MONTREAL — Thousands of students and their supporters took to the streets of Montreal on Sunday to denounce the province’s tuition increases, sending a message they will be ready for a fight if Premier Jean Charest decides to call an election.
Protests against Quebec’s Liberal government have eased during the summer months, but students said a strong turnout during the height of the summer holidays was proof the movement hasn’t died out.
The crowd, an enthusiastic mix of students, families and seniors, winded its way through the city’s downtown on a hot and humid afternoon.
“We want to make sure the momentum is still there,” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a spokesman for the powerful CLASSE student group, told reporters.
“One could say that the river has turned into a delta. The movement may be less strong, but it’s wider.”
It has been widely speculated that Premier Jean Charest may call an election Aug. 1 for a vote in early September.
CLASSE, which organized the march, has promised it won’t support one particular party, but will work to make sure the Liberals don’t return to power.
Other student groups are also planning an information campaign explaining their opposition to the tuition increases.
“We want to make sure everybody understands what we did during the spring time, what we continue to do, and why we are doing it,” said Yanick Gregoire, vice-president of a university student group.
“We also want to make sure everybody knows what the Liberals did during their mandate.”
Michel Leblanc, 72, who has been taking part in the protests for nearly five months, said he’s hopeful the movement will have an impact at the ballot box.
“We all need to vote,” said Leblanc. “Sometimes students don’t vote, and if they do it will help get out Charest.”
While some student leaders said tuition hikes remain the main point of disagreement, the movement has taken on a wide range of issues including the government’s environmental and economic policies.
Many remain upset about Bill 78, the provincial law introduced in May that suspended school for striking students and put limits on some protests.
The province’s human rights commission released a report last week saying portions of the law infringe on fundamental rights and violate the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The theme of the march, according to CLASSE, was the government’s destructive “neo-liberal agenda.”
One thing everyone in the crowd agreed on was that it’s time for Charest to leave office.
Polls, however, suggest a tight race between the Liberals and the Parti Quebecois, with the new Coalition for Quebec’s Future also garnering considerable support.
Eliane Laberge, the head of another student group, said getting out the vote will be a priority if an election is called.
Voter turnout among Quebecers between 18 and 25 was below 50 per cent in the last election in 2008.
“We want a party that is representing the youth of Quebec,” she said.
“And we thought if the majority of them go vote, then maybe we can (make) a big difference.”
There were also protest marches held Sunday in Quebec City and Trois-Rivieres. Students have been holding major marches on the 22nd of every month since March.