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Canada - The Quebec government intends to present a bill to end the province's 14-week tuition strike, Premier Jean Charest announced Wednesday night - a proposal that was quickly and decisively rejected by student leaders.

The bill calls for suspending the current academic session at 14 CEGEP schools and 11 out of 18 universities where students remain out of classes, unless an agreement can be reached.

The winter session would resume in August and September.

The bill would also guarantee that students who want to return to classes can.

The specifics of the bill were not spelled out, respecting legislative protocol, which requires the government to first present bills in the assembly.

Charest also said his April 27 proposal - to add $39 million in bursaries and to change student-aid rules so low-income students would not feel the impact of the $1,778 tuition increase over seven years - would come into force.

The premier appealed to student and union leaders for calm, expressing the hope his new approach would lead to campus peace.

"Nothing can justify violence and intimidation," Charest said. "You and I know there are some individuals who have used this debate to use violence and intimidation, and that's just a fact.

"As Quebecers, we expect those people to be arrested and brought before the courts and held accountable for what they do," the premier added.

"Blocking a road, blocking a bridge is not acceptable, and those who are inclined to act that way will be held accountable as they were yesterday, as happened with the (subway) last Thursday."

Louis Masson, Batonnier of the Quebec Bar, which represents 30,000 lawyers, appealed to Charest Wednesday not to resort to a special law, calling instead for negotiations and mediation by a panel of three impartial experts to settle the dispute.

Charest, himself a lawyer, said he was not aware of the Bar's position. Closing the door to mediation, he said: "The government has made its decision today."

Pressed on when the bill would be presented, Charest would only say, "Soon. We will not delay," leaving open the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

But he also stressed the second aspect to the bill, ensuring access to classes.

"In the law, there will be a very clear affirmation that in Quebec we have the right to an education and we have a right of access to educational institutions," he said.

"I expect all those who are in a position of leadership to assume that responsibility, whether they are political leaders, the opposition, a single MNA, or whether they are a union leader, to join us in one voice in saying to Quebecers that there is no reason to use either violence or intimidation."

Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said the May 5 agreement that called for a council to identify waste in university spending "no longer exists."

Students rejected that proposal, but student associations proposed to Courchesne that with changes it could be acceptable, settling the dispute.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, of the Coalition large de l'association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante (CLASSE), had strong words after Charest's announcement.

"The Liberal government prefers . . . ridiculing young people rather than listening to them," he said. "The government is spitting in the face of an entire generation, a generation that will remember this for a very long time."

Charest said only 30 per cent of students are boycotting classes, suggesting the other 70 per cent of Quebec students accept the tuition increase.

Jeanne Reynolds, CLASSE's co-spokeswoman, said in fact 367,000 students, both striking and non-striking, voted to reject the government's May 5 offer, calling the Liberal government "losers incapable of listening to young people."

Martine Desjardins, president of the Federation etudiante universitaire du Quebec, said students were open to a compromise, noting the two federations submitted a proposal after their Tuesday meeting with Courchesne.

Desjardins told reporters she phoned the minister just before her news conference with Charest and that Courchesne told Desjardins she hadn't even looked at the proposal.

"Last night (Tuesday) was only public relations," Desjardins said of a meeting with Courchesne that set the stage for the cabinet meeting where the special law was framed. "We have been duped."

Desjardins said the government never intended to negotiate with the students.

Desjardins and Leo Bureau-Blouin, of the Federation etudiante collegiale du Quebec, criticized Charest for delaying negotiations until the dispute was in its 10th week, saying the students registered their objection that higher fees would mean higher student debt two years before the strike began.

Bureau-Blouin said Charest "never wanted to resolve the crisis" and used the students "to score political points."

"The government deliberately waited until the movement became violent, for tensions to appear," before agreeing to negotiations, lasting two days, he said.

Desjardins added that by ignoring the students, Charest encouraged violent elements, but said the strike and protests would continue, appealing to students to keep their protests peaceful.

Earlier, Bureau-Blouin noted that Charest had never spoken to the students about their position, saying the government could raise additional money for post-secondary education by seriously examining wasted spending by Quebec's universities on satellite campuses, generous compensation for administrators and competing marketing strategies to attract students.

Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, told reporters that Charest suspending the academic session until August means the crisis will resume then, calling for an election.

Marie Malavoy, Parti Quebecois higher-education critic, said the special law will not solve the problem.

"How come the premier is going to write a bill instead of discussing with the students?" Malavoy said. "We don't really have a premier tonight."

Source: Postmedia News