Five months ago, they were totally unknown. Now, they’re household names. They have appeared daily on the newscasts – even on al-Jazeera – and when things have gotten especially hot, they have given as many as 30 interviews a day. They have been the darlings of the French CBC, treated as heroes on the network’s flagship talk-show, Tout le monde en parle.
They could teach many public figures how to perform in front of the cameras. Their language is better than that of most Quebec teachers. Products of some of Quebec’s finest private high schools, they are photogenic, neatly dressed with professional haircuts, courteous, articulate and remarkably resilient under pressure.
These three perfect kids look like every parent’s dream, yet they are the ones who led Quebec’s postsecondary world to the brink of anarchy before Saturday’s tentative agreement to end the stormy and sometimes violent student fight against higher tuition fees..
Léo Bureau-Blouin, 20, is the head of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec. A soft-spoken and sensitive young man with an angel face who studied piano for many years, he is less rigid than his two colleagues. He comes from a cultured family, who would hold long discussions around the dinner table – about politics or philosophical issues like the concept of justice. As a teenager he was already familiar with the French Enlightenment. He wants to study law.
Martine Desjardins, 30, is president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec. On the surface, she is the ultimate conservative. As a preteen from a lower middle-class family, she asked her parents to enroll her in an all-girls private school founded by nuns, Collège Regina Assumpta. She was a dutiful, quiet teenager – no alcohol, no drugs. She studied education and was a social worker in a poor Montreal district during summers. During the school year, she worked 30 hours a week at the Bay. She’s now a doctoral student and would like to become a university professor. And she is married – in a province where most couples shun marriage.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, 21, is by far the most radical member of the trio. A history student at UQAM, he is the co-spokesperson of an extreme-left organization called Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), which represents a majority of the striking students.
The CLASSE unabashedly uses the fight against tuition fees as a springboard toward revolution and functions by direct democracy. Mr. Nadeau-Dubois refused to condemn the vandalism and the violence that has often erupted in the course of the student demonstrations and even refused to appeal for “calm,” on the grounds that he didn’t have “a mandate” to make such a call.
Mr. Nadeau-Dubois heard about free trade and anti-globalization as a kid accompanying his father, a union activist, to meetings and demonstrations, but he too spent his high-school years at Regina Assumpta, which by then had become co-ed.
Despite their communications skills, the student leaders have lost the battle for public opinion during the three-month rebellion. A CROP poll published last Friday showed that the support for the government’s position has increased to 68 per cent from 59 per cent in March and even decreased by six points the dissatisfaction rate against the Charest government.
Still, we’ll probably hear again about these young people in the future, whether they eventually become politicians or bank CEOs, because they’re born leaders.