- Student Protests and Government Somersaults:The Quebec Spring from a Law and Society Perspective
On September 4, 2012, the Parti québécois (PQ) won the provincial election and became the minority government in power. Based on the election promises made, this nomination will result in a gradual but complete return to class for students.1 On September 20, the PQ kept its election promise by abolishing the proposed student fee hike while maintaining for 2012 an increase in financial aid through the loans and bursaries program and repealing Bill 78.2 The Pauline Marois government maintains plans to hold a higher education summit to discuss the future of university financing. While ASSÉ (known as la CLASSE for the 2012 strike) advocates for free tuition, the PQ government proposes a fee indexation, while the FECQ and the FEUQ are open for dialogue.3
A social crisis on a large scale has been unfolding in Quebec for several months now. The Liberal government's decision to raise tuition fees prompted a broad-based and massive reaction that gave birth to a truly revolutionary movement. The phenomenon, a battle waged under the symbolic "red square" (a homemade felt square used as a pin) and often referred to as the "Quebec Spring," has received widespread media coverage and generated discussion well beyond the borders of Quebec and Canada. To mark the important role that the law played in this crisis, the Canadian Journal of Law and Society is offering editorial coverage as a unique opportunity for examining the themes in which its readers share an interest. The main events will be described briefly and followed by comments that will be of interest to the academic community in the areas of sociology and legal theory. [End Page 439]
I. Main Events
(1) Triggering factors
On December 6, 2010, the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités duQuébec (CREPUQ), that is, the association of university presidents, called on the Government of Quebec to raise tuition fees;4 Jean Charest, as Premier, quickly agreed.5 The people in power believed that university administrators' coffers had to be replenished by tapping more deeply into students' incomes and grants. The resistance they encountered proved to be firm. Student associations and trade unions were outraged and left the bargaining table.6 The first demonstration, on November 10, 2011, in Montreal, brought nearly 20,000 people into the streets in the rain.7 They issued a warning: students would not accept this choice. If necessary, they would go on strike for the winter 2012 semester, but they would not agree to that policy.
The protest movement grew under the banner of the red square, which had been chosen in 2004 by the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté (an organization called A Quebec Without Poverty). Initially, it had been the symbol of the struggle against a proposal to reform social assistance, which was regarded as a step backward in terms of egalitarian justice.8 The next year, the Coalition de l'association pour une solidarité syndicale étudianteélargie (CASSÉE), a student organization, adopted the red square as the emblem of the student movement. Out of CASSÉE grew the Coalition large de l'association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE—Coalition of Associations for Student Union Solidarity), one of the most important players in the current crisis.
The strike movement officially began on February 13, 2012.9 Ten thousand students from Cégeps (two-year colleges, which in Quebec function as stepping stones between high school and university) and universities gave their association an unlimited general strike mandate. Their [End Page 440] number continued to grow through the winter.10 On March 22, the movement reached an estimated peak of 300,000; on the same date, nearly 200,000 people took part in a demonstration in Montreal.11 The student associations are represented by three federations that cover both the college and university systems: the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ, 80,000 members, for Cégep students), the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Qu...