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The irony: PQ Pauline Marois championed affordable education, now slashes $124M in university funding

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Schadenfreude is a discreditable emotion, but it is awfully difficult not to smirk obnoxiously in the general direction of Quebec’s pot-banging students and the professors who supported their absurd “strike” earlier this year — not just the debilitating street protests and the smoke bombs, but the outrageous verbal and physical intimidation of other students who simply wanted to go to class. (“Scabs,” they were called, as if they had violated some imaginary covenant with the strikers.) These same radicals, along with far more reasonable groups, are now up in arms at a $124-million cut in university funding imposed earlier this month, with all of four months for it to be absorbed, by the very same Parti Québécois that so cynically and effectively cashed in on the protests and the utopian, tuition-free vision of the “strikers.”

There was now-Premier Pauline Marois, banging her casserole in the streets of Montreal along with the protesters. She looked about as comfortable as she might crossing Montmorency Falls on a tightrope, but there were votes to be had, so there she was. When it suited her purposes she proudly wore the students’ red square. When it didn’t suit her purposes, she took it off. This was the same woman who proposed tuition hikes as Lucien Bouchard’s education minister, but it didn’t seem to matter. She even wooed student protest leader Léo Bureau-Blouin to run for her party. Now, having turned 21 on Monday, he’s a member of a government that’s slashing education funding.

So, let’s do the math. Ms. Marois cancelled the planned tuition hikes as one of her first acts as Premier, pledging that the move would cost no more than $20-million.

“It’s a total victory!” crowed Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec. “It’s a new era of collaboration instead of confrontation.”

Then she turned around and snatched $124-million from the universities’ 2013 budgets. Especially considering that Jean Charest had promised more financial aid to students with financial need — which Ms. Marois adopted — it is difficult to see how this counts as a win. As many argued during the strike, the students were essentially lobbying to subsidize education for people who could afford to pay more. Now the whole system is poorer for it.

Even in Quebec, universities need money to provide an excellent product. When I arrived at McGill in 1995, the place was, physically speaking, a wreck. And it has always had a relatively healthy endowment — about $29,000 per student at present, which is roughly nine times more than the Université de Montréal, the best-endowed francophone institution. Other than McGill, Quebec’s universities are uncommonly vulnerable to funding cuts such as Ms. Marois and her ministers are imposing. And ultimately, that’s what cures the schadenfreude: Reasonable students are going to suffer along with the unreasonable ones.

The idea of free or fantastically low tuition — from which I benefited enormously at McGill, incidentally — is far more mainstream in Quebec than in any other province, and will likely remain so. But as Montreal Gazette columnist Don Macpherson put it recently, Ms. Marois can’t fight the bond-rating agencies any more than Jean Charest, Alison Redford, Dalton McGuinty or Christy Clark can. That budgets must be balanced and debt must not get out of hand is political orthodoxy from sea to sea to sea. Much as they sometimes enjoy pretending otherwise, left-wing Quebecers inhabit the same time and space and economy as the rest of us, and they must confront the same fiscal realities.

If the Parti Québécois isn’t going to take Quebec towards the student strikers’ promised land, it’s a safe bet that no party in Quebec or anywhere else in Canada is going to do it either. (This poses an existential dilemma for the ideological, big-dreaming wing of the federal New Democrats, in particular.) There are lots of different ways to run a country or a province, and none is inherently more valid than any other if citizens grant its promoters a mandate. But the lesson from Quebec today offers voters a cautionary lesson: In politics as in commerce, if something sounds too good to be true — tax cuts with no service cuts, debt-fighting without tax hikes, more financial aid for students and a tuition freeze — it almost certainly is.

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/12/18/chris-selley-quebec-student-strikers-utopian-vision-crashes-to-earth/

Congrats, pot-bangers, you got what you voted for: an opportunistic minority PQ-led government that has gone against the wishes of their popular redsquare-wearing fanbase. On the flip side, I'm glad the PQ is finally stepping into the real world and seeing that post-secondary tuition in Quebec is mere pennies compared to the rest of Canada.

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Politicians, lawyers, TV evangelist preachers, used car salesmen and funeral home directors .. where would we be without them?

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