Legault urges smaller tuition hikes
Coalition Avenir Quebec party leader Francois Legault walks to his campaign bus in Quebec City on Sunday, July 29, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Published Monday, July 30, 2012 12:02PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 30, 2012 9:07PM EDT
MONTREAL - Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault is proposing tuition hikes of $200 per year over five years, rather than the $254 ordered by the Charest government.
He also suggested that the hikes only begin in January 2013.
Legault made the suggestions at a press conference Monday morning in which he also urged students to return to classes in mid-August.
Legault also came out in favour of repealing the more controversial articles of the special protest legislation passed recently by the Charest government that would set severe fines for anyone blocking a school.
He cast his proposals Monday as a reasonable middle ground between the more hardline stance of the Charest Liberals and the opposition Parti Quebecois, which is more tolerant of the striking students' cause.
"We're offering a compromise," said Legault, making his announcement surrounded by education professionals planning to run for his party.
"The objective is to put behind us this crisis -- which is perhaps among the worst crises Quebec has undergone in recent years."
The issue could flare up again in the coming weeks, as an election campaign gets under way while striking students are supposed to go back to class in mid-August.
Polls suggest a three-way election race is possible, although Legault's party has lagged in popularity in recent months.
Legault's party actually voted alongside the government when it introduced its controversial Bill 78 this spring.
The legislation, which has yet to be seriously applied, sets out penalties that reach tens of thousands of dollars for people who block schools.
But while the government's tuition increases appear to have relatively strong public support, its protest legislation may have been less popular.
The instant it was adopted, street protests got bigger and the crowds began to include families and participants ranging from toddlers to elderly people.
Legault said the emergency law "poured oil on the fire."
The protests have quieted down, for now, although they may ramp up again as the debate reaches its critical juncture over the next few weeks.
As for the major political parties, while their short-term approaches differ significantly all of them say they would, over the long term, set tuition increases to the rate of inflation.
In another concession to the students Monday, Legault said he would make universities submit plans for limiting administration costs before they can touch any new funding.
The leader appears to be in full campaign mode for a Quebec election, which is widely expected to be called this week for Sept. 4.
With a report from The Canadian Press