Student leaders have been convened to Quebec City for emergency talks with the provincial government aimed at ending weeks of unrest.
With turbulent street protests into their third month, and the semester at risk of being cancelled, the three main student groups and several union leaders were invited for talks with the government negotiator Friday.
Authorities have avoided wiping out the semester so far, given the chain reaction of logistical challenges that would follow widespread cancellations.
But after 12 weeks of walkouts, the student leaders and provincial government remain far apart and there has been little sign of a possible negotiated remedy. Expectations were being set low by participants as they entered the meeting.
“We're coming here in good faith — we hope the same goes for the government of Quebec,” one student leader, Leo Bureau-Blouin, said on his way into the meeting.
“Let's not get our hopes up, though: I don't think a 12-week crisis gets solved in a few hours.”
The spokesman for the more radical group, the C.L.A.S.S.E., said he would take whatever formal offer was presented by the government negotiator and submit it to a vote from members.
The dim prospects for success were underscored by a message on the C.L.A.S.S.E.’s Twitter page. The group appeared to be planning for a protest at the weekend convention of the governing Liberal party, rather than for a likely settlement.
“The pressure continues, the movement is close to victory,” said the Twitter message from the C.L.A.S.S.E. “Let's disrupt the (Liberal convention) in Victoriaville!”
Meanwhile, only about one-third of the province's post-secondary students actually remain on a declared strike; the others have never joined the movement, or gone back to class.
Polls suggest the weeks of unrest have not harmed the Charest government — whose call for tuition increases appears, on the contrary, to have actually increased its public support.
The protest movement has proven persistent, however. Daily and nightly demonstrations remain a recent fact of life in Montreal, and in other pockets of the province.
Montrealers are becoming accustomed to sudden traffic jams and the sound of police helicopters buzzing overhead at night.
But this weekend the eye of the storm shifts to Victoriaville. Mr. Charest's party decided to move its convention away from downtown Montreal as a result of the guaranteed chaos there.
Protest groups have responded by organizing rides in yellow schoolbuses for members to get to Victoriaville. Provincial police, who have jurisdiction in most of the province outside Montreal, were also bracing for a potential struggle with crowds.
The premier, however, was sounding a note of optimism — albeit very cautious optimism — Friday.
“It's always a bright moment when we meet our members,” Mr. Charest told reporters as he arrived.
“This is part of political life — moments that are a little intense. Let's hope it goes well. I think it will go well.”
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