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CAQ leader Legault suggests ‘compromise’ on tuition

Francois Legault, poses in his Montreal home on July 11, 2011.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The latest proposal to end Quebec's student conflict comes from a new political party hoping to vie for power in an election campaign expected to start this week.

Coalition Avenir Québec, led by Francois Legault, says it would reduce planned tuition hikes by about one-quarter and set them at $200 per year over five years. It would delay implementing them for another semester, and bring them in next January.

Mr. Legault is also urging the government to drop provisions of its controversial protest law which would set severe fines for anyone blocking a school.

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He is casting his proposals as a reasonable middle ground between the more hardline stance of the Charest Liberals and the Parti Québécois, which is more tolerant of the striking students' cause.

"We're offering a compromise," said Mr. Legault, making his announcement surrounded by education professionals planning to run for his party.

"The objective is to put behind us this crisis — which is perhaps among the worst crises Quebec has undergone in recent years."

The issue could flare up again in the coming weeks, as an election campaign gets under way while striking students are supposed to go back to class in mid-August.

Polls suggest a three-way election race is possible, although Mr. Legault's party has lagged in popularity in recent months.

Mr. Legault's party actually voted alongside the government when it introduced its controversial Bill 78 this spring.

The legislation, which has yet to be seriously applied, sets out penalties that reach tens of thousands of dollars for people who block schools.

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But while the government's tuition increases appear to have relatively strong public support, its protest legislation may have been less popular.

The instant it was adopted, street protests got bigger and the crowds began to include families and participants ranging from toddlers to elderly people.

Mr. Legault said the emergency law "poured oil on the fire."

The protests have quieted down, for now, although they may ramp up again as the debate reaches its critical juncture over the next few weeks.

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