Thousands of unhappy students and opponents of the Charest government are expected to unite at a mass rally this afternoon in a park at the base of Mount Royal near McGill University for a demonstration organized by hardline student association CLASSE.
The event will be the first opportunity since talks collapsed Thursday for supporters to gather in one spot to voice their displeasure with the lack of progress in ending a crisis that has gripped Quebec for nearly four months, and with Bill 78, the province's new emergency law that limits protests.
Matthew Larose, a 32-year-old construction foreman, says he'll probably be going to the big demonstration like he has seven of the nighttime marches. He's against both tuition increases and Law 78.
"If they can do it in Quebec, they can do it everywhere else. It sets a bad precedent for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of everything...and it's disgraceful," he said Friday during the 39th night of nightly protests in Montreal.
The protest remained peaceful with only two arrests for what police said were bylaw infractions.
Premier Jean Charest's Liberal government passed Bill 78 last month in hopes of calming student protests, which have at times turned violent.
Student leaders can face stiff fines under the new law for supporting illegal demonstrations, and Mr. Charest said Friday that it is up to student leaders to establish the parameters of their protests.
On the tuition increases, Mr. Larose fears for not just the current generation but future ones.
"It affects my generation and it affects the coming generation, my kids. If they're allowed to raise tuition, at what point are they going to stop if they get away with it," he said, suggesting students are being buried in debt.
Mehmet Yayla, 40, an unemployed oceanographer who says he's still paying off his student debt after graduating two years ago, has been demonstrating for the last two weeks and plans to come to the big demo.
"I'm planning to go there because I think the only strong opposition right now in Quebec is the students.
"This government is completely corrupted and everybody, whether you are from the right or the left or English-speaking or French-speaking, we should get rid of this government. That's the main reason that I would like to go to the protest.
"It started with the tuition fees but I think the population started to rise up because we were feeling the corruption in our lives. If you ask the Liberals, they don't have any answers, they still don't say it's not true."
The government initially tried to exclude the rally's student organizers from negotiations over its aggressive approach. Now it has pounced on CLASSE for invoking the possibility of using the impending Grand Prix race as a platform for the student cause.
CLASSE spokesman, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, said the group would use the event as a forum to raise its grievances with the province but would not prevent people from going to the race.
At Thursday night's demonstration in Montreal, members of an anti-capitalist group handed out pamphlets calling on demonstrators to make their presence known during Grand Prix weekend.
Mr. Charest has accused student groups of "hurting Quebecers" if they disrupt the international car race, which brings millions of dollars to the province each year.
He said students, who have spent months striking against a proposed tuition hike, should leave Grand Prix fans alone given the financial importance of the race.
Business leaders have weighed in, expressing fears that fewer tourists will come to Montreal this year after seeing footage of nightly marches and hundreds of arrests that have been made during the demonstrations.
Citizens also question whether the nightly police operations will end up costing more than would be realized from the proposed higher tuition fees.
Mr. Charest said it's fine to protest against himself and his government, but the protesters are ultimately hurting the people from whom they're seeking support.
"I think they have to examine their consciences when it comes to their acts," he said Friday while visiting a suburb west of Montreal.