As part of a series of protests, thousands of students took to the streets of downtown Montréal in the largest demonstration yet against the recent proposed tuition hike. The movement began several weeks ago in response to talks of tuition increases of 75% over five years. Students from universities, colleges, and high schools all got together to march through downtown Montréal, blocking traffic, causing chaos, and trying local citizens’ patience. The protest stretched over 50 blocks.
The Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), a student union coalition, organized a one-day strike on March 20. Students were to leave classrooms and protest on the day that finance minister Raymond Bachand was constructing a budget that would introduce the hikes.
“The computers on campus actually flashed with a warning telling us not to go outside,” said Hyder Cadersa, a second-year student at McGill University.
This new budget will raise tuition by $325 a year for the next five years, bringing the yearly tuition cost to approximately $3,793 from $2,168. The budget will come into effect on September 2012.
Student unions asked the provincial government to explain how the money is spent before raising tuition fees. Bachand dismissed this request, but said that 5% of the increase will be returned to low-income families in the form of loans and bursaries.
According to Statistics Canada, Québec students pay the lowest tuition of all the provinces. In contrast, students in Ontario pay the highest, at an average of approximately $6,640. Even after the tuition hike, Québec will have one of the lowest tuitions for full-time undergraduate students.
According to another survey by Statistics Canada, Québec universities and colleges need this tuition increase because their total expenditures outweigh their total revenue, putting them in a deficit of $250,000. In fact, the universities lobbied for a $500 increase per year rather than the resulting $325.
Bachand commented, “It’s hard to sit down with someone who says, ‘I want a freeze and nothing else’.”