The student organizer of a small local rally in support of ongoing Quebec student protests says students in B.C. have a lot in common with their eastern counterparts.
Around 150 people gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Tuesday evening to mark the 100th day of the Quebec protests. The anniversary of the protests, which were launched after the Charest government announced it would raise tuition by $1,625 over the next five years, brought hundreds of thousands of students into the streets of downtown Montreal.
"Students in Quebec and students in B.C. have a lot in common," said Greg Williams, a University of B.C. student who will soon graduate with a degree in history. "On the really simple level, both of us are groups that are currently being gouged for money by our governments."
B.C. students pay an average of $4,852 in tuition to attend school at home, while Quebecers pay $2,519, according to Statistics Canada.
Williams and others at the rally brushed off the idea that Quebec has a stronger culture of student protest. "It's definitely obvious that Quebec has a bigger protest movement than we do. That hasn't always been the case," he said.
Williams pointed to the 1990s freeze placed on tuition increases by the NDP government of the day. In 2001, the Campbell government reversed the freeze and tuition almost doubled. But four years later, it agreed to cap tuition increases at two per cent per year for domestic students, to keep up with the cost of inflation.
Williams credits organizations like the B.C. branch of the national Canadian Federation of Students for pushing for the freeze.
Like the Federation of Quebec University Students, the Federation of Quebec College Students and CLASSE, CFS lobbies both provincial and federal governments on student issues. It has drawn criticism from some student groups because it has taken radical positions on some issues, like arguing that tuition fees be abolished.
Though the rally wasn't affiliated with CFS, numerous flags and placards bore the student federation's branding. CFS staffers also came out in support. "Education is a right, and it should be free across the country," said Zach Crispen, chairperson of CFS-BC. "When Quebec students are successful, it's going to make things a lot easier for student movements in B.C."
CFS has locals in B.C., though they tend to be at smaller schools like Emily Carr and Capilano University. Some student unions have tried to leave the organization, like the Simon Fraser Student Society, but have been met with legal challenges.
Many student unions in the Lower Mainland have opted to go their own way on provincial issues. The most recent funding campaign from B.C. student unions sent postcards to Victoria, asking for the reinstatement of needs-based grants and the elimination of student loan interest rates. Student unions from UBC, the University of Victoria, SFU, Capilano, and Langara College participated in the campaign called "Where's the Funding?".
Alma Mater Society president Matt Parson said the student union recently voted in favour of condemning Bill 78, and will send a letter to Quebec premier Jean Charest expressing its concerns. The student council stopped short of contributing money to the Quebec students' legal defence fund.