Critics say Bill 78 has failed; government must resume negotiations
MONTREAL - The criticism of the provincial government's emergency legislation, Bill 78, is relentless.
"We are facing an unprecedented social crisis," said Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois in question Period at the National Assembly Wednesday. "What does the premier plan to do about it?"
The opposition says the only way the Charest government can turn things around is by resuming negotiations with the students.
Premier Jean Charest, however, said the government has made many concessions, and been rejected each time it has extended a hand to students. The door is still open, however.
Education Minister Michelle Courchesne says she is committed to going back to the negotiation table to find a solution.
"That's where we stand, and I'm still open to that and I'm quite stubborn, so I'll be there anytime they're available," she said.
When asked if student group CLASSE, who has declared it would defy Bill 78, would be at the negotiating table, Courchesne said.
"If CLASSE wants to be there, they will be there."
Tuesday evening, however, she said she was reluctant to discuss issues with CLASSE, saying if the group's leaders are encouraging people to break the law, "I presuppose they don't want to come back to the table."
During question period in the National Assembly, Courchesne said students need to bring something concrete to the table, instead of reiterating a demand for a tuition freeze.
Representatives from university group FEUQ say they have had no contact from the ministry of education, while CEGEP student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin said he received a brief phone call Tuesday evening.
"Her Chef du cabinet tried to call me and I talked to him a few minutes ago but it's not very clear right now what the position of the minister of education is," said Bureau-Blouin.
Bill 78 repressive, say critics
Critics and pundits say the Charest government made a huge mistake by rushing emergency legislation into place.
They have denounced Bill 78 as repressive, and say it is has failed since police are not evenly implementing the law.
"I think everything has pointed in that direction," said Rheal Seguin, Quebec City bureau chief for the Globe and Mail. "Very few people are abiding by the law."
"In Sherbrooke and in other communities where they held demonstrations and failed to abide by the strict letter of the law... they have seen quite a few arrests," said Seguin, whereas in Montreal, nobody has yet been charged for violating Bill 78.
Seguin says that instead of cooling off the debate, Bill 78 has instead inflamed it, creating a broad coalition of support behind what began as a student movement.
Public Security Minister Robert Dutil says Bill 78 is working as planned, and that it was never meant to stop people from protesting.
"What you saw yesterday is that the right to manifest is still correct. People still have the right to manifest. What we want them to do is to give police the route they will follow because it's for their security and for the security of people around them," said Dutil.
International reputation at stake
The Quebec student crisis is gaining international recognition, with headlines appearing on the BBC and Al Jazerra, and it's an issue Marois said is putting the province's reputation at stake.
Marois said it's Charest's job to fix it.
"His first responsibility as premier is to sit with students, open a real dialogue and talk about what's preoccupying them -- the rise in tuition fees," she said.
Meanwhile, CAQ leader Francois Legault said the social unrest is clearly about more than tuition increases, and the problem can only be solved with an election.
"The real problem is a lack of credibility of the Charest government," he said. "That's what we see right now, and that's why it's not easy to settle the problem."