The Parti Québécois’ call for a “truce” suspending student protests about tuition-feee increases until after the Quebec election on Sept. 4 amounts to an implicit recognition of the unpopularity of the protests.
Pauline Marois, the Opposition Leader, has practically admitted as much, having said last Thursday that continuing the demonstrations this month would “play into the hands” of Jean Charest, the incumbent Premier. Likewise, one of the student leaders, Léo Bureau-Blouin, the former president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and now a PQ candidate, said, “All precautions must be taken in order not to work in favour of the Liberals.”
The word “truce” implies neutrality. The logic of Ms. Marois’ proposal, however, is that if Mr. Charest and the Liberals are re-elected, the protests will start all over again, renewing the inconveniences to the citizens and voters of Montreal. If the PQ were victorious, the fees increase would be reversed and the Liberals’ emergency protest law would be repealed, all within 100 days; there would then be a summit on the financing and management of universities, presumably resulting in fee increases no greater than the rate of inflation, as per the PQ program.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the spokesperson of the most radical student group, CLASSE, has rejected the truce. Mr. Bureau-Blouin’s successor at FECQ, Martine Desjardins, is non-committal, but expresses worry about “giving weapons to the Liberals.” Small protests continue; they could get bigger after the university and college terms begin.
Ms. Marois made clear her support for the student boycott last spring, not only by doing her share of pot-banging, but also in so many words. That, at least, was a straightforward position, however mistaken. Now that she appears to accept that many voters, including undecided swing voters, disapproved of the demonstrations – especially their most disruptive aspects, including vandalism and intimidation of students who wanted to attend classes – she is being less intellectually honest.
All this tends to confirm Mr. Charest’s assertion that there is a “silent majority” that opposed the student demonstrations, and that Ms. Marois is trying to play down the whole issue – until, as she hopes, she wins the election.