Tens of thousands of students took to the streets of downtown Montreal to protest against a planned increase in university tuition.
Starting at Place du Canada, the site of a pro-federalist rally days before a 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, protesters began marching north on Peel Street at about 1:40 p.m. before turning east on Sherbrooke Street. The march is scheduled to conclude in the city’s Old Port district. A police helicopter is hovering overhead, and local television reports no incidents. Organizers want to draw more than 100,000 participants, La Presse newspaper reported.
University and high school students across Canada’s second most-populous province went on strike last month over the planned increase, staging protests that included the blocking of Montreal’s Champlain Bridge. Premier Jean Charest reiterated today that the government’s decision on tuition is final. Finance Minister Raymond Bachand’s budget, introduced March 20, contained no measures to help offset the increase.
Quebec unveiled plans last year to boost tuition fees by C$1,625 ($1,625) over five years as part of a plan to plug a budget gap. Quebec has among the lowest tuition fees in Canada.
Bachand reaffirmed his goal to balance the budget by 2013-14, with the deficit shrinking to C$1.5 billion in the year that starts April 1. Pauline Marois, who leads the separatist Parti Quebecois, said she would cancel the tuition increase if elected.
Charest’s Liberal Party trails the Parti Quebecois in voting intentions. One-third of respondents in a Leger Marketing poll published March 12 would have voted for the Parti Quebecois had an election been held this month, compared with 28 percent for the Liberals.
Charest has until December 2013 to call an election.