Que. student groups likely to reject Charest offer
MONTREAL - The social unrest over tuition increases in Quebec showed no signs of abating Saturday, with several protests held around the province and student leaders saying they expect their members to reject an offer from the Charest government.
For the fifth night in a row, protesters were planning to march through Montreal's downtown core, while three other smaller demonstrations were held throughout the day.
The latest round of protests came as Quebec student groups were meeting this weekend to decide whether to accept a new proposal from Premier Jean Charest.
After weeks of deadlock, the Charest government offered Friday to spread the $1,625 increase over seven years rather than the original five. His government also offered bolster the loans-and-bursaries program, while tying future tuition increases to the rate of inflation.
The immediate reaction from students was negative.
Martine Desjardins, the president of one student group, said many of her members had already opted against the proposal on Friday, but others were planning to debate its merits throughout the weekend.
"We need to look more closely at the offer, and perhaps submit a counter-offer," she said Saturday in an interview.
Desjardins said there are some positives in the offer, including improvements to the province's bursary program.
The changes proposed by Charest would mean that, instead of annual increases of $325 for five years, tuition would rise by $254 for seven straight years.
Leo Bureau-Blouin, another student leader, also said he anticipates his members will reject the deal.
Bureau-Blouin acknowledged the government made some concessions, but he said the main sticking point -- the tuition increases -- remains.
"To stop the strike, the premier must accept to talk about tuition levels," he said.
Several thousand people took part in a boisterous march in Montreal Friday night. The march's theme was: "It's not an offer, it's an insult."
While the march was mostly peaceful, a few members of the crowd tossed bottles and other objects at police. Someone also smashed the window of a Canadian Forces recruitment centre. There were 35 arrests.
About a third of Quebec students are still avoiding their classes, but most have chosen to return to school during the 11-week dispute.