Parti Quebecois: We'd scrap Charest's tuition plan within first 100 days
PQ leader Pauline Marois walks with candidate and former student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin during a campaign stop Thursday, August 2, 2012 in Laval, Que. Quebecers will go to the polls for a provincial election Tuesday, Sept. 4. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Published Thursday, August 2, 2012 2:18PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 2, 2012 5:56PM EDT
LAVAL, Que. -- The tuition hikes that propelled thousands of Quebec students to take the streets would be scrapped within the first 100 days of a Parti Quebecois government.
PQ Leader Pauline Marois emerged on the first full day of the campaign to lay out her party's position on what is shaping up to be one of the most divisive issues for Quebec voters.
The province's student movement has been protesting almost continually since the winter against the Charest government's tuition increases of $254 annually.
After a brief lull with the onset of summer, supporters of the movement once again marched in large numbers through Montreal on Wednesday night. As on several occasions in the past, the demonstration ended in tussles with police and more than a dozen arrests.
The Liberals have cast their refusal to back down on tuition hikes as a principled stand for law and order -- and indeed polls have suggested a majority of Quebecers support the increases.
But Marois says Charest has only stuck to his guns for a base partisan reason: hope that the unrest could be a political winner for his Liberals.
"I'm sorry, but Mr. Charest is profoundly responsible for what is going on right now," she said.
"The Liberals decided to use this conflict to mask their record. It's a cynical and premeditated attempt to manipulate public opinion."
The PQ's plan adopts many of the measures that are being called for by the more moderate student groups who are on strike.
Marois promised she would quickly eliminate tuition hikes, cancel the emergency protest law Bill 78, and call a summit on how to better fund universities if she won the Sept. 4 election.
But she also promised that if the summit recommended raising fees, her government would keep the increases indexed to inflation.
She made the announcement while flanked by several candidates from the region just north of Montreal, but the candidate who stood closest was Leo Bureau-Blouin, the 20-year-old former student leader and now rising star for PQ.
Bureau-Blouin characterized the PQ's position as an effort to find a comprise, in contrast the hardline taken by the Liberals.
"The Liberal government is dividing the population on the question of tuition fees in an effort to score political points," he said. "We have a real desire to end the crisis and bring people together."
“This could solve the student crisis for the long term and we could really analyze the problematic of accessibility to post-secondary education,” said PQ candidate Bureau-Blouin.
But a political rival was also at the Atwater market said the issue has already been discussed.
Last year the minister of finance announced in his budget, you know, an augmentation of the fees. Everybody was aware of this, everybody said yes,” said Liberal Cabinet Minister Marguerite Blais.
For the PQ scrapping the liberals tuition fee hikes is a priority but they're not ruling out hikes altogether. Everything is going to be on the table except tuition fee hikes that are higher than the hiking of the cost of living.
And that has Bureau-Blouin's former student movement colleagues on guard.
“The tuition freeze is the best thing and that they should keep in this track and not go for inflation because students won't get their vote out for the PQ if they do, said FEUQ student leader Martine Desjardins.
While attacking opponents on the tuition issue, the Liberals have made the economy the centrepiece of their own campaign.
Charest promised Thursday to reduce unemployment to 6 per cent and work to create 250,000 jobs by 2017.
The job-creation figure would be slightly better than what Quebec achieved during his first term, when the province added 215,000 jobs, while barely one-third of that was added in his latest term.
The 2011 unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent was significantly lower than when Charest took office in 2003 and comparable to that in the rest of Canada and the United States -- which Charest called a first in 30 years.
The Liberal leader said his employment targets would be reached partly because of mining development under his Plan Nord.
However, the premier's critics suggest his economic record isn't so clean. They note that Quebec's debt has actually increased since he took office and, while he made good on a promise to cut personal income taxes, he increased the sales tax and fees for services.
While the premier talked job numbers, he offered another statistic sure to get some tongues wagging in Quebec.
Pressed more than once by reporters to give himself a score in his fight against corruption, the premier gave himself a mark of eight on 10. He cited his list of actions, including the creation of an anti-corruption squad that has made numerous arrests already.
Charest also tightened contracting rules and political funding laws. He also called a public inquiry, after being pressured to do so for two years.
His opponents propose going farther in that fight. Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault promised Thursday that his first act as premier would be to introduce wide-ranging legislation that would create a public ethics watchdog.
-With a file from The Canadian Press