The outgoing president of Quebec's College Student Federation (FECQ), Leo Bureau-Blouin, says students are "ready for a compromise" on tuition fees, as the Quebec government and the province's student associations prepare to resume talks in an effort to end the conflict that has gripped the province for over three months.
In an interview airing on CBC Radio's The House on Saturday, Bureau-Blouin tells host Evan Solomon that he believes "we are ready for a compromise — and if the Quebec government is ready for it too, I think we can come to something."
When Bureau-Blouin, who represents 23 student associations and 80,000 students, was asked what he thought students would be willing to compromise on, he said "the amount of a tuition hike."
To date, students have rejected Quebec's planned tuition increase of $254 per year for seven years — a compromise from what was originally to be a hike of $325 per year for five years.
"If the Quebec government accepted to move on the amount of the tuition fee hike, I think it would be a great step in the right direction," said Bureau-Blouin whose term as president ends on June 1.
Quebec's Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said he was surprised by Bureau-Blouin's comments.
Bachand told Solomon this was the first time he had heard a student leader say he was willing to accept a tuition hike.
"It's interesting, if he comes to the table with an open mind that students should do their fair share, that's an interesting development," said Bachand.
While Quebec's Finance Minister welcomed the news, Bachand questioned both Bureau-Blouin's ability to sell that to the students he represents and his influence on the other leaders — namely Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, leader of the more militant of the student groups, known as CLASSE.
"I'm not sure [Bureau-Blouin] is supported by his base," Bachand said. "It's a nice overture but [Bureau-Blouin] represents a minority of a minority of students."
The CLASSE "never made that opening," Bachand said.
"If you can get one word out of the CLASSE that they accept that there should be a tuition increase, then maybe we can start having fruitful discussions," he said.
Emergency law challenged in court
Nadeau-Dubois has already said that if the Quebec government was really prepared to engage in further discussions with the students, the best thing it could do would be to suspend or abolish Bill 78, the emergency law aimed at cracking down on student protests.
On Friday, the CLASSE and the FECQ were among several student groups, labour federations and a number of wide-ranging community groups who joined forces to file legal motions against the new law which they say violates the Charter and basic human rights.
Bachand told Solomon the law is constitutional and was partly designed to protect the fundamental right of students to attend classes.
The motions are expected to be heard in Quebec Superior Court next Wednesday.
On Thursday, Quebec Premier Jean Charest Premier replaced his chief of staff, Luc Bastien, with a former top Liberal adviser.
Daniel Gagnier worked with Charest during the premier's short-lived minority government in 2007 and helped shepherd a second majority for the Liberals a year later.
Gagnier's primary task is to get all sides back at the table and find a resolution to the conflict that has gripped "La Belle Province" for over 100 days.
The date of their next meeting has not been made public yet.