I was listening to an interview on American radio this the weekend with one of the leaders of CLASSE. The proceedings were sensible enough until the interviewee claimed that Quebec not only had the country’s lowest tuition fees, but also that it had the country’s highest levels of access.
This is, simply, a lie. Quebec’s participation rates are inflated by its CEGEP system, which includes grade 12 – a which is offered in secondary school elsewhere in Canada.
Then came the usual stuff about how higher tuition leads to lower levels of access. This is not quite a lie, but it is far from truthful. If the tuition increase is large enough and there are no new grants to help the neediest, then yes, access could be affected (though as we’ve seen in the UK, the effects still aren’t as large as one might imagine). But since neither of these conditions holds true in Quebec, using it as a rationale for the strikes is also, essentially, a lie.
I know we’re not supposed to use words like this. We’re supposed to indulge student leaders, to praise their youthful, idealistic enthusiasm. If they make factual mistakes, it’s just because they’re young and can’t be expected to know the social science.
But student leaders are not innocent part-timers. In Quebec, student leaders receive government “scholarships” to subsidize their work as professional union leaders. Outside Quebec, the CFS has dozens of professional staff, some of whom have been on the student payroll for over a decade. These people read. They know the statistics. And yet they continue to spout untruths and advocate policies which are actively regressive.
Both the Quebec student unions and CFS support policies which benefit richer families at the expense of the poor. When political parties and governments choose to pay attention to this nonsense, it has real, adverse consequences. Excusing the objectively regressive policy objectives of some student organizations as “youthful idealism” lets them off the hook for the real damage they do.
Why do they do it? I think it differs across the country. Outside Quebec, I’m pretty sure it’s pure cynicism, playing on people’s fears about social inclusion so they can deliver bacon in the form of lower tuition fees to their members. Within Quebec, there’s also the statism element. One gets the impression sometimes that student leaders are less concerned with accessibility than with reverting to an economy where government plays a much more dominant role. Which makes sense: today’s Quebec student leaders seem to have clear designs on being tomorrow’s politicians and they have an interest in ensuring that the state they will one day inherit is a powerful one.
Regardless of their motivations, there is no reason anyone else need accommodate them. Lies are lies, and they need to be confronted.