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Lucien Bouchard on March 14, 2011 in Montreal, commenting on a Quebec environmental assessment of the Quebec shale-gas industry.Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A former Parti Quebecois premier has waded into Quebec's tuition debate, and he's not siding with his old party.

Lucien Bouchard is among several well-known personalities to sign a public letter asking Quebecers to support the government, arguing that tuition hikes are necessary to make up for a general freeze over the years.

Mr. Bouchard was premier in the 1990s when the PQ also contemplated fee hikes — then backpedalled in the face of student protests. He was always considered one of the more conservative members of the pro-independence party.

The letter says there's a limit to the burden taxpayers can carry with respect to providing social services; it also suggests recent street protests are an outsized reaction to the hikes.

"The scope of the disturbances currently being imposed on Quebec society bears no relationship to the impact of the government decision," said the letter, published in newspapers Wednesday. It was signed by a dozen people, including ex-Liberal and PQ treasury board presidents, Monique Jerome-Forget and Joseph Facal.

Current PQ members have supported the student movement, even wearing its trademark red squares on their lapels.

However, the PQ hasn't said what it would do to replace the lost funding if it imposed a tuition freeze after being elected.

Premier Jean Charest gleefully pointed out Mr. Bouchard's contribution to the letter during a heated exchange in the national assembly today.

And he made it clear that when the next election rolls around he intends to pin that fabric symbol, figuratively speaking, on his opponent.

"The red square she's wearing today, she will wear forever in the mind of Quebecers," Mr. Charest said.

"They will know she shirked her responsibilities."

He was responding to a question from PQ Leader Pauline Marois, who was demanding a mediated solution to the dispute.

She appeared to seek to distance herself, ever so slightly, from calls for a freeze — by saying the red square she was wearing represented equity and social justice.

"I'd like to remind the premier that the red square means prioritizing education, it means equity and social justice," Ms. Marois said.

The letter published in Thursday's papers also argued that the current fight will ultimately be settled by Quebec voters, not in police-protester showdowns. A provincial vote must be held sometime between this spring and late 2013.

"Eventually, elections will give citizens the opportunity to weigh in on the debate," the letter concluded.

"This is the way democratic societies resolve their conflicts and make their choices: in the polling station, not the street."