Two of the main student groups behind Quebec's 12-week-old student strike, the Federation of Quebec University Students — known by the French acronym FEUQ — and the Federation of Quebec College Students, FECQ, said they are preparing a counter-offer to the government's latest proposal to end the dispute over tuition fee hikes.
The government plan — announced by Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp last Friday — includes a proposal to spread the tuition free increase over seven years instead of five, a promise to add $39-million to student bursaries and a commitment to link the repayment of loans to income after graduation.
Associations belonging to the other federations were to vote on the offer later this week, but FEUQ president Martine Desjardins said Monday that its rejection appeared inevitable.
"We are going to propose our alternative, which will also be debated within some of our associations," Desjardins said. "I think that is a more constructive way to proceed."
Education minister rejects mediation
On Sunday, Desjardins and FECQ president Léo Blouin-Bureau proposed that the government appoint a mediator to get negotiations back on track, but Beauchamp rejected that idea. She said mediation was pointless, if the students are not willing to budge on their demands to freeze tuition fees at current rates.
CLASSE was lukewarm to the idea of mediation, but on Monday, CLASSE representatives said they will look at the counter-offer that FEUQ and FECQ come up with, and if they don't like it, they will make a counter-offer of their own later this week.
Seventh night protest in Montreal
An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 students took to the streets in downtown Montreal for a seventh night on Monday evening, many wearing black and donning masks or elaborate make-up. The theme for Monday's rally was "a dark carnival."
Earlier Monday, some 500 students blocked students and staff from entering CÉGEP de Sherbrooke, forcing the school's administration to call off a planned resumption of classes for a second day — despite a court ruling ordering the school offer classes.
Police moved in to arrest two demonstrators after the pair allegedly shoved school employees who were trying to get into the building.
One student leader characterized the arrests as "brutal."
"Plainclothes police jumped out of an unmarked car and arrested the students very quickly," said Catherine Boudin, spokeswoman for the student association. "I'd call it a kidnapping!"
Sherbrooke police said they had to act quickly to prevent the situation from boiling over.
In another development, administrators at Montreal's CÉGEP de St. Laurent cancelled classes as a security measure after protests prevented the institution from obeying a court order that classes be resumed.