PQ to student protesters: Truce is best way to derail Charest

Montreal — The Globe and Mail

PQ leader Pauline Marois and candidate and former student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin chat with commuter as they ride a subway Thursday, August 2, 2012 in Montreal. Quebecers will go to the polls for a provincial election Tuesday, Sept. 4. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois is urging Quebec student leaders to call a truce on further strikes and confrontations over tuition fee hikes for the duration of the election campaign in order to stave off potential violence that could help Jean Charest`s re-election bid.

Ms. Marois made the plea as she unveiled plans to freeze tuition fees for 100 days if the PQ forms the next government, promising a public forum to examine university funding. She said a PQ government would index any potential tuition fee hikes to the cost of living.

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The CLASSE, the more militant of Quebec’s four student groups, will examine whether to call a truce as classes get set to resume in post-secondary institutions after being suspended by the Liberal government last June. At the time, Montreal and other cities were in the midst of nightly protests and social unrest stemming from a four-month student strike in universities and colleges throughout the province.

“It would certainly be good to hold a truce,” Ms. Marois said on Thursday. “I invite students and those who marched in the streets to march towards their voting booths on election day and send a clear message to this government.”

The PQ accused Mr. Charest of fermenting the social unrest to divide voters and redirect public attention away from the issue of corruption and mismanagement of public funds. Ms. Marois remained concerned that if the students resumed their strike action it could lead to clashes with police and play into Mr. Charest’s law and order agenda he has set for his party during the campaign.

Public opinion polls showed last spring that Quebeckers supported tuition fee hikes but disapproved of the way Mr. Charest had handled the crisis. His tough stand, nonetheless, has paid political dividends that the PQ fears could be repeated if the student protest movement gathers momentum during the campaign.

“Jean Charest is responsible for the social chaos,” Ms. Marois insisted. “He says he is on the side of law and order and that with people in the streets it could harm Quebec society. But the fact is that he is responsible for this. If people are taking to the streets, it is because of him.”

The former president of the Quebec college student federation Léo Bureau-Blouin, who is running as a PQ candidate in a riding north of Montreal, argued that a truce would take away from the Liberals an important part of their re-election strategy.

“We need to achieve a peaceful social climate. That is why I support the idea of a truce. We have to take all precautions not to play into the Liberals’ hands,” Mr. Bureau-Blouin said.

Ms Marois took her campaign to the streets of Montreal on Thursday, taking a ride on the subway, shaking hands and posing for pictures. Earlier, Mr. Charest said the PQ was the party of protesters while the Liberals represented the silent majority.

“The only silent majority here are the Liberals who remained silent on the issue of corruption,” Ms. Marois lashed back.

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