There should be no sequel to Quebec’s ‘Maple Spring’ student protest

·National Affairs Reporter

Quebec's student protest is threatening to break into its second act, following a sudden demonstration that resulted in the arrest of 13 people in Montreal on Tuesday.

The act of civil disobedience, deemed illegal due to its sudden nature, was just more of the same after a spring of discontent over the provincial Liberal government's plan to increase university tuition.

Student protesters seemed to think their troubles were over after helping the Parti Québécois form government. After all, Pauline Marois had promised to hold the line on tuition costs.

Now, Quebec students know what most of us have already learned. Politicians say the dandiest things during an election campaign.

[ Related: Montreal students return to streets to protest tuition hike ]

The protest came after Marois announced her plan to increase tuition to match the inflation rate. About three per cent per year, or $70 a year. The Canadian Press reported that Marois also told an education summit the season of student protests — deemed "Maple Spring" — was "now behind us."

One would like to think Marois is right. Maple Spring was a chaotic, ridiculous moment in Canadian history, a movement that should end knowing it helped topple a three-term government.

Tuition in Quebec has to increase. Yet some students are even demanding tuition be free. University administrators are complaining about underfunding. Understandable, considering Quebec has the lowest tuition levels in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, Quebec's average tuition last year was $2,520. The only other province near that was Newfoundland, at $2,649.

Meantime, British Columbia students paid an average of $4,919, Albertans paid $5,663 and Ontario students paid an average of $6,815.

[ Related: Unrest of the Maple Spring is 'behind us': Quebec's new premier ]

In some ways, Marois herself is to blame for this. She demonized the Liberal's tuition increase for political reasons and painted the demonstrators as heroic activists.

As the National Post's Graeme Hamilton writes:

Never mind the tear gas, shattered windows and masked thugs blocking campus access. What Quebec experienced, Ms. Marois said, was a “formidable mobilization of young people from the four corners of Quebec.”

The Liberal government that introduced “brutal” tuition hikes, which would have left rates the lowest on the continent, was to blame for the crisis, not the students who took to the street “to make their voices heard in an original way."

Now, students are back on the streets, throwing snowballs at officers, antagonizing police horses and clogging Montreal streets in a fit of high-minded rage.

The previous Liberal government had aimed to increase tuition by $1,625 over five years. The PQ's new plan will see it rise about $350 over five years.

Call it a win, realize that education can't be free. And move on. Just stop dragging the issue back into the streets.

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