02/13/2013 10:42 EST | Updated 04/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Tuition Hikes Dominate Debate At National Assembly

One year after the start of Quebec's Maple Spring, university funding is still hotly contested by the province's political and student leaders.

Education financing was a hot button issue at Quebec's National Assembly on Tuesday, the first day of spring session.

This week marks the anniversary of the student demonstrations that spanned several months and helped put an end to the nine-year reign of the Quebec Liberal Party.

At the time, the Parti Québécois responded to the student demonstrations by promising to stop the Charest government's planned tuition hikes.

But now the PQ is being accused of falling back on their promise by proposing tuition fee indexing rather than a total freeze.

Referring to the pot-banging protests that became a nightly occurrance during the student strikes, interim Liberal Leader, Jean-Marc Fournier accused Premier Pauline Marois of making "a pact with the casseroles" in order to win the election.

Now, Fournier says the government is turning its back on those students by cutting university's research budgets.

"It's as if Madame Marois is inventing a new line just to try to hide the fact she had a deal with a part of the student groups," he said.

Coalition Avenir Québec leader, François Legault, agrees the PQ has mishandled the issue.

"It's a total mess," he said, adding that the government should be increasing university financing.

Student leaders frustrated

"The PQ surfed on a wave of the Maple Spring and was elected on very progressive promises including cancelling the tuition hike," said Jeremie Bedard-Wien, the spokesperson for student group ASSÉ.

Bedard-Wien said the Education Summit, set to begin in just over a week, will not take the time for open debate and reflection.

"This is very dissapointing to us," he said.

But Jean-François Lisée, the minister responsible for Montreal, said the PQ is following through with its campaign promises.

"In the campaign we said two things: we're going to abolish this abominable hike in tuition fees from 75 to 82 per cent; and we said we would have a summit, and that our preferred option is indexation," he said.

"We're delivering exactly what we said."

While Lisée said tuition indexation is the PQ's preferred option, he said the topic is still open for discussion.

"People are entering the debate and that is a good thing," he said.

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