Was Line Beauchamp’s resignation a win for protesting students?

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

If you're keeping score, striking Quebec post-secondary students got their first political scalp this week with the resignation of Line Beauchamp, the province's education minister and Premier Jean Charest's deputy.

Beauchamp took the fall for failing to end the 13-week protest by thousands of students over the Liberal government's plan to boost tuition fees by $1,778.

A compromise reached earlier this month that would have pushed the timetable for the increases to seven years from five - making the average annual increase $254 - and involving students on a committee to find cost cuts that could offset the tuition boost was voted down by the three main student organizations.

"I have not succeeded at this point in resolving a major conflict and I take responsibility for that," Beauchamp said, according to the Montreal Gazette. "I am not resigning because of adversity or the complexity of the situation. I have seen others.

"I am resigning because I have decided I am not part of the solution."

The veteran cabinet minister said she was leaving politics entirely, resigning her seat in the National Assembly and leaving the Charest government with a razor-thin majority.

Beauchamp was replaced by Treasury Board President Michelle Courchesne, who will retain that portfolio while becoming education minister and deputy premier. Courchesne was education minister from 2007 to 2010.

Student leaders seemed surprised by Beauchamp's resignation, saying she gave no hint she was leaving when they spoke to her earlier Monday.

"We had no clue," Léo Bureau-Blouin, the president of the federation representing college students, told CBC News.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the hardline group CLASSE, said Beauchamp was never the problem, a view echoed by Bureau-Blouin.

"The problem was the office of the premier did not give enough (room to manoeuvre) to Mrs. Beauchamp to solve this conflict," Bureau-Blouin said, rejecting suggestions the students' unwillingness to compromise has a stumbling block as the dispute entered its 14th week.

So if they don't see Beauchamp's departure as a victory, what does the turnover signify?

Toronto Star columnist Chantal Herbert said it's an indication of the Quebec government's incoherent strategy.

"Every move of the government has either misfired or backfired," Hebert wrote Tuesday. "From one resolution attempt to the next, it has become harder to follow the thread of its thinking."

She suggested the government undermined its own compromise deal with the students, which they ultimately rejected.

"The ink was barely dry on a negotiated settlement attempt two weeks ago before the premier and his minister set out to belittle its content," he said.

National Post commentator Graeme Hamilton pointed to Beauchamp's hope her resignation would provide the "electroshock" needed to break the impasse.

"That, however, would require the leaders of the student movement to behave like rational players acting in the best interests of their members," Hamilton wrote. "And really, why should they start now?"

Student groups have dismissed every government concession, demanding nothing less than capitulation on the tuition increase, he said.

"The only jolt the striking students are likely to feel from Ms. Beauchamp's resignation is the thrill of having claimed their first head," wrote Hamilton.

Participants in a National Post forum on the crisis were split on whether the government mishandled the dispute at the beginning by allowing it to escalate. But there was consensus it must show some backbone now.

"Hardball," wrote contributor Matt Gurney. "Yank the concessions offered, go back to the original plan to simply hike the tuition over five years, without consultation or offsets.

"Give the students 48 hours to return to class, at which point, if they refuse, they fail their semester. And put the police out on the streets with a robust mandate to maintain order, using force if necessary."