By André Faust (March 24, 2017)
“March 23” Student Demonstration Campaign that was organised by three University Student Union Leaders, Brenda Cote President of the University of Moncton Student Union, Gerard Finnan President of the University of New Brunswick Student Union and myself as President of the Saint Thomas Student Union to be launched on March 23, 1982.
Between the three of us, we mobilised contrary to what was reported in the Daily Gleaner almost a thousand students to protest against Premier Richard Hatfield diversion of federal grant money that was given to the province to be used exclusively for the purpose of funding higher education.
In response to the loss of funding from the province. Universities across the province were starting to consider shutting down some of their programs that they offered. These discussions of program propagated anxiety across the entire student population in the province, had the universities follow through their program closures. The closures would have resulted students depending on the discipline of study to either drop out of University or change the program of study.
Because of the mass demonstration that was held on that faithful day on March 23rd, 1982 monies was found to finance these programs. How and where that money came from no one really knows. All that we know it was one of those “closed doors solutions”.
While mainstream media, did cover the main issues, they did downplay the success of the demonstration. The numbers that the media reported was way off. The media reported that there were 500 students who participated in the effigy burning demonstration, the numbers were considerably higher (UDM) Université de Moncton alone brought in over 500 and 600 students. (That itself would have been a good turn out) (UNB) University of New Brunswick over 300 students, (STU) Saint Thomas University over 150 (at that time the student population at STU was less than one thousand.
Each student was given a sheet of bristol board bearing various slogans mounted on a cross and at the conclusion of the protest and after the burning the effigy of Mr. Higher Education (actually the effigy really represented the premier, but to reveal this to the public would have hurt the cause so we nicknamed the effigy Mr. Higher Education). The precipitants took their signs and planted it into the snow then set fire to the bristol board to exposed a thousand chard crosses after the bristol board burnt which was contrary to how mainstream media reported that aspect of the demonstration.
That was the last major student demonstration/protest that was held at the legislature in New Brunswick. The nineteen sixties style of protests ended on that day. There have been other student demonstrations at the legislative building since then but not has ever come close both in aggression and in numbers.
It was during this demonstration that I met John Bosnitch who unseated Gerard Finnan in the following election to take the UNB Student Union to the next level. While under Bostitch’s leadership no massive demonstration took place, instead, under John Bosnitch and his councillors the UNB Student Union became the most powerful student union in North America.
Both, the “March 23rd” Demonstration and the Bosnitch era showed that when you want to foster change you can’t pussyfoot, you need to be aggressive and expect to go to jail if need be. The power Elites have no power when people are ready to sacrifice their future for the cause.