In the midst of a social crisis, Premier Jean Charest is replacing his most senior aide and bringing back a right-hand man with a reputation for steady competence.

Daniel Gagnier is being brought back after three years away from politics and is returning to his old position as chief of staff.

He is apparently being given a mandate to kick-start negotiations with student groups and seek a resolution to the unrest plaguing the province, before tourists flock to Montreal for festival season.

Gagnier has previously been a high-ranking civil servant in Ottawa and Saskatchewan and was also chief of staff to Ontario premier David Peterson. Outside politics, he has worked in mining, clean energy and university governance.

His previous stint in the premier's office coincided with an era when Charest was at his most popular -- from 2007 to 2009.

At a time when Charest had a steady hold on power, Gagnier left a senior position at Alcan to work with him and he remained with the premier while he led a minority government; he left after Charest won another majority government.

Since Gagnier's departure, the Charest government has been rocked by ethics scandals and now by the student-led unrest. An election is expected within months.

The Canadian Press has learned that Gagnier has already been heavily involved in recent weeks, having offered his help as a volunteer.

Courchesne hypes meeting

On Thursday Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne suggested the government is trying once again to reach a solution with student leaders.

Courchesne said that she expects to hold a "very, very important" meeting with student groups after having "positive" discussions over the phone.

Meanwhile, Premier Jean Charest appointed a new chief of staff, Daniel Gagnier, who once served that same role, to help him deal with the student crisis.

The government appears to be motivated to restore order in the province as the summer tourist season approaches.

Montrealers of all stripes were banging pots and pans in solidarity with protesters Wednesday and well into the night, before police later used the controversial "kettling" technique to take 518 demonstrators away in a mass arrest.

People across the city spilled into the streets to make their support of the protests heard, producing a tin pan cacophony in solidarity with the protests that have beset Montreal for more than three months.

With files from The Canadian Press