After hopes were raised of a possible settlement in the 15-week conflict over tuition fee hikes, talks between student organizations and the Quebec government now appear deadlocked.
Student leaders concluded the third day of meetings just before midnight Wednesday by tabling yet another offer, saying they will return to the bargaining table on Thursday to hear the government's response.
"We gave our proposal to the Quebec government. We discussed it and debated it and the Minister of Education said she would take the night to think about it," said Léo Bureau-Blouin, president of the federation of college students.
The impasse comes a day after students expressed confidence that they were on the verge of a breakthrough in the talks.
Several proposals were tabled throughout Wednesday evening but none succeeded in breaking the deadlock between the parties. The details of the proposals were not released but it appeared that money was the key stumbling block.
"We are confident the government will look at the numbers because we need a resolution to this conflict and quickly," said Martine Desjardins, president of the federation of university students.
But there were indications at the end of Wednesday's late-night session that students' patience was wearing thin.
"It has been a sort of a ping-pong match between the two parties. Our organizations have tabled a single clear offer to [Educaton Minister Michelle Courchesne]and we will wait for her answer tomorrow," said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the student group CLASSE.
Earlier on Wednesday, the government rejected a student counteroffer after its own proposal to reduce the annual tuition fee increase of $254 by $35 was turned down. The government offer also included changes to the tax credit offered to post-secondary-education students.
The government came back with a new proposal that shocked student negotiators and led to the gridlock at the bargaining table.
The students argued that their proposals were being ignored while the government was bent on taking the talks in another direction. That wasn’t the message they had anticipated heading into the third day of negotiations.
“There are certain things that we thought we had agreed on [Tuesday] I don’t know what happened but the tone became harder on the government’s side,” said Mr. Nadeau-Dubois earlier Wednesday. “Things have changed.”
Among those in cabinet defending the hard line against the student groups was Finance Minister Raymond Bachand.
During debate in the National Assembly on Wednesday on a motion presented by the Parti Québécois, Mr. Bachand lashed out against those who recently raided a law class at the Université du Québec à Montréal to stop the course from being delivered.
"I call that fascism, using force and intimidation to prevent people from exercising their rights," Mr. Bachand said in denouncing the student protest movement.
Meanwhile, for the third consecutive night, there was a demonstration in support of the student negotiators outside the location where the talks were being held.
About 300 protesters banged on pots and pans and condemned the emergency law that constrains the holding of demonstrations. Local union groups were also on hand to support the students. Given the non-violent nature of the gathering, no arrests were made.