Approximately 1,500 people protested against austerity cuts in education on Feb. 28. The march from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) to McGill University was organized by several student unions, including the provincial student unions Fédération étudiante Universitaire du Québec (FEUQ); Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), the Labor Union Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ); and the Association Québécoise des Centres de la Petite Enfance (AQCPE), a union for child care centre workers.
In December 2014, the Quebec government announced that it would aim to cut $700 million in public service jobs and salaries. Earlier in January, the government proposed a decrease in the number of school boards, amongst other changes, in order to balance the budget.
According to Jonathan Bouchard, president of FEUQ, the march was a signal to the provincial government to preserve the current public services.
“The main message was a cry out to the government [that] Quebec absolutely requires an investment in education in the next budget,” Bouchard said. “From daycares to university and research, all orders of education are affected by the liberal government’s austerity measures, and quality and accessibility to these services are compromised.”
Bouchard stressed the negative impact the cuts would make on education, and said the group would continue to mobilize against austerity.
“It is important to view this march as part of a bigger mobilization against the austerity measures implemented by the government,” Bouchard said. “Education is at the verge of being affected for years to come, and we have to pull together to demand a better future for our education system and our society as a whole. Smaller actions will take place throughout the spring in order to grow and continue mobilization.”
Guillaume Parent, a business school student at UQÀM and participant at the march, said that while he understood that the government needed to make cuts for financial reasons, he felt that the austerity measures did not take into consideration the people’s voice.
“I know it’s not easy because there’s a lot of bureaucracy and other stuff—so in a sense what they’re doing is necessary—but I don’t think they’re doing this the right way,” Parent said. “For instance, they’re talking about closing some healthcare offices, but that will make people go from their small village to their big town, making them ride for an hour [to get there….] They should […] really listen to what the people want and the needs of the population.”
Gabriel Provost, a history student at UQÀM and participant at the march, cited a report created by the Coalition of Consumer Associations in Quebec (CACQ) and its proposal for increasing the provincial government’s revenues through measures like increasing tax brackets and fully publicizing the drug system.
“[The government] wants to remove the fiscal burden, but essentially what [they’re] doing is making us pay more everywhere [except] in our taxes,” Provost said. “Prosperity is something you cultivate. You cannot impose austerity on a population and expect for everything to go well.”