11/08/2012 08:15 EST | Updated 01/08/2013 05:12 EST

Quebec students, business owners disagree on tuition financing

The Quebec government is trying to build a consensus with a series of public consultations before the education summit it promised during its election campaign, but parties are divided when it comes to financing post-secondary education.

Small business owners in the province say they're paying too much in taxes while students get off easy because of the government's decision to cancel this year's tuition hike.

"The businesses in Quebec have double the taxation than in Canada. It's more to be able to find a way that everyone can contribute," said François Vincent, senior policy advisor for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The organization represents 24,000 small business owners across the province.

The association representing Quebec's university rectors, CREPUQ, said the tuition freeze represents a $42 million shortfall for universities this year.

CREPUQ believes this number only represents a fraction of the hundreds of millions in shortfalls universities are facing in the province.

Meanwhile, students are prepared to mobilize and hit the streets to demand free post-secondary education.

"When the tuition was frozen back in the 70s, it was just a momentary step in the process going to free education. Because of some constraints, this has been stopped," said Ludvic Moquin-Beaudry, spokesman for the student union ASSE.

The government urges people to share their thoughts by attending a public consultation session or by taking part in the web forum.

Opposition parties doubt effectiveness

Quebec Post-Secondary Education Minister, Pierre Duchesne, said the education summit planned for February will serve as a starting point for new initiatives. The consultations leading up to it will tackle the issues of quality, accessibility, administration and financing.

Both the province's Federation of University Students and the federation of college students, FECQ, welcomed the government's plans to hold a summit.

"All of the elements are there to have an open, constructive and fruitful debate," wrote FECQ president Élianne Laberge on Twitter.

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault said he does not believe Premier Pauline Marois and Duchesne have an understanding of the state of university financing.

"I can't believe we have a premier and a post-secondary education minister who doubt the underfunding of universities. It baffles me," said Legault.