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Quebec's '50 cents a day' tuition hike claim not working on students

Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp responds to questions over tuition hikes and the ongoing conflicts with students, Monday, April 30, 2012 at the legislature press gallery in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It has become Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp's standard line, repeated over and over again in her bid to convince post-secondary students to end their protest and return to class.

"Fifty cents a day."

It's how much the Charest government says tuition-fee hikes will cost students for the next seven years.

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"I can't see students wanting to refuse to go back to class for 50 cents a day," Ms. Beauchamp said over and over again in interviews on Monday. It's the message the Charest government is using in the battle for Quebeckers' support on the issue.

But the line isn't changing the minds of striking students. There is no end in sight to the protests, with the provincial Liberals even forced to change the venue for their upcoming party meeting next weekend. Instead of Montreal, where massive student demonstrations have been taking place, the Liberals will now meet in Victoriaville.

Students responded by saying they will flock to Victoriaville to voice their opposition to the tuition-fee hikes.

And it appears that the vast majority of striking students weren't buying the government's 50-cents-a-day argument, saying that the cost over time would be higher.

The Coalition large de l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante or CLASSE voted unanimously on Saturday against the proposal, with the federations representing university and college students expected to follow suit this week.

On Friday, the government announced it would spread the $1,625 tuition fee hike over seven years rather than five. However, because the increase will be indexed to inflation the last two years of the planned fee hike, the cost to students will be more like $1,779.

Ms. Beauchamp said that instead of $325 a year, students would only be paying $254. And the fee hike, the minister said, would drop even further to $177 a year when taking into account the tax credit on tuition fees. Once all the factors were taken into account, she insisted that the increase amounted to about 50 cents a day.

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But the students responded that the complex tax credit formula does not necessarily apply immediately to all students. In fact, according to their calculations, the 50 cents a day applies only to the first year of the increase and rises gradually over time.

But those technicalities may not move the public, whom the government has been courting for support. So far, Quebeckers have remained skeptical. Public opinion polls from before the Friday announcement found that most people support the tuition fee hike but disapprove of the way the government has handled it.

On Tuesday, the university and college students federations will make a counter-proposal that will include bringing in a mediator to help break the impasse – and resolve what will soon be a three-month-old conflict, the longest student strike ever in Quebec.

But unless the students agree to the principle of a tuition-fee hike, there will be no talks, Ms. Beauchamp said.

"The debate always comes back to this demand for a freeze on tuition fees. I want to be very clear here. I will always refuse to ask all Quebec taxpayers to foot the bill," she said.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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