HESA

Higher Education Strategy Associates

Stalemate

A few of you have asked why we haven’t been writing about Quebec lately. Frankly, what’s the point? This ceased long ago to be about education.

It’s completely mystifying how this has gone on as long as it has. As a recent CROP poll shows, two-thirds of the province backs the premier on tuition fees, half back his remarkably illiberal Loi 78 (and even larger majorities back most of the specific measures). And yet the government still can’t get traction. It doesn’t have the legitimacy to move the file forward.

We’ve been hearing for the last few days about possible breakthroughs. But as we saw after the last deal, one shouldn’t get excited about any breakthroughs because student assemblies at the various striking schools may once again repudiate their leadership and vote to continue the strike even after a deal is reached. Student rhetoric has become so heated that the leadership has little room to negotiate –anything that would be acceptable to the government would be considered a sell-out by the radicals.

Charest has a Plan B – an election. Everyone who says that the student revolt reminds them of May 1968 seems to forget that that revolt ended with De Gaulle going to the polls and winning a crushing majority. Lord knows it’s a better option for Charest than waiting for the corruption commission to report. Two of the three major parties (Francois Legault’s Coalition pour l’Avenir du Québec being the other) believe in raising tuition fees, so there’s a good chance that even if the Liberals don’t win outright, this fee hike will happen anyway.

Fortunately, the temperature has gone down in recent days. Though you may have missed it from reporting in the anglo media, the mood has moved a bit from confrontation to partying (two good stories in the Globe here and here. Small mercies.

In many ways, though, enormous damage has already been done. Stories of professors being harassed for teaching classes during the strike are going to do substantial damage to Quebec universities’ ability to hire from outside the province. The perplexing silence of Quebec rectors on the tuition hike while the Liberals were twisting in the wind means no government is likely to do them a favour again any time soon. Plus, it should be pretty clear by now, the government’s broke. One more external shock – Spanish bank run? Grexit?  – and Quebec will be back where it was in 2008, only this time with its government having zero credibility in terms of implementing difficult policies.

Regardless of how things pan out with students in the next little while, the outlook for Quebec universities is not good. Not good at all.

 

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