The Coalition For Quebec's Future, led by Francois Legault, said it would set tuition hikes at $200 per year over five years, somewhere between the government's planned increase of $254 over seven years and the rate-of-inflation increases proposed by the opposition PQ.
Legault would also delay implementing the hikes for another semester, only bringing them in next January. He said one way to pay for the changes would be to pare back a tuition tax credit.
He also proposed scrapping parts of the province's controversial anti-protest law — a law his own party voted for — which would set severe fines for anyone blocking a school.
Legault cast his proposals Monday as a reasonable alternative, compared to the more hardline stance of the Charest Liberals and the PQ's supportive approach to the student strikers.
"We're offering a compromise," said Legault, making his announcement surrounded by education professionals planning to run for his party.
"The objective is to put behind us this crisis — which is perhaps among the worst crises Quebec has undergone in recent years."
The issue could flare up again in the coming weeks, as an election campaign gets under way while striking students are supposed to go back to class in mid-August.
Polls suggest a three-way election race is possible, although Legault's party has lagged in popularity in recent months.
Legault's party actually voted alongside the government when it introduced its controversial Bill 78 this spring.
The legislation, which has yet to be seriously applied, sets out penalties that reach tens of thousands of dollars for people who block schools.
But while the government's tuition increases appear to have relatively strong public support, its protest legislation may have been less popular.
The instant it was adopted, street protests got bigger and the crowds began to include families and participants ranging from toddlers to elderly people.
Legault said the emergency law "poured oil on the fire."
The protests have quieted down, for now, although they may ramp up again as the debate reaches its critical juncture over the next few weeks.
As for the major political parties, while their short-term approaches differ significantly all of them say they would, over the long term, set tuition increases to the rate of inflation.
In another concession to the students Monday, Legault said he would make universities submit plans for limiting administration costs before they can touch any new funding.
Legault's plan was rejected by some students on Monday and questioned by Premier Jean Charest, who said Legault needed to take a closer look at his numbers.
Charest said what Legault is proposing will actually cost students more in the long run. By diminishing the yearly hike while cutting the tax credit, Charest said, students will end up footing a larger bill.
"It would be in his interest to spend a little less time on Twitter and a little more time with his calculator," Charest told reporters in Burlington, Vt., where he was attending a meeting of New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers.
The premier is expected this week to call an election for Sept. 4.
Charest also took a shot Wednesday at the PQ.
He criticized the party over comments by its constitutional critic, Bernard Drainville, who revealed plans for the PQ to stage fights with the federal government on a series of issues if it was elected.
In an interview, Drainville cast that strategy as win-win for a PQ government — if successful in its battles, the province would become stronger and, if it lost, the PQ could use the defeats as examples to build its case for sovereignty.
While such a strategy is hardly a novel one for Quebec independentists — in fact, it has been a standard feature of the PQ and Bloc Quebecois playbook — the premier was quick to pounce on the comments.
Charest noted that those candid remarks were made in the Globe and Mail, not in a Quebec newspaper.
"Mr. Drainville has always said what Madame Marois doesn't want to say to Quebecers," Charest told a news scrum.
"We're living through the results of a financial and economic crisis and (the PQ wants) five years of disruptions to separate Quebec from Canada and in that context, she's ready to put in peril jobs and the economy of Quebec because her priority is to hold a referendum."
Charest said the issue will be front and centre in the next election.
"When we eventually have an election, it will be a part of the choices Quebecers will have to make," Charest said. "Do we want a referendum in Quebec or do we want to focus on jobs and the economy?"
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