06/01/2012 02:59 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec's New Student Leader Wants Tuition Talks Restarted


Éliane Laberge says her first act as the new president for Quebec's federation of college students (FECQ) will be to re-establish communications with the government, after talks aimed at ending a months-long dispute over tuition hikes broke down Thursday.

"We hope that the government will regain contact with us and that we will find a solution that is appropriate for everyone," said Laberge who is taking on the role of president of the FECQ on Friday.

Negotiations collapsed after leaders of the student associations rejected two offers from the government.

Both proposals would see tuition rise to nearly $4,100 per year by 2020, an increase of 70 per cent overall.

Outgoing president Léo Bureau-Blouin has been an active part of the fight against tuition hikes, joining forces with Quebec's university students federation and CLASSE, the more militant student group, to argue for affordable post-secondary education.

“It’s not easy to leave the federation and students I represent in the midst of a crisis that is shaking the province,” said Bureau-Blouin.

Bureau-Blouin has served as FECQ president for two one-year terms. His last term ended Thursday at midnight.

On Saturday, Bureau-Blouin said he was willing to compromise with the government about the amount of a tuition hike.

Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said Thursday he was surprised by Bureau-Blouin’s stance on the increase.

“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.

Laberge told a news conference on Friday that she believed mediation may be required in the negotiations to effectively reach a compromise.

At a morning event in Vaudreuil, Premier Jean Charest says his door remains open to working out a deal on tuition fee increases.

He also mentioned the government has already made several offers to end the impasse on negotiations, but reiterated that a provincial election in the next 18 months may be the best way to solve the stalling talks.

Charest and Education Minister Michelle Courchesne both said the CLASSE had also specifically threatened to “disrupt” next week’s Montreal Grand Prix auto race, but spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said those statements were made in jest.

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay says he hopes talks between the students and the government will resume.

He says Montreal is a "festive" city and that the city's reputation is at stake as the summer festival season gets underway.

"I can't imagine that some people could put in jeopardy the security of citizens," said Tremblay.

He says security will be a priority ensure protesters are safe, that Montrealers can get around and take advantage of the festivals, and that business owners also don't lose out.

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