They lead an alphabet soup of student groups, and they’ve become television stars in Quebec, marching in front of thousands through 11 weeks of tuition protest.
They’ve already been cast in roles by Quebec’s massive media machine: Léo Bureau-Blouin is the young, sensitive soul searching for conciliation; Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is the arrogant radical who will truck no compromise; Martine Desjardins is the older, wiser voice of experience who is consistently between the other two.
The three student leaders speak in defence of poor classmates while coming from solid middle-class backgrounds. Each attended subsidized private high schools which charge tuitions in the $2,000 range. Mr. Nadeau-Dubois and Ms. Desjardins went to the same elite Collège Regina Assumpta.
The trio gets more airtime than any cabinet minister and they’ve shown remarkable discipline, driving Premier Jean Charest to offer a modest olive branch Friday.
The students have had help. Quebec’s unions, which ran their own painful demonstrations against their sworn enemy, Mr. Charest, when he first came to power nine years ago, have publicly supported the strike while quietly giving advice and financial support.
Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ)
Léo Bureau-Blouin leads the students in Quebec’s CEGEP system of colleges, which are essentially trade and university prep schools. A soft-spoken social sciences student, the 20-year-old is the youngest of the three and usually the first to agree to a new round of negotiation and the last to reject a proposal. College students have the most to lose in the boycott. Striking CEGEPs completely shut down and don’t have the flexible schedules of universities. Making up lost time is not just a matter of picking up a few classes.
Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ)
The last time education funding triggered major protests in Quebec, in 2005, the FEUQ was blamed for smashing things. This time, the association representing 125,000 university students is not radical enough for some. Martine Desjardins, a 30-year-old doctoral student in education, has seen more life than many students. She worked as a social worker in a poor Montreal neighbourhood before pursuing a PhD, and is married.
Coalition large de l'association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE)
The CLASSE was founded in time for this boycott to give university and college students a vehicle for a more “combative stance” than the other groups. The good looks and celebrity of chief spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois have landed him on MusiquePlus, while up-and-coming filmmaker Xavier Dolan described him as sexy. When bricks fly and smoke bombs explode, CLASSE gets blamed, evidence or no. The 21-year-old leader has been called a terrorist on radio, and Mr. Charest has singled him out for scorn because of his reluctant condemnation of violence.