Thousands of demonstrators march against student tuition hikes in downtown Montreal, Quebec, May 22, 2012. Tens of thousands marched on Tuesday in a rally marking 100 days of student protests.
Credits: REUTERS/Olivier Jean
At the time, there'd been years of on-and-off student protests. I reported on more of them than I care to remember.
Watching the news about my home town lately, it seems some things never change.
A portion of Quebec's university student body has decided to spill onto the streets of Montreal every night for a month now, where their gripes degenerate into violence before everything disappears behind bonfire smoke and clouds of tear gas.
The outrage is ostensibly over proposed hikes in school fees. Right now, a university undergraduate student in Quebec pay almost $3,000 annually in tuition and other costs.
The Quebec government is proposing to hike the cost by $375 every year for the next five years, bringing the bill to some $4,700 a year by 2016.
That sound you hear? It's the collective groan of envious university students in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada, who are wondering what the fuss is.
Even after the hike, Quebec undergrad tuition would be a few hundred dollars under the Canadian average - almost $5,400 this school year according to Statistics Canada.
So pardon me if my level of sympathy just isn't there.
Almost every summer, between the time I was old enough to work and my first job at a big daily newspaper, I worked full-time - sometimes more - to save money for school.
(Oh, the minimum wage was between $6 and $7 at the time. It's almost $10 now.)
I had friends who held multiple jobs to make ends meet. No, it wasn't the funnest way to get it done, but it did the trick and it was a real-life learning experience.
If the demonstrators were right, tuition fees in the rest of Canada should mean a big black hole for post-secondary education.
Not so: Just take a look around here for some thriving university and college campuses.
And despite low tuition, Quebec has some of the lowest post-secondary participation rates in the country.
There is something else at play and the most ardent of Quebec's unhappy students are choosing not to find out what it is.
Meanwhile, the demonstrators are unwittingly hurting just the people they are trying to help.
Dozens of smaller businesses - the lifeblood of the economy, creating the jobs and tax revenues that would help pay for post-secondary education - have seen their revenues tapped as customers stay away. Some have even been direct victims of the violence.
Keep in mind, too, the vast majority of Quebec students are NOT demonstrating violently. They are quietly suffering as their spring session was eroded and their reputation, smashed.
Let's get this straight: No one should be denied access to higher education because of their economic situation.
Many good jobs required some kind of post-secondary experience and education is certainly one way to better your lot in life.
There should be bursaries available to deserving top students, and loan programs accessible to everyone, with special provisions for the poorest of the poor.
And of course, you should do what you can to help finance your own education with seasonal or part-time work.
This should be true for all Canadian post-secondary students, not just in Quebec.
But here's the other side of the coin: There will be a bill and someone will have to pay.
No amount of yelling and screaming will change that.