FEUQ spokespersons Martine Desjardins, Leo Bureau-Blouin and CLASSE spokersperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (from left) speak to reporters on May 29, 2012 in Quebec City
Credits: RENE BAILLARGEON/QMI AGENCY
Finance Minister Raymond Bachand confirmed Wednesday that the government is currently examining "all sorts of ideas" to solve the three-month walkout that threatens the summer tourist season.
Education Minister Michelle Courchesne began a lengthy bargaining session on Monday in the provincial capital with four main student leaders, and the government discussed the tuition hike for the first time since the strike began.
Quebec is prepared to scale back the hike so long as a student tax credit is also reduced, Bachand said. He added that any compromise with students must be at zero extra cost to taxpayers.
"We are looking for a solution that provides funding to universities for the same cost to Quebec taxpayers ... that respects the government's fiscal framework," Bachand said.
"And if within that, we can ease the costs to students ... it's a win-win solution."
Student leaders greeted the movement on the tuition issue with optimism.
"The proposals are interesting," Martine Desjardins, head of the moderate FEUQ, told reporters following 10 hours of talks on Tuesday.
The hardline CLASSE association had said it would walk away from the table if the minister refused to budge on the seven-year, $1,800 tuition increase that prompted 30% of students to boycott classes.
"If we're still at the negotiating table, that's because for us, it's worth it," CLASSE president Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said.
Window-smashing protests, crippling blockades and more than 2,500 arrests have plunged Quebec into a crisis that has made international headlines.
Daily protests in Montreal and other cities have frequently turned violent, leading to arrests and injuries.
Line Beauchamp abruptly stepped down as education minister and quit politics earlier this month, citing the intransigence of student leaders.
Premier Jean Charest quickly introduced a special law to try to discourage civil unrest, but instead it galvanized opponents of all stripes.
Business leaders say the violent rallies have kept visitors away in droves, and the US consulate has even issued a travel advisory.
Charest's junior transport minister, Norman MacMillan, said Tuesday that an election might be the only option for the Liberals if talks with students break down this week.
Both main opposition parties have declared Charest's handling of the crisis a failure and are demanding he go to the polls.