Quebec fury: Students vow mass rallies over govt talks failure

Students vow mass rallies over govt talks failure
(AFP Photo / Steeve Duguay)
Canadian students have promised to hold mass protests in Quebec this weekend after the province’s government refused to meet their demands after four days of talks. Students asked to freeze tuition fees and rescind the anti-protest emergency law.

The two sides met for negotiations in effort to find a solution to the $1,778 tuition dispute and end a 16-week standoff between the province and student associations.More than 2,500 students, according to media reports, have been arrested since February, when protests began.

The conflict escalated significantly after the government passed an emergency anti-protest law on May 18 which introduces fines of between $24,000 and $122,000 against unions and student organizations which do not stop their members from protesting. Individuals found guilty of organizing a protest now face a fine of some $34,000.

In the past week alone, since May 24, about a thousand students who attended protests have been arrested.

However, both sides left the negotiation table with no progress made.

The talks were at an "impasse" and it was not politically possible to reach an agreement, according to Education Minister Michelle Courchesne. She announced the negotiations had been suspended.

Students were suggested a $35 discount on tuition hikes, bringing the total to $1,533. However, the government’s offer was rejected.

What students want is a two-year tuition freeze, but this possibility was completely ruled out. Michelle Courchesne said that a complete freeze it is difficult to negotiate.

Besides the tuition hikes the negotiations also touched upon the emergency law, which students objected to and demanded the government rescind it. However, officials refused to do that.

Student leaders have announced plans for a major weekend protest threatening to use high-profile events, such as the F1 Grand Prix and international jazz and comedy festivals in the coming weeks, to raise awareness of their cause.

Meanwhile, Quebec’s Premier Jean Charest said he is willing to resume discussions, adding that the “door will always be open”.

“We’re always ready to negotiate,” said Martine Desjardins, one of the four main student leaders, echoing the PM. “We’ll wait.”

However, the government is said to have a Plan B if talks remain fruitless.  Prime Minister Charest said there is a possibility of snap elections.

"Ultimately there will be an election within 18 months," Charest told reporters. "It will happen in a democratic context that will allow us to state our case on these issues." That means Quebec voters will be asked to help settle a dispute that started in February.