The mainstream media is too politic to put it so bluntly, so let me be the first to say that both the Quebec government and the students both caved under the relentless pressure of battle.
The press is calling the proposed agreement between the students and the government a win/win situation for both, when a closer analysis reveals it to be more a case of lose/lose.
I'm saddened to say that just as the government had the student movement on the ropes, the government blinked and turned tail, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
For the students, what they got was more than they had before, but not at all what they wanted, which was a total victory which would humiliate the government.
The student boycott had already fallen to its lowest point in support since they left class a couple of months ago. The most recent poll put that support at just 32%, a precipitous fall from the 45% they enjoyed at the onset.
After a night of rioting in the small town of Victoriaville (where the Liberal party was holding a meeting,) one that led to injured police and rioters, the students could have expected to see their support plunge to the mid twenties, a number that would give the government a free hand to act decisively.
The police showed off some of the projectiles that the students brought with them, including billiard balls and chunks of concrete. Trust me when I say that the general public watching the mayhem was not amused.
The mayor of Victoriaville made an impassioned defense of the right of students to demonstrate, but not to destroy property or attack police.
More importantly, he warned other communities outside Montreal that their turn to suffer the wrath of student anarchists was coming and that no town in the 'regions' was safe.
This sent a chill throughout Quebec, which up to now, viewed the fight between students and the government as something that was occurring 'over there' in Montreal.
When the Charest government called the students in for a 'marathon' negotiating session and the students accepted, it was a forgone conclusion that a deal would be hammered out, with both parties too tired to continue the fight.
And so, it was a question of structuring a face-saving deal that would leave both sides standing.
The students agreed to the government's increased tuition fees in return for promises by the government to reduce other charges that students have to pay each year.
It's like your mother demanding that you pay $100 more in rent for your room and board, while promising to increase your allowance by that same amount.
It's a weird deal, the students actually winning, but looking like they lost.
For all their tough talk and fiery rhetoric, the students were out of gas and facing a very scary future.
The big unions who were backing the students financially (who do you think paid for the 50 plus buses sent to Saint-Hyacinthe) were deathly afraid of Charest pulling the plug on the school year and warned the student leadership in no uncertain terms that the doomsday scenario had to be prevented at all costs. If Charest cancelled the school year and successfully broke the student strike, it could embolden the government and might represent a harbinger of things to come vis-a-vis the whole unionized movement.
It was not something the big unions wanted to chance.
At any rate, with falling support in the opinion polls, the students had clearly 'jumped the shark' and with violence the only course left open, they understood that they were on a precipitous slide to oblivion.
Recognizing that if the school year was to be cancelled, the student associations themselves would never survive, they took what deal they could get, which was surprisingly pretty good.
They got that good deal, because clearly the government had also lost its nerve. Go figure.....
In the end the students didn't get a tuition freeze and the government didn't get any extra revenue.
And so the strike/boycott ends, in perfect Quebec style, with both sides losing.
That being said, for the radicalized students and anarchists, it isn't quite over yet. No doubt, they will march and riot for a little while longer even though they have a deal, clearly having a great time of it and loathe to give up a party.
It will take a few more demonstrations before things calm down, mark my words.
Of all the political decisions made by the Charest government over the almost decade in power, none was more politically or morally wrong than this one.
A cancellation of the school semester and a subsequent hardline stance against the students may have led to more confrontations and riots, but each one would cut support for students and their chief backer, the PQ.
It would have presented Quebecers with a choice, the Liberals supporting law and order or the PQ backing the rioting students.
It was the only hope the Liberals had at re-election.
It's a political organizer's wet dream.
With a little cynical planning, the Quebec Liberal party could have turned the rioting students into a profitable road-show, calling meetings in all the regional centres of Quebec.
Each riot or mini-riot by students, resulting in broken glass and torched police cars on streets in towns that never saw this type of conflict, streets like Rue Racine in Chicoutimi, or Third avenue in Val D'Or, would trigger a tidal wave of panicked outrage.
Add into the mix, a couple of paid agents-provocateurs, with a mission to inflame and escalate the situation and voila, a scenario for a re-elected Liberal government emerges!
(Readers, how I miss the old days of hardball politics!)
Aside from the above described political flight of fancy, one that the political organizer in me couldn't resist putting forward, let us return to reality.
So what is the political legacy left by the student strike?
What message does caving in to student demands send to Quebec's unions?
What does it say about the governments resolve to govern in the face of opposition?
The answer is painfully obvious and it augers poorly for the future....
Government by intimidation.