Three Quebec politicians talk about their days as student leaders and their views on today's struggles
Former Parti Quebecois leader and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry speaks at the nomination meeting of PQ leader Andre Boisclair for the Pointe Aux Trembles riding, in Montreal on Sunday, July 9, 2006. Ian Barrett
Bernard Landry, 75
Student at the University of Montreal and president of the founding committee of the Union générale des étudiants du Québec (UGEQ) in 1964. As well as being a Parti Québécois finance minister, he served as premier from 2001 to 2003.
“I was always proud to see that our tuition fees were atypical on our continent and that we were closer to Europe than America,” he wrote this week. “As a former student leader turned minister of finance, I couldn't honestly increase [fees], even during the indispensable return to a balanced budget after a half-century of continuous deficits. ... “Considering the disastrous debts of young American graduates, it's clear that that the European model is wiser and more fair.”
Montreal mayoral candidate Louise Harel mockingly applauds incumbent Gerald Tremblay during a debate at the Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, October 27, 2009 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz
Louise Harel, 66
Student at the University of Montreal and a vice-president of the UGEQ in 1968. Cabinet minister in successive PQ governments, with portfolios including immigration and municipal affairs. Leader of the opposition at Montreal city hall.
“In 1968, the student movement was mostly about the counterculture, about challenging the existing order. We were coming out of a very authoritarian period in Quebec,” she recalls. “We were challenging a type of teaching that was very dogmatic and authoritarian.”
Today's protests have evolved in at least one significant way. “What is very different is that the student leaders are supported by parents and teachers. In '68, there was a real rupture between the generations.”
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe speaks to reporters during a federal election campaign stop at a Parti Quebecois national policy convention in Montreal, Sunday, April 17, 2011. Graham Hughes
Gilles Duceppe, 64
Student at the University of Montréal and a vice-president in 1968 of the UGEQ. An MP and leader of the Bloc Québécois.
Student politics in the 1960s “was a major training school for playing a role in society later. We played an important role,” he says. “I'm seeing young people stand up today and have something to say. I've always thought that, when youth moves forward, society moves forward. Can they make mistakes? Of course. But when youth is silent, society asphyxiates.” The risk always remains radicalism, which can arise “when people want everything and ask for nothing specific. You have to know when to speak about victory. That remains a danger.”
He sees this year's student mobilization as a sign of civic engagement. “Young people are getting involved again. Let's hope this means they'll go to the polls in the future as much as their elders do and will get seriously involved in politics.”