Three years after the Maple Spring of 2012, Quebec students are back in the streets. Here's a look at the issues at stake and what to expect in the coming months.

Who are the protesters?

Students aren't the only ones involved. They have been joined by community groups and unions from the education and health care sectors in the movement known as "Printemps 2015."

Brice Dansereau-Olivier, one of the organizers, said Printemps 2015 is designed to provide a platform not just for students, but for anyone concerned about the Quebec government's budget cuts and the direction of the province in general.

"At the moment, we are seeing a lot of students in the street because the students have voted to strike, but we have a lot of union locals that have been very supportive of us," said Dansereau-Olivier, who graduated from UQAM last year.

In all, about 62,000 university and CEGEP students went on a one-day strike March 23 and several groups voted to continue for a two-week period ending April 3. Among English schools, Vanier as well as McGill law undergraduates and some students at Concordia voted to strike.  


A student wearing a red square, which became a symbol of the 2012 student movement, took part in a protest in downtown Montreal on Monday. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

What do they want?

While the 2012 protests centred around the Charest government's tuition fee hikes, the list of demands this time around is far longer.

The protesters are against what they call the provincial government's "austerity measures," a blanket term referring to government cuts to public services in sectors like education and health care.

There is no official leader of Printemps 2015, no spokesperson and no official list of demands.

In Dansereau-Olivier's view, the absence of a clear focus is part of the movement's strength this time around.

"There was a lot of criticism in 2012 that students were self-centred by only demanding what they want," he said.

At recent demonstrations, some protesters have called for higher corporate tax rates, stricter environmental regulations and an end to reliance on oil.

How long will the protests last?

Some student federations committed to two weeks of protests, which will wrap up at the end of the first week of April. But there's also the possibility the protests could continue through the month and gain momentum again next fall.

"This is a movement for the long run," Dansereau-Olivier said. "We're aware that the province is not going to back on what they did."

The executive of the powerful student group ASSÉ recommended that student protesters delay their strike actions until after the summer. 

ASSÉ is scheduled to hold a meeting on the weekend of April 4-5 where members will discuss the proposal.

Student Demo 20150321

Police keep an eye on students as they demonstrate against austerity changes proposed by the provincial government Saturday, March 21, 2015 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

How does this year compare to the 'Maple Spring'?

The protests three years ago carried on for months and brought hundreds of thousands to the streets, with opposition to the tuition fee hikes as the primary focus.

Martine Desjardins, one of the student leaders at the time and a former Parti Québécois candidate, said the movement back then benefited from a clear set of demands.

"I think it's a great thing to fight against austerity, to demand more investment in education and health care," she said.

"But at the same time, with a strike you need to have an objective, because where is the end of the strike if you don't have an objective?"

Student outrage

More than 100,000 students marched through downtown Montreal during a March 22, 2012 protest against proposed tuition hikes. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

What is the government saying?

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has maintained scaling back government spending is necessary to balance the budget. Last week, the province tabled its first balanced budget in six years

"The return to a balanced budget is not the end,"  Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said last week.

"Quite the opposite, in fact, it is a point of departure and gives new momentum to Quebec."

Quebec Education Minister François Blais, meanwhile, suggested in a radio interview this week that university rectors should discipline students — even suspend two to three students a day — in order to send a message to other protesters. 

He later clarified his words, saying he wasn't recommending administrators set a quota on suspensions.