Every night in cities and towns across Quebec and Canada, people of all ages take to the streets armed with pots and pans. With red squares adorning their chests, they bang on their crockery, making their presence known to all those they pass by.
These nightly protests have become known as “casseroles,” and they began back in February when Quebec students announced that they would be going on strike to protest a 75 per cent tuition hike. Months on, Ontario labor and student unions have called on students to stand in solidarity with the students of Quebec.
Some, however have balked at this suggestion, deeming the protests violent and intimidating, and unnecessary due to the low fees Quebec students already pay. But it’s in the best interest of Ontario students to support the “casseroles” movement.
Although the protests have broadened in focus to include a wide variety of social issues, at the core the protests are driven by resistance to increasing tuition fees. Those opposed to the protests say this is a Quebec issue not relevant to Ontario students, and that the students in Quebec should just swallow a bitter pill and move on.
While it is true Quebec fees are much lower than fees in Ontario, we should be aspiring to have lower and more accessible education rather than labelling Quebec students entitled for wanting to maintain their status quo. If we want lower fees, we should support others in their quest to keep fees low.
But the protests are not just about keeping post-secondary education affordable; they’re about improving the quality of education for everybody. The protests are also in opposition to “cuts [to] CEGEP education and the increasing privatization of universities,” said CLASSE executive, Guillaume Vézina in an email to The Varsity. CEGEP are public post-secondary institutions that precede university in Quebec.
We, the students of Ontario, face similar problems. Since there is currently no tuition freeze in place, tuition fees continue to rise each year. Post-secondary institutions are underfunded, education for First Nations students is in a state of disarray, and school boards across the province are making cuts that will likely be detrimental to the quality of education that they provide.
Some claim that after the 30 per cent off grant was given to Ontario students, protesting would be an act of ingratitude. While the 30 per cent grant was a step in the right direction, it still leaves some students out, and the state of education in Ontario is far from perfect. The McGunity government should be given credit for what it has done; that does not mean, however, that we should stop applying pressure and being critical to improve the quality of education in Ontario. Doing that would imply an acceptance of the status quo, and it is clear the status quo is unsustainable. We need to make education a priority.
In response to the protests, the Quebec government also passed Bill 78, which limits the right of people to protest freely by labeling all gatherings of 50 or more people “illegal” unless they submit an itinerary to police beforehand. Bill 78 is a troubling measure whether or not you agree with the protests.
The last widely-used argument levied against the protests is that they are lead by radical unions and groups bent on creating anarchy and violence. While there have been some instances of militant behavior, CLASSE, FECQ and FEUQ have all denounced violence and for the most part the protests have been peaceful. It is unfair to label an entire movement of protesters as troublemakers based on the actions of a few. Why are we labeling all young protestors as being up to no good, when the act of protest is one that is central to democracy?
So if you support making education a priority, stand with the students of Quebec.