Protests continue as students reject weekend tuition agreement
MONTREAL - The student movement to abolish university tuition fees and overhaul the administration of post-secondary institutions in Quebec shows no signs of abating.
The Concordia Student Union has voted in a meeting Tuesday night to reject the tentative deal reached between student groups and the government over the weekend.
Executives with the largest student group, CLASSE, offered only tepid support for the agreement that would see student representatives have four seats on a board to oversee many aspects of university administration.
On Monday students at five CEGEPS and several departments at UQAM and the University of Montreal voted to reject the agreement-in-principle.
Only students at CEGEP de Gaspe found it acceptable. Students at that school ended their boycott of classes last week.
At College Montmorency in Laval, however, students voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposal.
We were under the impression that the money we would find in mismanaging schools would go towards lowering the bill for students. Now it seems that's not the deal at all and we want the offer to be improved," said student union spokesperson Alexandre St-Onge-Perron.
The college has extended classes until June, but students don't believe the school will cancel the semester.
"If they were to do that, it would only frustrate and radicalize us," he said.
If rejected, the future of the issue would remain uncertain.
"I think Quebec students need more confirmation from the government that money there's going to be more money in their pocket," said Leo Bureau-Blouin, president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec.
Faceoff with police
Tuesday morning several dozen red-square wearing protesters attached chains to the entrance of Montreal's World Trade Centre in Old Montreal, then faced off with police.
Around 8:30 a.m. the owners of the building asked police to intervene, and officers declared the protest an unlawful assembly.
Protesters screamed back, "There's no such thing as an illegal protest," as more police officers arrived, then ran away in all directions.
Nobody was injured, and no arrests were made.
Government says students knew what they were signing
Some student leaders, include Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSE, were quick to say that they felt duped by signing the agreement.
However government ministers say everyone at the table was aware of what they were signing.
"We're all adults, and they all worked rigorously to find a common ground in which we can start to resolve this crisis," said Alain Paquet, deputy finance minister, while acknowledging that the views on tuition and university finance are very far apart.
"In no way were we trying to find a solution to all the issues and all the perspectives on the debate," said Paquet.
Education Minister Line Beauchamp said going back to class wouldn't mean an end to discussions.
"We're not asking anyone to abandon their positions or demands," said Beauchamp. "The idea of this agreement was to create a roadmap out of the crisis and get students back to class."
Continue discussions with students: Marois
Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois is calling on Charest to continue talks with student leaders.
"I'm asking the premier to continue dialogue with the students, so they do not lose their semester," she said.
Charest said his government is always open to discussion, and also questioned the PQ leader's judgment for continuing to wear the red square, now symbolic of a movement linked to street violence.
Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault, meantime, said the premier is running out of time.
" We suggest that the government set the date of Monday morning. Next Monday morning, all students who would like to return to their classrooms, they have to be able to do so," he said.
Varied opinions on agreement
Rheal Seguin, Quebec City bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, said people sitting around the negotiation table last weekend had different opinions about what they were agreeing to.
"According to one witness, the head of the teachers union Rejean Parent, there was a verbal agreement that any savings... would go to reducing tuition fees," said Seguin.
In any case, Seguin said education minister Line Beauchamp was too quick to tout her success.
"You don't come out of a deal where both sides have given in and made compromises and cry 'victory,'" said Seguin.
Ultimately, Seguin expects the government will have to take action, either to defer the tuition increase, or to refer the issue to committee, in order to calm heated opinions.
"I think we'll see some movement, if not today, then in the coming days."