Some marchers who sported the small felt square on their clothes felt that the Parti Quebecois leader had embraced the symbol out of political expediency and was shelving it for the same reasons.
"It doesn't surprise me that Pauline Marois decided to stop wearing the red square because it wasn't real support for the students," said Francis Piche, a junior college student. "The only reason she was opposing the tuition fee increase was because the Liberals were doing it but a Pequiste government wanted to do it too.
"She just wanted to avoid controversy when the election is called. For me, there's not a lot of difference between the Parti Quebecois and the Liberal party."
Piche enthusiastically agreed with critics who had called Marois an opportunist.
"That's the right word. It describes very well the attitude of the Parti Quebecois and its leader."
The tiny square has been prominently displayed on Marois' lapel during the last session of the legislature. In fact, all members of the PQ caucus wore it.
But those days are over.
"I won't wear it anymore," the Quebec opposition leader told a radio interviewer in Montreal on Wednesday. "I wore it every day in the legislature."
She said with the June 24 provincial holiday approaching, "I have chosen to wear the fleur-de-lis."
Something else might also be approaching: a provincial election, with a campaign call possible as early as August.
Mathieu Desjardins, who finished his anthropology degree in December, said Marois' decision didn't make much difference to him.
"The red square is a symbol but the cause will remain whether there's a red square or not."
He had harsh words for Premier Jean Charest, saying it was rich of him to describe Marois as a hypocrite when he had never seriously negotiated with students.
Ryan Sorochan, who was marching Wednesday against Bill 78, the provincial law regulating demonstrations, hadn't heard too much about Marois' decision but wondered if she'd succumbed to pressure not to wear the square.
"It seems almost like over the last few weeks there's a stigma that's become attached to it which I think is really unfortunate," he said. "I think anyone who chooses to take off the red square once they've been wearing it for a little while, that's pretty disappointing to me."
He didn't doubt that Marois had her eyes on the next election.
"It's a typical politician move. We see this with every election, politicians doing whatever they can to adopt a non-radical stance. They want to be in the middle and to appeal to the most voters. From their point of view it makes perfect sense to not align oneself with any sort of controversy. I don't find it surprising."
Marois denied she's abandoning students, who according to polls do not have majority public support for their tuition-fee fight. On the other hand, Charest seems to have backing from most Quebecers on the fee-hike issue even if his party is struggling in the polls.
"I have said I will continue to support the student cause because they have a point," Marois said during the interview.
Marois and the PQ were quick to jump on the anti-tuition fee increase bandwagon back when the protests began in February and stayed there despite assertions by opponents that she and her party were just being opportunists.
As polling data emerged in recent weeks, the government took delight in repeatedly pointing out the presence of red squares on Pequiste lapels.
Charest, who is at the environmental summit in Brazil, said Marois' latest move now makes her the winner of the "championship of hypocrisy."
"If she doesn't wear the red square, she's won the championship of hypocrisy, after wearing the red square, having 10 different positions on the issue of university funding and tuition," Charest said.
"Quebecers feel very strongly about that kind of political hypocrisy."
The PQ has had the most nuanced policy on tuition of all the major parties. The Liberals and CAQ support the fee hikes; the left-wing Quebec solidaire deeply opposes them and casts the issue as a historic social-justice battle.
Meanwhile, the PQ explained over the spring that its decision to wear the red square didn't mean it opposed fee hikes, or supported rowdy protests, but rather was meant as an expression of support for the student cause.
Marois has said that if she's elected, she will rescind Charest's hikes, but introduce smaller ones.Suggest a correction