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Update: Quebec elections and student riots

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Students are heading back to universities and colleges across Canada to resume their post-secondary studies. In Quebec, however, this annual return to school is anything but business as usual.


There were extraordinary events during the previous school year in Quebec, with student strikes and hundreds of thousands marching through the streets of Montreal. 


The actions of Quebec students and their supporters across Canada was a response to the provincial Liberal government’s plan to increase tuition from just over $2,000 to around $4,000 over a five-year period. 


The premier at the time, Jean Charest, and his government later modified the hikes to implement them over seven years instead of five, the increase being around $250 annually. However, many Montreal students continued to strike. 


Ever since the protests, debates have sprung up across the country as to whether the Quebec students are right or wrong in their stand against tuition hikes. Students from across the country also held demonstrations in alliance with Quebec protestors. One such event was the pots-and-pans rally in Calgary in May.


University of Calgary law student Bobby Whitford has mixed feelings about the strikes. 


“I feel like some of the other provinces the students have put up with tuition hikes and that sort of thing a little better without protests,” said Whitford. “At the same time, it’s nice to see some students being proactive about it and taking the initiative to try and do what they can.”


In an attempt to make the return to classes easier, the Liberals passed a controversial emergency law known as Bill 78, aimed to stop the protests and ensure that students would be able to attend classes. 


The law was used for the first time on August 27 as protesters at the University of Montreal pulled fire alarms and banged pots and pans during class. The incident led to 19 people being investigated for violating the new law. Another factor that is speculated to play a large role in students’ return to school is the result of last week’s provincial election, in which the Liberals are no longer in power. 


The Parti Québécois of Pauline Marois beat the Liberals and won a minority government.


The PQ platform included a tuition freeze of 100 days as well as the promise of a public forum to examine university funding. 


The PQ has said that increases in school fees would be tied to the rise in cost of living. The PQ also used the student protests as a main point in their platform.


“If people are taking to the streets, it is because of him,” said Marois in her platform, speaking of Charest.


The newly elected government has contacted Quebec student groups within one day of being elected and informed them that the Liberal’s tuition increases have been cancelled, and that Bill 78 will be repealed.


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