Student protests look to possible Quebec election

Thousands of students and supporters protested against tuition increases Sunday afternoon in cities across the province.
Montreal police watch as protesters march up Berri Street on July 22. (CBC)

Thousands of Quebec students and their supporters marched through the streets of Montreal on Sunday — with talk of a possible provincial election in the air.

Student leaders called for pan-provincial protests to mark the monthly anniversary of the anti-tuition hike movement.

Leaders said the student grassroots movement is alive and vibrant, despite smaller crowds at summer protests.

"What we wanted to do with the protest today is to show this movement is still alive," CLASSE spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said in French. "One shouldn't think because there are fewer people here that the movement is over."

"What was a river has become a delta — perhaps less strong, but larger."

Some student leaders say tuition hikes are still the main issue but many people at the protest say they are concerned about a wider range of issues including the government's environmental and economic policies.

Students and their supporters will be ready if Quebec finds itself in an election campaign, FECQ leader Éliane Laberge said.

It's widely speculated that Premier Jean Charest could call an election Aug. 1 for an election date in early September.

"Our role will be to get out the vote. We think that if a larger number of young people go to the polls, we'll have a government that's more representative of Quebec society," Laberge said.

The voter turnout rate among Quebec's 18-25 crowd was below 50 per cent in the 2008 election.

Student leaders said they can rally young people to exercise their frustration at the ballot box.

Students have been holding major marches on the 22nd of every month since March — there were also protest marches in  Quebec City and Trois-Rivières.

With files from the Canadian Press