In a meeting with Quebec’s new Education Minister, Michèle Courchesne that lasted a little more than an hour, student leaders urged the government to abandon any hard line strategy and impose a moratorium. A truce they argued would be the only way to break the impasse for now. They said that the Minister was receptive but refused to commit herself to a position.
However, students said they received assurances from the Minister that there would be no special law adopted to force a settlement.
“We cannot say that the impasse has been overcome. The Minister told us the decision will be taken by the cabinet (on Wednesday),” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the spokesperson for the more militant student-union coalition known as CLASSE.
“This is a crisis and we need to solve it quickly and everybody is working hard to do that,” said the president of the federation of university students Martine Desjardins, who expressed optimism that a solution may be at hand.
“We certainly hope cabinet will be open to compromises,” said Leo Bureau-Blouin, head of the college student federation.
Education Minister Ms. Courchesne said cancelling courses and shutting down colleges was out of the question, but pressure is mounting within the Liberal government to crack down.
“My priority is to ensure that students return to class and to determine how we can achieve this,” Ms. Courchesne said earlier in the National Assembly. “At this moment I don’t subscribe to the cancellation scenario.”
The student leaders arrived separately at Tuesday night’s meeting with Ms. Courchesne, which was held at the same location where a tentative agreement was struck ten days ago during an all-night negotiating session.
The students voted down the deal which offered to offset tuition fee hikes with an equivalent reduction in university surcharges. No such marathon session has been planned for these negotiations, yet student leaders went in determined to get whatever concessions they could from the government.
Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, had warned against using special legislation to force a settlement to end the crisis earlier in the day.
“It would be a major step backward,” he said. “You can’t end a strike like this with police force.”
CLASSE is now willing to consider the possibility of sacrificing the winter session if necessary in order to pursue the fight next fall. “The idea is being considered more and more,” Mr. Nadeau-Dubois said.
Prior to the meeting, Ms. Desjardins said the group was prepared to make concessions, but expressed concerns over the government’s hard line.
“This is not the way to go,” she said, condemning the court injunctions and police intervention that took place on one campus Tuesday near Montreal.
College students have the most to lose, requiring a diploma to enter university, and as such seemed to be the most anxious. The head of their federation, Léo Bureau-Blouin was the most conciliatory, saying all sides needed to make concessions.
“I’m sure that if they gave us new proposals it would help move things along,” he said, while joining the other leaders in condemning the idea of a special law. “This would do nothing to help the crisis, to help settle the conflict. With battery of court injunctions, the tension has grown. A special law would only make matter worse.”
Ms. Courchesne said she just wants to ensure students who want to complete their courses are allowed to do so.
Premier Jean Charest is expected to plot a course forward during a cabinet meeting Wednesday, but his ministers made it clear they are ready to try new measures to end the disruption. “People in Montreal have had enough,” said Transport Minister Pierre Moreau.