The summer lull in this year’s Quebec student protests is coming to a close, and the next few weeks are likely to be crucial ones for the future of the movement.
To recap: Quebec’s ruling Liberal Party announced plans for multi-year tuition hikes last February, prompting students to walk out of classes throughout the provinces. Those walkouts quickly developed into ongoing student strikes, with many campuses closing entirely after student strike votes at general assemblies. College administrators generally respected the strikes, even — in some cases — refusing to comply with court orders that their campuses be reopened. Suddenly the red square, symbol of the movement, was everywhere.
In mid-May the government brought forward a proposal to end the strike, but it offered only minimal concessions and its plan was overwhelmingly rejected in a series of campus votes. After that debacle the Liberal Party put forward Bill 78, a law that criminalized much protest in the region and imposed stiff penalties on student organizations that supported campus closures. Bowing to the reality of widespread campus closures, Bill 78 suspended the spring semester at colleges shuttered by the strike, mandating that they resume meeting in mid-August. (The law passed on a party-line vote after a hectic marathon session.)
Defiance of Bill 78 was widespread, and its provisions have generally not yet been implemented. Hundreds of thousands of Quebecois took to the streets in the aftermath of its passage, and protests have continued throughout the summer on a somewhat smaller scale.
That’s what’s happened. Here’s what’s coming:
Rumors have been swirling for months that Quebec’s ruling Liberal Party will announce on August 1 that they will be holding provincial elections on September 4, and news reporting is increasingly treating a Wednesday announcement as a done deal. Polling has been sparse so far, but the most recent data show the LP and the Parti Quebecois virtually deadlocked, with one poll aggregator showing the LP likely to win some 60 seats in the new legislature — a six-seat loss from their current standing, and a decline large enough to rob them of their current majority in the 125-seat body.
But the situation could change dramatically between now and the election, particularly since Bill 78 mandates that the province’s striking colleges re-open their doors on August 17. A student lawsuit to block implementation of the Bill was rejected earlier this month, but another challenge is still pending — this one from professors who say the government does not have the right to unilaterally impose a new teaching schedule on them.
Mark your calendars: This year, campus activism for the new academic year starts in Quebec, and it’s starting early.