Student leaders talks with Quebec Government collapse

Quebec government’s talks with protesting student groups collapse

Student groups and the government could not bridge ‘big gap’, says Quebec’s prime minister at press conference

Adam Gabbatt in New York, Friday 1 June 2012 18.29 BST

Talks between student leaders and the Quebec government collapsed on Thursday, leaving the province’s tuition fee crisis no closer to a resolution.

Quebec’s prime minister, Jean Charest, announced at a press conference that he had called off the negotiations after four days of discussion over proposed increases to university fees.

The province now faces continuing demonstrations and a potentially prolonged student strike. Students holding daily marches to protest the increases have been galvanised by the support they received after the government introduced the controversial Bill 78, which has been criticised as flouting Quebecois’ human rights.

“I would have preferred that we could have reached an understanding, but unfortunately, and even though discussions were productive, there’s a big gap,” Charest said in a news conference in Quebec City, according to CBC news.

“We made great efforts, and in the end, we came to the conclusion that there’s an impasse.”

The Quebec government has proposed increasing tuition fees in Quebec by $254 a year for seven years. According to reports, student representatives were offered two deals during the negotiations – lowering the increases to $219 a year for seven years, or limiting the increase to $100 for the first year and $254 a year thereafter.

Quebec has the lowest tuition fee rates in Canada, a testament to the strength of the student movement in the province. Since 1968, students have repeatedly stood up to the government over proposed increases, keeping fees largely frozen for four decades.

Student leaders have said they made counter-offers, all of which were rejected. Before the talks began on Monday, Martine Desjardins, president of the FEUQ, the largest student organisation in Quebec, told the Guardian she was confident the discussions could “resolve this conflict”, but the two sides remain deadlocked.

The Quebec government announced the increases to fees in its 2011 budget, prompting a demonstration in November. Students then walked out of their classrooms in February, with the strike gathering strength and numbers over the last few months.

A turning point in winning public support, however, came when the government introduced emergency legislation, Bill 78, which suspended the academic year but also placed severe restrictions on student protests. The law states that Police have to be given eight hours notice before demonstrations of 50 people or more are allowed to proceed, while students and student organisations face large fines if they prevent pupils from attending classes.

The legislation proved to be a shot in the arm for students, prompting widespread ‘casseroles’ protests of banging pots and pans across Montreal and elsewhere by residents apathetic about the tuition fee increases but infuriated by the restrictions placed on them by Bill 78.

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