On Feb. 29, SSMU hosted an open forum for students to discuss the Quebec student movement mobilizing against proposed provincial tuition increases. The event offered students a venue to ask questions and gain some clarity on the issues, such as the driving forces behind the movement.
“I feel like often people think that the only issue is the rise in tuition fees, but don’t understand the full impacts and the ideological problems behind that—the real reason why people are actually fighting for this,” Joëlle Shaw, an honours art history student, said.
With a 20 person turnout, the forum had a range of students in attendance from the faculties of science, arts, and education, and included international, in-province, and out-of-province students. The discussion aimed to be a safe space for people to offer perspectives and share opinions on what students felt were some of the core issues at hand. Joël Pedneault, SSMU VP External Affairs, led the discussion.
“We need to talk about how us going on strike will strategically make the student movement support us more,” Pedneault said. “The question is, how we can put these discussions into practice and actually begin to mobilize and get involved with the student movement?”
From accessibility of education and government subsidies, to the distribution of loans and bursaries, students tried to understand the sources of the call to action.
“I think that there is certainly a division between people who support the strike and those who want free education, and those who [simply] want accessible education … I think that’s a distinction that is not made enough,” Shaw said. “I want to pay for tuition and I don’t think education is a right, however I think that as a society it is our duty to ensure that the privilege of education extends to as many people as possible.”
What came to the forefront of the debate was the number of discrepancies and differing perspectives surrounding the student movement. From numerous sources of information, stories were varied and student concerns were many. However, one thing that remained evident was an invested interest and desire on the part of students to learn more about the present issues affecting the community.
Although several faculty student society constitutions do not specify the quorum needed for strike votes, some students argued that the typical quorum of 150 students would not be representative of the student body.
“We aim to have many times [that number] in attendance, as many students as possible, to make the GA as representative of the AUS membership as possible,” Kevin Paul, U3 arts, said.
The forum then moved to discuss the position the McGill student body holds within the provincial, national, and international context, and the university’s contribution to the discussion of provincial tuition increases.
“Because we are the university with the most non-Quebec Canadian students in the province … it puts us in a dangerous situation where we may start pitting Quebec students against non-Quebec students, exacerbating existing tensions in the Quebec student movement,” SSMU president Maggie Knight said. “We should be thinking to build bridges instead of divide students.”
“These issues need to be discussed and I think if we refuse to discuss those properly then we’re doing ourselves a disservice and provid[ing] unnecessary polarization,” she said.