Student protests are maddening and encouraging

As a parent I’m disgusted but as a Canadian I’m impressed.

As a parent I’m disgusted but as a Canadian I’m impressed. Such are the crazy emotions permeating our country as we watch thousands of Quebec students boycott classes, stage demonstrations, march and, unfortunately, cause destruction to protest an increase in post-secondary tuition.

As a parent living in another province I’m disgusted that young people are protesting a minimal rise in tuition fees.

While other parents are well aware of the growing costs of post-secondary education I’m getting my indoctrination on the fly. My daughter is starting to explore the opportunities and, ugh, the costs associated with choosing a career path and the appropriate education.

All I can say is none of the options are cheap.

However, in this day and age education is paramount. And any type of post-secondary course can only enhance a resume and add to the list of my daughter’s skills.

As I gleam through the various brochures from schools the numbers are mind numbing. You can spend anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 on school and boarding. Of course the costs can be cut dramatically if you can live at home and go to school but nevertheless there’s no denying most students will exit college or university carrying some form of debt via government loans.

My meager contribution will help somewhat but that will mostly be eaten up in a year or two. The only viable option is to maintain a job while going to school to make the entire path reasonably affordable. That’s what makes watching the current student protests so tough to swallow.

Quebec students, notice we haven’t heard much griping from parents, are upset that tuition was expected to go from a paltry $2,200 to a projected $3,800 in five years. The government backed off somewhat and made another proposal on the weekend planning to increase tuition by roughly $250 annually for seven years.

Those numbers make me cringe simply because of the price tag B.C. students face in their quest to begin a career path and move on from the halcyon days of high school.

For Quebec students to demand their government keep education affordable in the face of growing deficits makes me cringe on one hand but also raises my hope for society on the other.

I have to admit I’m impressed that the students have taken their fight to the street. I’m impressed that the government is walking lightly in the face of these protests and trying to come up with a solution.

It gives me hope that, when prodded to react, some segments of our society have the courage to stand up and say, “Enough is enough.”

Perhaps this is a sign of things to come in the face of the heavy-handed federal government. The jets, the robocalls, the crime bill, the environment cuts, the layoffs, the intervention in union negotiations, adding two years to our working lives, the list goes on and on.

Will it take one defining moment or will Canadians patiently wait until the next election to voice their opinions?

Perhaps that why many of us have lost faith in the political system. It seems no matter what the public opinion is, the government will continue with its limousine rides, partisan appointments and non-stop spin to their message while trying to quash any opposition.

The name-calling and theatrics in Parliament cause most of us to just roll our eyes and continue with our own lives with a sense that it is what it is.

That’s why I’m impressed with the Quebec students. Hopefully it’s a sign of how the next generation won’t sit idly by while governments continue with the status quo of arbitrarily making decisions that affect citizens simply to meet a bottom line.

I’m not saying the government should go into a deficit to keep tuitions low but I believe it is a government’s responsibility to help its young citizens.

Education is the foundation of a successful society and while most governments prefer to run countries or provinces like a business, the reality is it isn’t a business – it’s a society.

I’m all for fiscal responsibility but when the rubber hits the road, the first duty of a government is to its citizens. If you have to tax corporations to help educate future employees for those same corporations then so be it.

If there’s money to buy billion-dollar jets, then there’s money to help our sons and daughters get a proper education. If there’s money to build a bunch of new prisons, then there’s money to educate young citizens so crime isn’t a potential option to making ends meet.

The fact that the federal government is planning to loosen immigration requirements for skilled workers is yet another example of the myopic view of the future the Tories have.

The fact that students in B.C. are caught in the middle and used as pawns while teachers and government play chicken is another example of what little regard is given to the people affected the most by the dispute.

So on one hand while I’m incensed those Quebec students are protesting a slight increase in tuition, which would still keep it well below the rest of the country, I’m impressed that they have the backbone to stand up to the government and demand that education remains a right and never becomes a privilege.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Daily Times.

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