Quebec's official opposition has called on the Charest government to re-open talks with striking university and CÉGEP students, accusing the government of duping students and forcing them into a bad deal.
On campuses across the province, tens of thousands of students have voted to reject an agreement-in-principle on tuition fee hikes reached with student federations after a marathon negotiating session last weekend.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, 27 student associations had turned down the proposed deal, and at just one post-secondary school — CÉGEP de la Gaspésie et les Iles — have students voted to return to classes.
PQ leader Pauline Marois said the government should re-open discussions immediately, so that students don't lose their semester.
"We believe the agreement is a good one and deserves to be supported," replied Premier Jean Charest.
Government acted in bad faith, Legault charges
The leader of Coalition avenir Québec, who supports the tuition fee hike, sees no point in returning to the negotiating table.
"If we were to take another month — or two or three — I don't see things changing," François Legault said. "Next Monday morning, all students who would like to return to their classrooms, they have to be allowed to do so."
It's not clear how that could happen. Legault blamed the government, accusing it of dealing with the students in bad faith.
"They didn't say the same thing at the table as they did outside, after," he said. "You should always say the same thing in private and in public. So I think that was an error."
But Quebec's junior finance minister, Alain Paquet, said that's not true.
"The students who signed that agreement understood what they were signing," said Paquet, who was part of the 22-hour negotiating session that led to Saturday's proposed deal.
"In no way was the purpose to find a solution to every issue and all sides of the debate," Paquet said.
Education Minister Line Beauchamp urged students not to be afraid to vote yes, adding accepting the agreement-in-principle does not mean giving up on their cause.
Beauchamp said if students still want to discuss a tuition fee freeze or free tuition, they can bring their case to the committee that is to be established in the fall to study the financial management of Quebec's universities.