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This article was published 26/5/2012 (2724 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sorry, demonstrators, but there's no free lunch
Give people rights without responsibilities and they begin to feel entitled to advantages without paying for them. A case in point is the Quebec university-student protests. Had those complaining about tuition hikes worked even part time at minimum wage for the three months they have now spent demonstrating (read: rioting), they could have each afforded the $350 extra tuition the government is planning to charge. But no, they are convinced of their entitlement to lower tuition rates than other Canadian students. On what basis?
But there is another kind of demonstration, albeit a more peaceful one, going on every day in Canada, and that involves the nearly nine million people per month who access our food banks. The magnitude of the alleged problem has even caught the attention of the United Nations, who sent Olivier de Schutter to investigate whether Canada is respecting the "right to food." The experts can dream up an "integrated national food policy" dealing with everything from soup to nuts, but there will still be a segment of the population that feels entitled to food without paying for it. On what basis?
Like the Quebec university students who are neglecting their courses to make unreasonable demands, there are those among the nine million who complain about lack of food, when in reality it is their sense of entitlement without the personal investment of plain hard work that creates the problem in the first place. Achieving an education takes work. Acquiring proper nutrition takes work, and the fewer the resources, the greater the challenges. Ask the man who was deprived of a formal education. Ask the woman who had to feed a family during the Depression years. The one taught himself to read and write. The other taught herself to cook — no "rights," no sense of entitlement, just meeting the hardships head-on in practical, creative, no-nonsense ways.
The proposed increase in tuition in Quebec's universities does not warrant a prolonged, often violent student protest any more than our food system warrants a silly investigation by a UN representative. What both require is a solid understanding that privileges have their price, that certain choices require sacrifice and that taxpayers and charitable citizens alike, no matter how tolerant, are fed up with the attitude of entitlement that permeates certain parts of society. No matter how you slice it, there is no free lunch. Somebody has to foot the bill.
— Alma Barkman is a Winnipeg freelance writer,
photographer and homemaker
They don't feel entitled, they fear being hungry
One thing some college and university students have in common with Canadians who access food banks is hunger. The Quebec student protest, which has actually been ongoing over the last decade, is about making it possible to earn an education without having to forfeit basic needs.
Tuesday marked the 100th day of this round of protests. In early May, the students came up with a solution that would end protests and free up $189 million toward teaching and research costs.
Two days later, Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp brought something else to the table. They offered to spread the tuition hike over a period of seven years instead of five.
The problem with the Charest government's counter-offer is the core issue most students are troubled with remains: debt.
"A recent series in the National Post on student debt suggested the high cost of university education is bankrupting a generation of students. The problem isn't just the amount of money students have to borrow, but the interest rates they're paying," columnist Gary Mason wrote for the Globe and Mail.
As it stands, Quebec students pay less than half the average tuition fees across Canada. For this reason, some Canadians might think the protest is needless. Others may think it selfish. The Montreal Gazette notes in 2010, when a $1,500 tuition hike was proposed, university presidents and rectors urged it in the name of "intergenerational equity."
By this they meant the $1,500 tuition hike would pave the way for future generations to essentially not have to foot their parents' bill. But the protests that have continued over the past decade have stopped the government from raising tuition year after year.
In 2007, the government attempted to raise tuition fees by $100. A three-day student strike halted that move. Students across Quebec maintained they needed the extra $100 so they could feed themselves.
In 2004, when the government tried to convert $103 million worth of bursaries into loans, 100,000 students took to the streets and stopped that action.
Andrew Gavin Marshall, an independent social and political researcher and writer based in Montreal, said students in Quebec are setting an example for youth across the continent.
Quebec students aren't throwing themselves in the middle of tear gas and flash bangs (which must be costing the government lots of money) because they feel entitled. They just don't want to go hungry.
— Kirah Sapong is a Creative Communications student at Red River College