Quebec protestors are no heroes

The fall term of school has begun, and for certain students in Quebec, angered at their provincial government’s move to raise tuition rates, that means it’s time to begin another round of protests, disruptions, and general shenanigans. Man the lifeboats.

I confess that have not had my own struggles paying for education. My tuition, books, and fees were covered by a savings account my family set up for me practically as soon as I left the womb. I went to university in my hometown and lived at home throughout my four years of study. I was also offered a well-paying job within just a couple of months of finishing classes. You can call me out of touch if you’d like. That doesn’t change the fact that supporters of the Quebec student strike are out of touch with basic economics.

They have a right to be angry – their provincial government should have seen this coming. Quebec taxpayers foot an unbelievable 70 per cent of a university student’s tuition bill, second only to Newfoundland and Labrador, where the subsidy is an even more unbelievable 77 per cent. Meanwhile, Quebec is grappling with a debt of nearly $253 billion. They faced their first deficit in a decade in 2009, and haven’t had a balanced budget since.

With such a poor record of fiscal stewardship, is it any wonder that making their citizens pay more for their goodies is so painful? Continuing with 70 per cent subsidy for tuition during a recession is as irresponsible as, say, cutting taxes for the wealthy during wartime. When the final bill comes, you’ll want to kick yourself in the face for letting all that extra cash go. There’s a reason we caution our kids to save for a rainy day – sooner or later, it always rains.

No amount of mobilization will change any of the above facts. Ask any supporter of the student strikes how the government should pay to keep their share of tuition expenditures this low. You might be surprised how long it takes for them to come up with an answer, if they do at all.
Why should those of us outside Quebec, all of whom pay more for tuition, be asked to stand in solidarity with them? If their concern was access to education, they would not do what they did in Montreal last week: barging into classrooms, banging on desks, and calling out students who crossed the picket line. And for the record, if any protester interrupted my class to yell about neoliberalism or some such nonsense, I would go Katniss Everdeen on their whiny ass before they could say “drop fees!”

The continued strikes are not about access to education. It’s about wanting to have their cake and have it fed to them, too. That’s the entitlement mentality the Quebec government has helped create with its own misguided attempt at offering a public service.

6 Comments on "Quebec protestors are no heroes"

  1. The Quebec students met with the former Education Minister and presented four different scenarios that would eliminate the “need” for fee hikes while not costing a dime. The Minister’s response was to not question their numbers, but to explain that the optics required her to not back down on raising fees. Clearly Quebec students “get”the economics of the issue, and are prepared to learn from the mistakes of other provinces where students and their families are expected to bear an increasing proportion of the costs of higher learning. Several surveys and reports have indicated students across the country are also extremely worried about rising levels of debt, so clearly many of the issues raised by the students in Quebec have resonated outside of that province. Not so with the author–but as he admits in a brief moment of admirable self-awareness, he may be just a bit “out of touch”.

    • I’m a she, first of all. The students you mention in your comment took the time to meet with the government, which is admirable, but they are largely separate from the students engaging in the disruptions I outlined in my article. And I would be interested to know if, when you say students are “extremely worried about rising levels of debt,” you’re referring to their own debt or that of their province.

  2. “Ask any supporter of the student strikes how the government should pay to keep their share of tuition expenditures this low. You might be surprised how long it takes for them to come up with an answer, if they do at all.”

    The most straw-filled straw-person of all time?

    There’s a very simple answer to your query, in fact there’s an entire article responding to it with three separate options. Try doing ANY research at all next time.

    • Referring to basic post-secondary education as “goodies” is actually kind of offensive. Maybe the author sees her education as some kind of treat or extended vacation but some of us actually have to earn a living somehow.

      The author is the one who’s out of touch with basic economics. In a recession, Government should be spending more, not less, to make up for the lack of demand in the private market. Spending some of that money on educating people will pay off in the future both for the economy as a whole and for government revenues.

      • The “goodie” is not the education itself, but the tuition subsidy of which students take advantage to get it. And the recession is over; a severe debt problem is not the same thing as a recession. Eventually you need to realize when these Keynesian “investments” have outlived their usefulness and are making your overall economic outlook worse.

        And by the way, I do earn a living, and my education helped me get that job.

    • According to these numbers, by implementing all of these measures, Quebec will save a total of $15.63 billion . . . over 25 years.

      Quebec’s debt stands at $253 billion.

      $15.63B out of $253B is just north of six percent of the debt.

      So it wouldn’t even come close to eliminating the need to look at other sources for long-term savings – tuition subsidy reductions being just one of them.

      And by scrapping the Plan Nord project altogether, Quebec would be missing out on millions in royalties that could supply them with revenue over decades.

      Try doing any math at all next time.

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