Quebec tuition deal would freeze hikes
Published Sunday, May 6, 2012 11:50AM EDT
A temporary freeze on tuition hikes was presented Saturday as a possible roadmap to end the three-month tuition standoff between Quebec students and the provincial government.
Details of the plan to hold off on any tuition changes was made public on Saturday night, a few hours after news of a potential deal first leaked.
The government made an offer following marathon talks in Quebec City that lasted 22 hours.
"There's an agreement in principle," Education Minister Line Beauchamp told reporters. "What makes me most satisfied, under the circumstances, is that students who want to return to class can do it."
But student assemblies indicated that they had not reached a deal, and would vote on the offer in the days to come.
And it wasn't immediately clear if disruptive protests, which have paralyzed downtown Montreal and other cities, would stop.
"This is not the end (of the conflict) -- but it's the beginning of the end," Martine Desjardins, one of the three main student representatives, told The Canadian Press.
The leader of CLASSE, the most militant of the student groups, said as far as he was concerned the boycott is still on, according to CTV Montreal's Cindy Sherwin.
It is not clear whether the agreement would bring about an end to confrontations between police and protestors, but the tone of the meetings was respectful, Sherwin said.
For more than 80 days, demonstrators have been rallying against a tuition hike of $1,625, which would be implemented over several years.
Premier Jean Charest sounded optimistic on Saturday as he spoke of the plan.
"Everyone is relieved that at least we're seeing progress," he said. "The goal is to have students return to class, (so that we can) create room for discussion."
CTV's Genevieve Beauchemin gave more details about the plan, which would allow both the students and the government to save face.
While tuition would still rise in technical terms, universities would decrease administration costs and offset those hikes.
The offset will stay in place until the council to analyze university fees is set up.
Beauchemin reported that the plan is a "hidden moratorium."
The Canadian Press reported that the freeze would last till December 2012, and represents a huge concession on the part of the Charest government, despite polls that suggest Quebecers support a hard line against striking students.
Putting the tuition hike on ice would also make it a major election issue, as Charest must call an election by 2013.
Other parts of the deal would create a committee to manage university funds and strengthen loan and bursaries for students.
A day earlier, one protestor lost an eye in violent protests over the province's proposed tuition hikes.
The Charest Liberals are believed to have moved their annual gathering to Victoriaville to avoid students in urban centres, but busloads of demonstrators arrived from cities like Montreal and Quebec City, and quickly clashed with police.
Video images showed demonstrators beating up a provincial police officer, while riot police responded with gas irritants and stun grenades.
There were at least nine injuries – three police officers were seriously injured and taken to hospital, and two of six seriously injured protesters had head injuries, with one in critical condition.
Police arrested at least 106 protesters, in some cases pulling over buses that were leaving the town.
Although crowds and police remained at the convention centre in large numbers Saturday, protesters stayed peacefully behind police barricades, Sherwin reported.
"The crowd is more mellow now," she said.
While news of the tentative agreement had leaked, there was some confusion as the details were not disclosed and some protestors did not know how to react. Some said they would not back down.
Non-student groups also joined the demonstrations, including those protesting the exploration of shale gas in the province, as well as wind turbines, and groups promoting Quebec independence.