There is an argument floating around in Quebec media outlets that could not be foggier in substance nor worse situated in the student movement’s contextual base than “Education is a right”. These four words have been uttered on a number of occasions by several Quebec politicians while trying to legitimately defend the government’s Bill 78, which imposes severe restrictions to the way a protest can come into effect. I agree that no individual has the right to impose upon others their way of thinking, especially not through coercion, but trying to shield the passing of this law by saying that education is a right seems to be pointing at the opposite view of the government’s definition and implementation of the word “right”, and a few examples suffice to illustrate this logic.
A right is something that is at the core of society’s values and principles. Rights are to be defended by the same society that embraces their background ideals. Delivery and enforcement of these rights are accounted and paid for by the public, and this has traditionally been the unwritten rule behind citizens’ rights. Quebec’s Liberal government is no stranger to this train of thought.
When the federal government announced the abolition of the long gun registry, Quebec Justice Minister Jean Marc Fournier was fast to react by demanding that the data on gun ownership relevant to Quebec be preserved, to the point of filing for an injunction. Quebec’s known intention is to create its own province-wide gun registry, and using the existing registry as a base. Similarly, when Ottawa announced that Canada would renounce to its Kyoto obligations (and the protocol altogether), Environment Minister Pierre Arcand announced that Quebec would start its own cap-and-trade system, the first province in Canada to take such a bold step.
In these two examples, Quebec was guided by the belief that public safety and a healthy environment are rights that need to be defended through programs funded by the public purse, where no beneficiary of said rights is handed a bill. If education were a right like Mr. Fournier says, the debate on increased tuition fees would not even be in existence, and students would have long finished their winter semesters. If education were a right in Quebec, the phrase “tuition fees” would be as exotic to Quebecers as a white sand beach in the Caribbean.
The problem in Quebec is not that people refuse to believe that education is a right; the problem lies in the government not treating education as a right, which has given its ministers a delusional entitlement to believe they can use citizens’ rights as poorly constructed rhetoric.