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Quebec’s Student Movement is No Tea Party

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

By David Bernans

Henry Aubin opines in The Montreal Gazette that the Quebec student movement has much in common with the Tea Party phenomenon south of the border. Yet he offers this opinion without a single shred of evidence.

He correctly observes that the Tea Party flatly rejects any increase to taxes but fails to note that this rejection applies whether such taxes are to be paid by billionaires like the Koch Brothers who fund the “Astroturf” (as opposed to “grassroots”) Tea Party movement or by average Americans. He also notes that student groups reject raising tuition fees “to government-controlled universities.” Although he fails to realize that Quebec universities are autonomous institutions whose faculty often criticize governments of the day, it is true that student groups generally oppose increases in tuition.

On the face of it, there is no similarity here, but Aubin thinks otherwise. He imagines that because both groups wish to turn the taps off certain forms of government revenue they are pretty much the same. He calls the difference between these two positions “a nuance.” Why? On what basis can he equate opposition to income tax increases (where the wealthy pay more), and opposition to user fee increases? Aubin does not tell us, and I will not hazard to guess.

Both groups, says Aubin, are “electorally-minded.” By this he seems to mean that both groups dedicate their resources with a strategy of electing candidates to office likely to implement their respective agendas. There are very few political organizations that are not “electorally minded” by such a definition.

He also claims both groups “would weaken society.” This is undoubtedly true of the Tea Party, since the movement would rob government of any means to spread the wealth of the super-rich (the only class that is benefiting from the so-called “recovery”) amongst society at large. The fundamentally individualistic and anti-redistributive bent of the Tea Party makes it profoundly anti-social.

The opposite is true of the student movement. It seeks to strengthen social cohesion by making education, the great equalizer, available to all sections of society regardless of wealth. Tuition fees put the financial burden of university funding on students, forcing them to take on increasing levels of personal debt if they wish to get the education they need to get a job. Student groups argue that public education should be funded through a progressive tax system. Corporations and the super-rich benefit from university research and a well-educated labour force. Why shouldn’t they fund the education system? Federal and provincial governments could roll back a few of the generous tax cuts such groups have enjoyed in recent pre-recession years.

It is easy to find proponents of higher user fees among university Rectors and Presidents and on the university governing boards that appoint them. I know this from personal experience, having played the role of a token student representative on Concordia’s Board of Governors in the 2005-2006 academic year. My fellow Governors were on the whole very wealthy individuals indeed. The leaders of our public universities are generally stockholders and board members of profitable corporations. They don’t mind higher tuition costs for their children if it means lower levels of individual and corporate income tax.

That’s why the rich fund organizations like the Tea Party and not student advocacy groups.

Dr. David Bernans (PhD) studied translation at Concordia University and is a former President of Concordia’s Graduate Students’ Association (2005-2006). He is currently a translator and writer based in St-Jean-Port-Joli.

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