Talks between students and the Quebec government aimed at ending months of protests over a proposed tuition hike collapsed on Thursday with nightly street demonstrations in Montreal and other cities across the largely French-speaking province showing no sign of ending.
Four days of negotiations had failed to reach an agreement, provincial premier Jean Charest said on Thursday after students presented what they called their “bottom line” position to the Quebec government.
“Obviously we’re disappointed. I would have preferred to have come to an agreement, but unfortunately ... there is still a divide between the positions of the government and the representatives of the student associations,” Charest said.
Earlier, student leaders accused the government of breaking off talks for partisan ideological reasons.
The president of the federation of Quebec college students, Leo Bureau-Blouin, said they had presented government negotiators with proposals “that would not have cost the government or taxpayers a thing.”
“But for political reasons, the government could not accept our demands,” he added.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, head of the more radical student group Classe, vowed to step up protests which include targeting the upcoming Montreal Grand Prix on June 8-10, as the premier urged calm.
Later on Thursday, thousands of people returned to the streets of Quebec’s capital city, Montreal, in the latest nightly protest against planned tuition increases.
Charest said a general election due within 18 months would give voters the opportunity to have their say on education and other matters.
Since February, hundreds of protesters have been arrested and clashes have erupted sporadically as more than 165,000 students have refused to attend class and tens of thousands have taken part in the demonstrations.
This week’s talks were touted as a “last chance” to resolve the conflict before the start of summer.