoaster ride was giving me ulcers. Imagining Murray actually implementing his changes and further destroying Ontario’s higher education system made me want to throw my computer out of the window of my ninth floor office building and accidentally use such force that it would land on top of a bunch of dinosaur bones at the ROM, across the street. (With a good wind, maybe possible).

Luckily, Murray’s ambitions were stronger than the belief in his convictions (like all great politicians) and he jumped ship as Minister to (hilariously) run for the leader of the Liberal party.

Since October, with the elementary and secondary teachers in the crosshairs of Dalton McGuinty, all has been quiet on the post-secondary education front in Ontario.

But not so for here. Québec politics has picked up the slack where Ontario left off.

After last year’s mega doses of awesome, the combination of an election and the acceleration of semesters to catch students up who were on strike had the double effect of slowing down the student movement. Marois repealed Law 12 (Law 78) and replaced the tuition fee hike with an increase tied to inflation. For the students, both policies represented tangible and immediate victories of the work from the previous months.

The PQ is a party that is both populist and neoliberal. It bowed to the students demands not because its a party that fundamentally believes that higher education should not be bought and sold, but because the student movement made it possible for them to get elected. It was therefore impossible to immediately ignore their demands.

Once the new government settled down, though, the PQ implemented five per cent cuts, across the board, to university budgets.

With the victory of the student movement fresh in everyone’s minds, the argument flowed that the cuts were necessary to make up for lost revenue in with the tuition fee increase. While not true, the argument can be made to seem logical, and therefore, convincing. And, with university presidents and many faculty having opposed the student strike, this policy preys on divisions that already exist within the sector and weaken the bargaining position of the sector as a whole.

Higher education in all provinces is underfunded and Québec is no exception. Though nowhere near as underfunded as many university presidents claim, the intentional further underfunding by the PQ is a regressive move. Here lies the break from populism to neoliberalism: get elected, implement regressive cuts.

They didn’t stop there, though. They also cut the lifeblood of university research, FQRNT, by a whopping 30 per cent, after the applications for 2013 had already been submitted. This will fundamentally and abruptly alter research this year: professors will be expected to do just as much with less, fewer graduate students will be hired and competition will become more fierce among a group of people already competing for scare resources.

This, all while they host a summit on education to consult on the future of higher education in Québec. Similar to the Dog-and-Pony-Show of Bob Rae in Ontario in 2005, the PQ has let it be known that they prefer the current policy of tuition fees tied to inflation before the summit has finished its work.

So on the higher education continuum, so far, we have the Liberals trying to emulate the worst of Ontario’s policies and gut the best of Québec’s, which delivered them a shitkicking at the polls. Slightly to the left of them is the PQ who has basically tricked the electorate into believing they’re the “progressive” choice of the lot.

With Québec solidaire the only party with the clearest and most progressive policy out there (free education at all stages of life), they occupy the left.

This leaves the CAQ who, of course, devises a plan that is even more schemey than had been proposed by the Liberals. They argue at the summit that Québec should create two tiers of universities: one elite and one common.

The elite schools will be able to set their tuition fees at any rate and grants and loans will fill in the gaps to ensure that McGill doesn’t become overrun with rich Americans and Ontarians.

Of course, the only way that the state could actually do this is to significantly reduce the public funding offered to these schools. In Ontario, this idea floats around the tables of the Council of Ontario Universities too. Led by U of T president David Naylor, he argues for the creation of a funding model that would all U of T (and a few other schools) to deregulate their tuition fees, charge what the market can bear and become truly prestigious.

Unsurprisingly, the presidents of the the Brocks and Nipissings of the world tend to oppose these recommendations.

While Ontario is much closer to Québec in fulfilling this reality, both provinces would substantially damage their systems if they created a two-tiered system. (It’s unclear if the CAQ is ideologically in favour of creating such an elite system, or if they showed up late on the day that right-wing policies were being handed out and they were given a shitty one.)

Either way, I suspect that the CAQ’s dream of an elite Université Laval is about as likely as their likelihood of forming a majority government.

This is good news, but it doesn’t mean that the CAQ should be ignored.

In a minority government situation, there is a high possibility for the proposal of strange, regressive policies to be developed, voted on and passed.

This is why the students’ and faculty responses will be so important.

Fear not a discussion on sovereignty.

4 Sep

“If you look at Québec solidaire, they’re a hard left political party that believes in the separation of our country” –unhelpful rhetoric from Ian Capstick, former NDP staffer, this morning on The Current.

Tonight, eyes across Canada will be on Québec. It’s nice to have everyone pay attention. I didn’t feel like during the last Ontario election the outcome mattered all that much and so no one was watching. It was clear that the PCs had fumbled and the NDP would pick up a few protest votes cast to spite the Liberals more than support the NDP. In retrospect, there probably would have been no difference between a McGuinty ultra majority, or a Conservative majority, so Québec’s election is a good reminder that sometimes, yes, elections matter.

There’s been a lot of scary writing by people about how we’re all doomed if (when) the PQ wins.

In the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election, the best insult Liberals could hurl at Mulcair is that he’s a separatist (which, to argue this must ignore nearly all of his political past).

Inspired by what I’ve seen online this past week, I’m writing to assure you, dear Canadian, that there’s no reason to be worried about the future of Canada as it may or may not hinge on tonight’s results. No, you should worry about the future of Canada for other reasons.

Some people use Québec to scare non-Québec Canadians to whip up nationalistic feelings of patriotism so that we simply fall in line. Just like Marois has done to avoid talking about real policies, commentators in the ROC are doing the same thing. It’s easy to scare people with the belief that Canada is about to collapse because of Québec than to allow Canadians to see which public policies are possible, like 7$/day daycare. If Canadians knew about Québec’s approach to social programs they might just start demanding them in Nova Scotia or Ontario. They might start taking to the streets in the hundreds of thousands.

Instead: fear separation. Fear the separatists who hate Canada like terrorists hate freedom.

I can’t bring myself to the level of nationalistic, Canadian fervor to become concerned with the protection and maintenance of Canada’s borders. Despite being an Anglophone living in Québec, studying in Saskatchewan and with all my family in Ontario, I don’t understand the fear that it seems folks have with having this discussion.

Our borders are invented. They run through national lines that had evolved through war, cooperation, familial lines and trade. We had no part in shaping them. They were imposed upon this land by a few people in England and a few people in Canada. Like the myths that surround Pierre Trudeau, our borders have taken on a place in our consciousness that builds them up to be something that they aren’t really.

Québecers have a history of being hyper aware of their place, or non-place, in the Canadian confederation, so it’s no surprise to me that the conversation has traditionally been of sovereignty or federalism. But this dichotomy isn’t good enough. It’s clear to me that we have to evolve this discussion beyond “will I need a passport to visit Québec?”

Québec isn’t going to change the make-up of this Canada. New models of self-governance emerging from First Nations communities are the biggest “threat” to Canadian federalism, and I support these struggles. If First Nations communities can succeed in winning their autonomy from local authorities, and if they can enter into new kinds of relationships with existing provinces or municipalities, well then, we will have a new model on our hands. And it may work for the rest of us too. It would change the face of the Canadian federation for the better.

When I hear about sovereignty, I hear people who are legitimately frustrated and angry with a federal government that they, by in large, did not elect. I hear people outraged that their money is being spent on war rather than education or pharmacare. I hear people who are scared that the relentless drive toward English that exists around the world through the movement of global capital will also wash out the French from this province.

I hear similar frustrations in Ontario and Saskatchewan too. The difference is that the answer isn’t to have a full-scale reexamination of our borders. Instead, there is no answer. It’s normally just sighing, disenfranchisement and anger washed down by a beer.

Our people make up Canada: WE are Canada and people are hurting, bad. When can we talk about the hurt that our borders and our political system have inflicted upon us? And, for the ROC, when can we/you ask the question, what must change to make it better for our communities?

I’ve avoided dissecting the problems with the PQ version of sovereignty so far, of which there are many, just because it’s another post altogether. But the PQ’s wants the easiest path to a free Québec: have a vote, win, declare independence. This isn’t sufficient. It takes on the same nationalistic xenophobia that exists in the rest of Canada, translates it, and uses it to create a mini, French version of what Québec just ceded from. Parizeau’s “money and the ethnic vote” comment in 1995 was a good indication of the problems with how the last push for sovereignty was formulated. I wrote an essay on it in Grade 10 history.

But the current rhetoric from Marois is just real politik. She’s trying to get elected. Her polls are saying that this rhetoric will work in target ridings and she’s going for it. That’s how our democracy works. She’s playing by the same rulebook as all the other mainstream parties. Taking issue with Marois’ approach is to take issue with the manifestation of Canadian democracy itself.

This is why new discussions emerging from Québec solidaire, for example, are so important. Their’s is a new way to approach this issue. It’s inclusive. It offers the rest of Canada a potential model for the reenfranchisement of people everywhere.

Why are partisan political commentators so concerned when we talk about changing those borders?

These debates are dangerous because they threaten the only thing that gives our federal government its legitimacy. Partisans know that if Québec has this discussion, confederation is threatened. Alberta will go next. Then Newfoundland. Then Northwestern Ontario. Political parties could no longer fight each other for total control of the world’s second-largest land mass, the home to 20% of the world’s fresh water.

As you’ve probably heard from an ex…this isn’t about you. It’s about them.

Handwringing over sovereignty is a game of political elites. Don’t get caught up in this debate on their terms. Redefine the terms of the debate and ask yourself critical questions: is there a better way to organize ourselves? How does it look? What would it take to move us there?

As a progressive person, I have to believe that the local decision-making of engaged and involved communities is the most important node of power. I have to believe that community empowerment is the first line of defense in the struggle to take back our democracy and I have to believe that this may result in a rejection of the borders that were imposed on all of us by people we didn’t elect.

I also have to believe that people are near-universally awesome and solidarity means that we create experiences for us to travel, live among communities that we’re unfamiliar with, explore landscapes where we’ve never been and honour the traditions that have come from these lands regardless of the political structure that exists around us.

Controlling borders, granting access to some to enter and imprisoning others is all about power. I don’t want to be part of a system that treats people this way and I’m prepared for the challenge and the work it will take to change this.

To end, I want to acknowledge how painful a process of going through a discussion like this is. I imagine that for many Québecers, the thought of enduring a referendum process is worse than the possible outcomes and the anticipation of this pain (and the memory of it from 1995 and 1980) is enough to not want to touch this question ever again. The question of sovereignty divided people here: neighbours, families and communities. It wasn’t the process that I advocate above. Québecers who endured these campaigns are right to be nervous, frustrated and angry with the PQ’s rhetoric.

But all ye in the rest of Canada do not have a similar right. It’s like feeling like you earned a gold medal when you’re watching someone on the TV flip back and forth on a trampoline. You didn’t earn it. You can’t even flip once on a trampoline.

Don’t fear conversations about sovereignty. Instead, use this discussion to open a space in your community have your own discussions: does the political system we have, accompanied by the borders created to control our movement, our identities and commerce, serve us or oppress us?

And what about for people who aren’t “us”?