Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Mounting Costs of the Quebec Mess

The costs to Montreal and to Quebec are mounting.  Check out this piece.  Obviously, people should not stop dissenting simply because it imposes costs upon the society.  Indeed, imposing costs is a logical way to get heard and force a bargain (since bargaining is often about the power to hurt the other).  But what this does point towards is the dis-proportionality of the entire situation. 

The student protests over tuition increases never really seemed proportionate to the change in tuition.  Yes, tuition was going up, but mostly to offset past freezes.  Yes, to double from the lowest in Canada to, well, the lowest in Canada, but not beyond that.  Sure, one could be concerned about the future beyond that, but the level of rhetoric and mobilization and threats to property went quickly beyond what a $1/day increase seemed to warrant.

The government has acted disproportionately as well.  Bill 78 is a hammer, not a surgical tool, so it has unified much of the folks who might otherwise have competing concerns.  I do think the initial alterations were proportionate--extend the tuition increases two more years so the growth is slower, provide more assistance.  But the reactions since and the rhetoric--less than helpful.

Of course, my posts here have not always been exactly proportionate either.  I mean, I said the students don't understand math or their interests.  That may be true.  Well, it is true.  But there are legitimate grievances.  Lots of education money has been wasted on excess construction (UQAM), new satellite campuses (several), the costs of changing administrations with buyouts (Concordia), and other stuff (McGill has some $$ offices, more admin).  Corruption in Quebec does have an impact on the quality of construction at the universities.  But the real source of the new tuition increase is really the old tuition freeze--something like thirteen or more years followed by very token increases ($50/year).  The basic idea here is that the students pay a share, something like 20%, of the costs of their education, with the province (taxpayers) picking up the rest. 

Some of the groups (all?) may want zero tuition as that is what they perceive to be their right under some old documents, but that would require significantly more money to be spent by the province at a time where taxes are quite high and debt is higher still. 

So, the government cannot bargain much more since it cannot agree to a freeze without, well, surrendering entirely.  The students have no unity but have tended to tie themselves to the more extreme demands, which means that they have little accountability, little responsibility and every reason to keep on keeping on, especially now that the threat of cancelled or postponed classes has taken place. 

The costs, like casualties in a war, will simply continue to increase, unless somebody finds a way to profit off of this.  Hmmmm.... maybe red-patch dolls? Charest pinatas? 

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