Charest wants to talk with students -- just not about tuition
Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012 10:06PM EDT
The Quebec government appeared to send mixed messages to raging students Wednesday, as the strike over post-secondary tuition passed the 101-day mark.
While the government told student leaders that the door for negotiations was still open, the province was clear that it would not back away from the proposed tuition hike, nor would it scrap controversial legislation aimed at quelling the unrest.
Education Minister Michelle Courchesne dug in her heels on Wednesday, a day after police made 100 arrests during yet another night of unrest in Montreal.
"I'm not giving up. I'm very tenacious, very determined," Courchesne said. "I want to talk to them, and it's up to them to take some steps so that we might talk."
As the relationship between the government and student leaders continued to languish under the heavy burden of the 101-day student strike, it wasn't clear what the two sides would discuss, even if they could get to the table.
One student leader offered to bring a thesaurus if the government did not want to discuss a "moratorium" on tuition hikes.
"We could find other words (for it)," said student leader Martine Desjardins.
Earlier, Premier Jean Charest echoed his education minister, saying his government remains committed to tuition hikes. He also suggested that students should be flexible.
"Let's ask ourselves this question: What concessions have the student representatives made? We slowed down (application of the hikes), we improved the loan system, we improved the bursaries system," Charest told the legislature.
"We've taken all those steps and we did it in a spirit of openness with respect to the future of our universities. And we'll continue to leave the door open that would allow talks with the student group representatives."
A heated exchange in the legislature soon followed, with Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois accusing the premier of letting the tensions get out of hand. She said Charest hadn't bothered to sit down and speak with the students during the conflict.
"From the beginning of this crisis, we've tried to reason with the government and asked it to negotiate in good faith," Marois said.
"Now, the calls for negotiation are coming from everywhere -- even from the most ardent supporters of the hard line. But let's not see a repeat of that sorry spectacle from last Tuesday, when the student groups were convened only as a pretext for tabling Bill 78."
Tuesday night saw the fourth-straight round of violent clashes, as protesters hurled beer bottles and police responded with pepper spray.
Skirmishes were reported in various parts of Montreal, including an altercation between a frustrated motorist and two pedestrians that ended with one being treated in hospital for minor injuries.
The nightly protests show no sign of slowing as the city prepares for the busy summer tourist season.
In fact, one prominent protest leader has encouraged demonstrators to keep up their civil disobedience during the Montreal Grand Prix in June.
Activist Jaggi Singh went so far as to link the F1 race to globalization, capitalism and inequality.
"Rich douchebags are going to be disrupted by night demos," he warned Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the protest and the emergency law have already made international headlines and raised the ire of activists globally.
Indeed, what began as a boycott against proposed post-secondary tuition hikes has become a massive broadening of support spurred by reaction to passage of the controversial Bill 78.
The law ends the current academic year at schools affected by the strikes, and sets strict rules for protests, including heavy fines for violators and their supporters.
Under the law, protest groups are supposed to give eight hours notice and a full itinerary of their planned demonstrations. Police also have the right to move the location of a protest.
As well, anyone blocking an individual from entering a school would be fined between $1,000 and $5,000.
In addition to the fines for individuals, the penalties climb to between $7,000 and $35,000 for student leaders and from $25,000 to $125,000 for unions or student federations.
The law will expire after one year.