PQ scraps tuition hike at centre of protests

QUEBEC — It’s over — the tuition increase that triggered such social strife in Quebec has been cancelled.

QUEBEC — It’s over — the tuition increase that triggered such social strife in Quebec has been cancelled.

The Parti Quebecois government repealed the fee hike, by decree, in its first cabinet meeting Thursday on its first full day in office.

Premier Pauline Marois acted on a promise that she had made during the election campaign. She announced the decision at a news conference.

Marois said tuition will go back to $2,168 — the lowest in Canada. With the planned increases, it would have been $600 higher this year and would have kept growing each year.

Marois said she will not decrease funding for universities and will make good on a promise to hold a summit on how to fund universities within her first 100 days as premier.

The government policy entering that meeting will be to suggest indexing future fee increases to the rate of inflation. That would raise tuition by a rate of around one to three per cent most years — compared with the 84 per cent increase over seven years planned by the previous Charest government.

But Marois’ inflation-index policy is not set in stone.

“That’s a proposal I’m putting on the table,” Marois said. “It’s a debate we need to have.”

Marois said she will also cancel the Charest Liberals’ controversial protest legislation. Huge protests erupted across the province this spring in reaction to the fee hikes, originally planned at $325 per year over five years and later changed slightly to $254 over seven years.

The events — dubbed by some the “Maple Spring” — drew international news coverage.

The increases were part of the Liberals’ 2011-12 budget and were cast as a way to put public finances on a more sustainable footing, while guaranteeing better-funded universities.

University fees have remained frozen in Quebec for most of the last 40 years.

However, opponents of the fee hikes warned that they could reduce access to higher education, and do serious social harm, while contributing relatively little to government coffers.