Why I’m dubious of the tuition deal.
It would seem as if the streets of Quebec will no longer run red—either with the color of protest paraphernalia or with the blood of injured protesters. According to media reports, the deal consists of a temporary tuition freeze, until the end of the year. As this time, a “provisional commission,” comprised of student groups, university administrators, professor representatives, and government representatives will have come up with a series of savings in ancillary fees to offset the $1,778 tuition increase (still to be over 7 years), which will, in theory, be charged on winter term bills after the offsets are taken into account.
This deal, of course, has not actually been ratified by the student unions—they will take it to their members this coming week, with, strangely, no recommendation to vote for or against it. The main asset of this deal is that the protests, for the time being, stop or at least decrease in intensity. The other asset is that classes at striking universities can be restarted and semesters are not lost, thus preventing more chaos.
It is very much a kick-the-can-down-the-road sort of deal, thick on political expediency and thin on attempts to solve the problem. Any readers who, like myself, follow American politics (with the requisite disdain and vague sense of horror) may remember a certain crisis last year that threatened to Destroy The Global Economy As We Knew It. That would be the debt ceiling debate. And, as you may remember, the deal that ended the controversy similarly kicked the can down the road to a deficit super-committee which was to present a report shortly before [American] Thanksgiving. That did not pan out.
And so I look rather dubiously on the commission for several reasons. First, it is doubtful whether this commission will provide enough “offsets” to actually satisfy these student unions (because, lord knows if even $1 extra is paid by students after this commission, we are back to daily demonstrations). But furthermore, this compromise calls into question the integrity of the Charest government. If we are to take their claims of university underfunding at face value, this deal is actually the worst possible outcome; there is no extra income coming from students into the system, and whatever things these ancillary fees fund will be cut, thus exacerbating the underfunding situation. It also remains to be seen if the rest of the funding plan is set in motion.
Overall, my problem with the deal is the fact that the Charest government went about it in such a roundabout way. He clearly wants to keep the full hike, at least superficially, so that he does not seem as if he is backing down to the protesters for the electorate. At the same time, there isn’t any extra student contribution in reality, if the commission works as intended. The flip side, of course, is that this entire commission is a bait and switch in which no “savings” will be found, and the hike still goes through anyway. If that’s the case, this is a masterful political maneuver.
What my cynical self thinks will actually happen is either of two unpalatable outcomes: the student unions’ rank and file completely reject this deal (which is more than possible, considering the leadership’s lack of a recommendation), and we are back to daily protests, or, this commission fails to come up with anything, much like our beloved Congressional super-committee, and we’ll have protests again.
One last thing that should be noted is the failure of the government to effectively negotiate, as Obama failed last summer. According to the Gazette,
After the debt ceiling debacle, the House Republicans were referred to by many on the American left (and rational center) as “economic terrorists” for their willingness to threaten the United States with credit default to satisfy their economic agenda. At the risk of sounding like one of those Fox News personalities Jon Stewart rightly mocks on a regular basis, I’ll leave it to your view whether or not the protests employed tactics similar to terrorism. I actually do think that this is a question on which reasonable people can disagree, and I’m conflicted on the answer to that myself. What can be said is that the cowardice of the government will not serve anyone well in the future.
Addendum: the crisis, of course, had to reach a conclusion just as the folks at The Economist noticed. Shame, that.