Quebec provincial government, students reach tentative deal on tuition fee hikes

AFP, VICTORIAVILLE, CANADA

Mon, May 07, 2012 - Page 7

Striking students and the government of Canada’s Quebec Province clinched a tentative deal on Saturday over contested tuition increases after months of sometimes violent protests.

The agreement came following nearly a full day of arduous negotiations and after clashes erupted outside the Quebec Liberal Party’s annual convention in Victoriaville. Nine people were injured and 109 arrested.

“There is an understanding ... Everyone is relieved,” said Quebec Premier Jean Charest, whose government has been confronted since mid-February with the unprecedented student protest over fee increases.

The tentative deal calls for a US$1,780 increase in university fees over seven years, or about US$254 a year, that would eventually bring the total to US$4,000 a year. The government had wanted a fee increase to rein in the budget deficit.

Under the plan, -additional fees -imposed by the universities themselves would be reduced by an equal amount, forcing schools to review operations and tighten their belts. The provincial government will also boost scholarship offers.

“The positive thing here is that the students’ bills will not go up,” said Gabriel Nadeau--Dubois, a spokesman for CLASSE, the movement representing half of the 170,000 students refusing to go to class until the matter is resolved.

“What today’s offer shows is that our efforts have been fruitful,” he said, adding that the strike would not end until student groups had a chance to review the offer and give their final approval.

The deal came after protests rocked Victoriaville, located about 170km east of Montreal, with skirmishes breaking out late on Friday after more than 2,000 students gathered outside the party’s annual convention, which had been moved out of Montreal amid fears of violence.

Protesters threw stones and police shot tear gas and fired rubber bullets. Six student demonstrators and three police officers were injured.

Three of the students were rushed to hospital with head injuries, but officials said they were in a stable condition.

One protester lost the use of an eye, medical officials said.

The ear of another student was also severely cut, according to witnesses.

“Police used the necessary force to ensure citizens’ safety,” provincial police captain Jean Finet said.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched on Saturday outside the conference center in Victoriaville, chanting anti-Charest slogans.

The tentative deal also comes amid rumors that Charest — whose party has been in power in Quebec for nine years — will be forced to call early elections in the French-speaking province of 8 million people.