Salvatore Basilone, Contributor
More than three months of protests involving nearly 200 000 students could come to an end this week, as the Quebec government and the leaders of the Quebecois student groups came to a tentative deal about tuition fees on Saturday night. If accepted, students will be able to return to classes and finish the current semester. However, the deal has not satisfied at least seven student groups and there are plans for more protests underway.
The deal came after a lengthy 22 hours of negotiation in which both sides made concessions. The deal includes the government’s proposed tuition hike, in which fees will increase C$1 625, spread out over seven years (which raises current fees by 75%). However, there will be increases in bursaries and loans to lessen the effect of the new fees on lower and middle income families.
Also part of the deal is the formation of a provisional council for the purpose of examining university expenses and eliminating wasteful spending. 100% of the savings found by the council will go to students in the form of lowered auxiliary student fees. In the first year the offer estimates the reduction in extra fees by C$127.
Members of the student groups, government, teachers’ unions, and university and business representatives will make up the council, which will eventually be transformed from a provisional measure to a permanent fixture in university governance.
“The fee increase is maintained,” Education Minister Line Beauchamp explained. “If savings can be identified by the council, the savings will be reduced from the mandatory university surcharges.”
“What this shows is that our mobilization has borne fruit,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a representative of the Coalition Large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), considered the most radical of the major student groups. “This is proof that our strike action worked.” But many other groups are unhappy as fees will rise dramatically, and protests against the new deal are planned for the next few days,
Quebec Premier Jean Charest refused to talk to the student groups at first. But as the protests escalated and media attention increased, the premier was forced to make a comment. Charest’s remarks on the deal were succinct: “Talks went well. People worked hard.” The protests will continue at least into this week, when students and universities will vote to accept or reject the deal. The student leaders who signed the deal have said they will make no recommendation one way or the other to the voters.
On Sunday, Martine Desjardins, president of the Federation Etudiante Universitaire du Quebec, raised doubts as to whether the deal will be accepted at all. “This is about the best we can do,” Desjardins said. “The response has not been very positive. But this is the only thing students will get from this government.”