Editorial, Montreal Gazette, May 15, 2012
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Education Minister Line Beauchamp made what she called the “ultimate compromise” by resigning Monday – leaving not just her cabinet position, but her seat in the National Assembly.
She and Premier Jean Charest presented the move as an attempt to break the logjam of the 14-week student crisis. “I hope it will serve a little like an electroshock,” said Beauchamp, adding that she no longer feels she is “part of the solution.”
But the move smacks of a gamble that could backfire. It’s likely that the student protesters are going to feel more empowered than ever. They could reasonably see Beauchamp’s resignation as proof that they’ve won, that they – not the government – are the ones in charge. That they forced a cabinet minister’s resignation by sitting tight and sticking to their demands.
In one of her parting shots, Beauchamp said that after a phone conference yesterday morning with the four leaders of the main student associations, she had lost confidence in their desire to settle the conflict. “The student associations don’t trust the people’s elected representatives,” she said. “I never succeeded in forcing the associations to compromise. So I made the ultimate compromise. I am yielding my place.”
She and Charest both insisted that her resignation was a personal choice on her part and that the only losers in the interminable protests are the students who want to finish their term but can’t get into their classes. But the move does leave one scratching one’s head. Neither Beauchamp nor Charest backed down from the government’s position that Quebec’s universities need better financing and so students need to pay more. If the government intends to stand firm on that – as it should – how does this break the aforementioned logjam? Does Charest think Michelle Courchesne, Beauchamp’s predecessor and now her successor, is better placed to bring the situation to a close?
Possibly. Courchesne is by some accounts more comfortable with hardline negotiating tactics than Beauchamp was. But it seems unlikely that the student protesters are going to give in just because the new education minister plans to argue the same no-compromise government position more forcefully.
It seems that the real question coming out of this resignation, following 14 weeks of street protests, including smoke bombs in the city's Metro, is whether the government or the rabble of students are in charge.
If it is the students, then Quebec has fallen prey to gangsterism, permitting hundreds of students to hold their peers hostage by preventing them from completing their academic year, and holding the provincial government hostage to demands that the large majority of the population consider unreasonable.
Beauchamp or Courchesne is not really the question, even if Courchesne is more comfortable with hardline negotiating. The real question is why has the Quebec government not sought an injunction in the courts, to make it possible to open the doors to the classrooms, without threats of violence, injury to students, or governance by physical demand.
We supported the Occupy movement, back in the winter, when they were making a statement about the chasm that exists between the have's and the have-nots across North America and beyond.
If this student protest is a vestige, or a left-over from that movement, having selected the issue over which they are prepared to effect what amounts to a political "coup" without bullets, then the Charest government has too much to answer for, for the simple reason that no government can permit any single group to hold it, and therby the people of the province of Quebec hostage to their demands.
Opposition political parties will use the emasculation of the government's power, through sheer physical force, and demogogery, and the whole country could be drawn into this chauldron.
No negotiations, seek an injunction, and require the universities authorities to open the doors of their classrooms to those students still mature enough to wish to complete their year successfully.
Civil society must find ways, even if those ways have to be created from the warm clay that is presented in the crisis, to negotiate, mediate, arbitrate their struggles, conflicts and obstructive tactics and stragegies of government opponents.
This is not the Arab Spring. This is not Lybia. It is Quebec, and Montreal...both two of the most advanced political entities on the planet and if we lose our capacity to govern, in such a context, what hope is there in a context bedevilled by bombs, bullets, terrorists and outside provocateurs?