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Education Minister Line Beauchamp resigns, replaced by Michelle Courchesne
MONTREAL - After months of strife, the longest student strike in Canadian history and no end in sight, Education Minister and deputy premier Line Beauchamp resigned on Monday afternoon. Within hours, Michelle Courchesne was reappointed to the position she vacated 20 months ago.
Standing beside Premier Jean Charest, Beauchamp said that she was not stepping down because of protests or threats and that the Quebec government should never back down in the face of violence.
"I am resigning because I am no longer part of the solution," said Beauchamp, saying she had done the best she could to bring the "crisis" to a resolution over the past few months.
"A student leader told me this morning that students don't think that elected officials have the knowledge or the skills necessary to solve this problem," said Beauchamp.
She also said she thinks student leaders do not want to find a solution to the protests and demonstrations that have occupied Quebec throughout the past three months.
"This morning the student leaders told me that a moratorium [on tuition fee hikes] would not be enough for them to ask students to return to class, unless the government launched an Estates General on education," said Beauchamp.
"I have lost faith that student leaders wish to come to a meaningful conclusion."
Serving as Education Minister from 2007 to 2010, Courchesne is the closest thing the Liberals have to a veteran to hold down the taxing position. Keeping her current title of Minister Responsible for Laval, Courchesne will add deputy premier and Education Minister to her portfolio.
"Time is pressing," Courchesne announced on Monday, as she set out her plan upon taking over for Beauchamp. "We cannot allow this situation to continue for longer."
Pledging to talk to student associations and university rectors within "minutes," Courchesne announced that she will write a report for the government on the state of universities and the ongoing protests.
As Education Minister in 2007, Courchesne oversaw the end of Quebec's tuition freeze. She brought about a tuition increase of $100 annually that expired in 2012.
"Each time we have come forward with an offer, the minority of students have said no," said Courchesne. The newly minted minister continued by stating that she wants to make it clear to protesters that over 70 per cent of students have completed their academic year.History
Beauchamp was named Education Minister in August 2010 and later that year announced that tuition would be going up by $1,625 from 2012 to 2017.
Last year, Charest tapped her to become deputy premier as well.
However, this year Beauchamp's ministry has been rocked by the longest and arguably the most-acrimonious post-secondary student walkout in Canadian history.
Beauchamp has been front and centre trying, and failing, to come up with an agreement that could end the boycott that at times included close to 200,000 students.
In her resignation speech Beauchamp pointed to the changes she had agreed to as signs that the government was flexible.
"I am proud of the new bursary program," said Beauchamp.
"Now, a student that comes from a family that earns $60,000 a year will finish their program with $10,000 in their pockets."
But she acknowledges that she cannot solve the conflict.
"I am making the ultimate sacrifice, I am stepping out of the way," said Beauchamp.
Target of threats, source of acrimony
She has also been the target of death threats, personal insults and charges that she has taken the matter too personally.
Her office has been repeatedly vandalized, most recently on April 13, 2012.
Beauchamp has also said she was upset with student protesters who, before the walkout began 13 weeks ago, forced their way into her office and roughed up her secretary, breaking her eyeglasses.
At the beginning of the month Beauchamp was accused of having close ties to the mafia, after a newspaper report that some known mafia members attended a breakfast fundraiser for the provincial Liberal party.
For weeks Beauchamp refused to negotiate with student leaders and spokespeople, saying she would not meet until they agreed to denounce violence.
Once they finally did she delayed meeting with members of CLASSE, saying they were not vocal enough, and were unable to control their members.
Ten days ago Beauchamp led a marathon negotiation session between the government and four umbrella student groups that produced an agreement in principle agreeing to many student demands.
One day after it was worked out, student leaders said it was a bad deal and could not recommend it to their members. Students at almost every school in Quebec have since voted to reject the offer.