Defying a snowstorm and freezing temperatures, students in Halifax were out in force today, turning out the largest protest the city has seen in years.
“Tuition fees are too damn high,” said Kings University student Gabe Hoogers, Nova Scotia director of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). “We should not be saddled with mortgage-size debt as we start our independent lives. The average student debt after graduating from an undergraduate program [in Nova Scotia] is $31,000.”
Nova Scotia students graduate with the highest average debt in the country.
“Everyone here knows at least one person who didn’t attend university because they could not afford tuition,” said Elise Graham, chairperson of the CFS-Nova Scotia. “We are marching for them today.”
Participants at the march expressed disdain for the NDP government who announced this week it will cut university funding by four per cent in the next budget.
“Darrell Dexter has a short term memory,” said Graham, who is a student at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. “It wasn't too long ago his party claimed to be proponents of affordable education. They've since proven that students cannot expect any government to have our backs.”
“We need to beat back the Dexter attack, we need to beat, beat back the Dexter attack!” yelled nearly 1,000 people as they marched down Spring Garden Road – Halifax’s downtown shopping district – towards Province House.
One group of protesters constructed a mock guillotine that they used in a satirical skit, chopping off the heads of three dummies representing the leaders of each political party. The sign on the guillotine read: These Are The Cuts We’d Like To See.
“We agree that times are tough and cuts need to be made,” said Dave Bush, a participant in the skit. “So we came in with our alternative budget proposal: we should cut out the political class entirely. They're corrupt and they all do the same thing.”
Although not a student himself, Bush expressed solidarity with students and pointed out that their struggle was connected to other struggles in the province.
“It's not just students; it's pensioners, it's workers, it's everybody, it's the poor, it's marginalized communities who are being affected by the fucking idiocy and greed and outright criminal acts of the financial and corporate class.”
Speakers at the rally included Rick Clarke, President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour.
“We're here supporting you. We will always fight for fair, affordable education and jobs,” he said. “But we need you to continue the struggle ‘cause it's something we can and will win together.”
Both Clarke and Graham expressed enthusiasm that many of those marching through the snowstorm were first-time protesters.
“Today we march in solidarity with current, past, future and potential students here and around the world,” said Graham. “And tomorrow, we will continue to work together to build a system of education for all students. A system that doesn't include debt. That isn't restricted to high family income. A system that isn't racist or classist. A system that is based on the needs of staff, faculty and students.”
“So – So – So – Solidarity!” chanted the crowd.
For more photos of the protest, click here.