One of the student leaders in Quebec’s tuition fee row has suggested students are “ready for compromise” with the government over increases in university education.
Leo Bureau-Blouin, president of Quebec’s college student federation, made the comments in an interview with Canada‘s national public broadcaster on Saturday.
But in an interview with the Guardian, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesman of Classe, one of the other two student groups involved in the debate, said it was “not true” that students would begin to compromise before an offer had been made by the government.
The disagreement reflects some of the intricate politics involved in the tuition fee debate in Quebec, with the government negotiating with three different student organisations, including Bureau-Blouin’s official student organisation FECQ and Nadeau-Dubois’s larger Classe.
Bureau-Blouin, whose term as president of FECQ ends on 1 June, made his comments in an interview with CBC radio’s ‘This House’ programme, which aired on Saturday.
“We are ready for a compromise — and if the Quebec government is ready for it too, I think we can come to something,” he said.
“If the Quebec government agreed to move on the amount of the tuition fee hike, I think it would be a great step in the right direction.”
The FECQ, which represents 80,000 people enrolled in CEGEP, or Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel, is one of three organisations involved in negotiations. Its counterpart, Quebec’s university student federation, represents some 125,000 students, with Classe, which has the long term aim of free university education in Quebec, having a further 100,000.
Nadeau-Dubois is the public face of Classe, appearing across European and North American media outlets. He said any agreement on a potential compromise would be made by the “direct democracies” present within general assemblies held by students within universities and faculties, not the representative groups.
“For our part, we always want to be clear that if a compromise has to be made it will be made by the general assemblies who will decide themselves on an offer from the government,” he told the Guardian.
“But it’s not true that we are going to begin to compromise even before having an offer from the government.
“If a compromise has to be made it will maybe be made, but by the students, and we are all waiting for a clear offer to consult our members on.”
The insight into potential disagreements at the top of the tuition fees debate came as Amnesty International declared Quebec’s controversial Bill 78 to be “in breach of Canada’s international obligations” on Saturday.
The emergency legislation, which places restrictions on public assemblies, was introduced by the Quebec provincial government on 18 May in a bid to quell protests against a proposed C$1,625 (£1,000) increase in yearly university fees which have seen hundreds of thousands demonstrate. Rather than quash the demonstrations, however, the bill appears to have galvanised support for protesters, with thousands more Québécois taking to the streets to display their displeasure with the bill.
“Bill 78 is an affront to basic freedoms that goes far beyond what is permissible under provincial, national or international human rights laws,” said Javier Zúñiga, special adviser at Amnesty International, in a statement.
“It is unreasonable and unacceptable to require citizens to apply to the authorities in advance any time they wish to exercise a basic human right. Quebec’s national assembly should rescind this restrictive law immediately.”