Premier Jean Charest is right to hold firm on the increase of university tuition fees in Quebec, especially in the face of the rioting in Montreal this week by some of the students who are protesting this change. The higher fees will be moderate, reasonable and still lower than in most of Canada.
Mr. Charest's offer to phase in the proposed $1,625 tuition hike over seven years, rather than five, is now before students -- and they would be wise to accept it.
One of the student organizations, la Coalition large de l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, has given an unmistakable degree of countenance to the vandalism by some protesters, inflicted on business premises and automobiles (not to mention a police station). Line Beauchamp, the Minister of Education, was quite right to condemn those "who use violence almost as a method of blackmail."
The students' strike has been going on for 11 weeks, accompanied by grandiose talk of a "Quebec Spring." The provincial government offered concessions Friday: an additional $39-million in bursaries; better student loans program; the re-payment of student loans in proportion to graduates' income; and periodic evaluations of the impact of higher fees on access. But the premier held firm that students should return to class while they consider the offer, and that the tuition increase will go ahead.
The spokesperson for CLASSE, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, has refused to denounce the violence against private property or to call for calm – thereby confirming the good judgment of the government in declining to deal with his irresponsible organization.
It is true that youth unemployment in Quebec is high, and students have cause to be anxious about how they will get by. But that is no excuse for the self-important comparison of these prolonged protests to genuine democratic movements such as the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Arab Spring of 2011 – let alone for the vandalism of a few, condoned by more than a few.