Members of the University of Victoria Students’ Society board of directors

UVic, Camosun students show Solidarité!

Post-secondary students in Greater Victoria support their Quebec counterparts with casserole march

The sound of banging pots and pans is filling the air from coast to coast.

Though thousands of kilometres away, Victorians will “casserole march” in unison with striking Quebec university students and their supporters across the country during a block party in Centennial Square Saturday (June 9).

It will be the second show of solidarity for the eastern ralliers since May 30, when locals, many with pots and pans in hand, marched through downtown Victoria.

More than 155,000 post-secondary students, nearly one-third of the student population in Quebec, have yet to return to class amid escalating tension with government, sparked by the Quebec Liberals’ proposed 75-per-cent tuition increase over the next five years.

Students in B.C. pay nearly double the average post-secondary tuition fees compared to Quebec students – $4,852 versus $2,519 annually, according to Statistics Canada. Despite the disparity, student groups in Victoria have thrown their full support behind the Quebec student resistance.

“The post-secondary system in Quebec really serves as a model for the rest of Canada; it’s a system we can look to,” said Lucia Orser, director of external relations for the University of Victoria Students’ Society. “That’s why we see students mobilizing across Canada – they’re defending the most accessible post-secondary education in North America.”

Quebec students fear their post-secondary education system might turn into something similar to the current B.C. system, which saw tuition freezes lifted in 2002, Orser added.

“The culture in Quebec is so different and very distinct,” said Madeline Keller-MacLeod, external executive for the Camosun College Student Society. “Students in B.C. don’t remember a time when tuition wasn’t extremely expensive.”

Last Monday (May 28), both the UVic and Camosun student societies passed motions of support for Quebec students. The result: Solidarité! a block party in Centennial Square.

The event begins with a pots-and-pans-banging casserole march at 5 p.m. (8 p.m. EST), the same time protesters will take to the streets in Quebec, before leading a party into the square with live music and guest presentations planned.

“It’s a growing movement in support of Quebec, but also to demand affordable education for all,” said Orser, who hopes the Quebec protests may lead to more awareness of post-secondary cuts in B.C.

Government watchdog, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, strongly opposes the student movement based on the “perpetuation of Quebec’s cycle of entitlement” and the fact that B.C. taxpayers continue to make equalization payments to Quebec, said Jordan Bateman, B.C. representative for the federation.

“There have been so many government waste stories coming out of Quebec in the years that show they might not treat tax dollars as seriously as the rest of Canada,” he said.

“It comes down to the basic premise that if something is free, or you’re not paying for it, you don’t value it in the same way as if you were putting your own dollar on the line. It’s important that students pay a part of their tuition so that they understand there’s value to what they’re getting.”

It’s a debate Keller-MacLeod and Orser are ready to wage with the public during Solidarité!

The party will also be an opportunity to back the Quebec protesters financially, as the groups will be gathering funds to pay for lawyers for Quebec students who are facing criminal charges as a result of their protesting.

“This should be worrisome for anyone in Canada,” Keller-MacLeod said. “All students in Canada should be inspired by Quebec students. They’ve been extremely democratic in how they’ve carried out their strike and they believe in what they want and that it’s worth fighting for. I’d like to see that have an effect on students in B.C.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com