No free education, ever? Not so fast, news media, photo via Flickr
It was surprising to hear reports that Parti Québécois higher education minister Pierre Duchesne on Sunday had definitively ruled out free education as a point of discussion in the summit on higher education this Feb. 25 and 26.
Surprising because Duchesne never said any such thing. Yet almost every news outlet in Quebec put out that particular spin, with the Journal de Montréal even putting it in quotation marks in its headline over a story — «La gratuité n’est qu’un rêve » –Le ministre Duchesne. In the text that follows, Duchesne never says free education is “nothing but a dream.” What he said is this:
“Free education seems to us to be more of a long-term ideal than a concrete measure in the current context.”
I’m willing to bet that even many of the students who protested tuition hikes last year won’t find much to disagree with there. After all, free education has been a goal of the Quebec student movement since the 1960s, so long-term is a pretty apt description. Last year’s fight was to maintain the tuition freeze, not a battle for free education.
For a government minister to call free education “a long-term ideal” is actually a huge leap forward compared to previous governments, Liberal or péquiste.
Duchesne went on to say: “We look to increase accessibility to education as much as possible (so) that institutions of higher education are no longer reserved for the sons and daughters of the rich. Free education is not the only nor the strongest response to that.”
I wouldn’t call that a rejection of student goals. Because despite the attempt to describe student protest actions as selfish, the goal has always been long-term accessibility. Indeed, the people who will benefit most from the decision to cancel the fee hike are 14 years old or younger right now. To describe student protesters as selfish is ridiculous. The selfish ones are the people who graduated in the last 20 years with a low-cost education but don’t want the same for the following generations.
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Of course, after distorting Duchesne’s comments, several media outlets immediately called up the people they like to label as “the most radical student group” (i.e.: not credible) for a reaction to what he supposedly said.
The Association étudiante pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) obliged, immediately denouncing the things Duchesne never said, adding that they would boycott the summit if students couldn’t talk about free education.
“The minister has just excluded Quebecers who courageously defended this vision of society (projet de société) during and following the Maple Spring,” announced CLASSÉ spokesperson Jérémie Bédard-Wien. The group then threatened to boycott the meeting because of what the minister never said.
Well played, mainstream-media-that-hates-protesting-students-and-has- demonstrated-it-time-and-time-again-in-its-highly-biased-coverage-of-the-tuition-conflict. Well played.
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The summit on higher education is one of the several concrete results that the “Maple Spring” had produced. Most of the parties involved — universities, student associations, professors and government — are taking it seriously, hoping that dialogue, even divisive dialogue, can help lead the higher education system out of a morasse that has been crippling it for years. The tuition debate is just the tip of an iceberg, and it should not be allowed to sink the ship.
Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media are acting like cheerleaders for failure.
The deliberate — you can’t call it anything else — distortion of Duchesne’s comments demonstrates a desire to create conflict within the student movement and pit others against students. But if you’ve been paying attention this past year, that comes as no surprise. ■
Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.