Quebec students and province to resume talks

Quebec's university student federation has confirmed negotiations between student leaders and the provincial government will resume Monday afternoon.

Negotiations broke off more than a month ago

Student leaders shake hands with Education Minister Michelle Courchesne Friday during an appearance on Radio-Canada. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec's university student federation has confirmed negotiations between student leaders and the provincial government will resume Monday afternoon.

Talks between the student groups and the government broke off more than a month ago, sparking the nightly protests that have flooded Montreal streets for 33 days

There have been indications the government is ready to compromise on the tuition hike, Martine Desjardins, the president of the FEUQ, told CBC News on Sunday.

"I think the government is having a lot of pressure right now with all those demonstrations on a day-to-day basis," she said, "not only in Montreal anymore but in a lot of cities across the province. I think the government wants to make this stop. They tried with Bill 78, but unfortunately it’s not working."

Desjardins said all three of Quebec’s major student groups will be at the table.

Concerns for $600M tourism industry

Confirmation of the new round of negotations came on the same day as Quebec’s famed festival season officially kicked off. While organizers are trying to remain optimistic, some say they have significant concerns about the potential effect of the student protests on tourist visits. 

"I’m concerned about the whole tourism industry because it’s one of the major industries in Quebec," said Gilbert Rozon, founder of the Just for Laughs comedy festival. "It's $11 billion every year and 400,000 employees, so it's a lot, a lot of business and … we're losing a lot of reservations — people are cancelling."

A group representing key cultural and sports events in Quebec officially launched the festival season at an event in Montreal Sunday. The season’s 24-event summer schedule kicks off with the Montreal Bike Festival, which runs until June 3.

According to Quebec’s Major International Events Network (REMI) , the festivals and other major events such as the Montreal Grand Prix and the Rogers Cup bring in an estimated $600 million in tourist spending each season.

REMI spokesman André Boisclair said the industry is "obviously preoccupied" with what has been happening with the student movement, but he’s hopeful the demonstrations and festivals can co-exist peacefully.

"I think Montrealers in particular have been able to establish a long tradition of peaceful rejoicing at the occasion of these festivals," he said. "We also feel these events are non-political events and not only do they bring jobs to students … they give a great voice to actors, to singers who talk to their crowd.

"I think it’s a great way for Montrealers to continue a conversation that’s started, and I feel that the students and the organizers of the protests do understand that."

There have been some rumblings on social media about possible student action at some of the events. However, Quebec’s federation of university students said festival organizers won’t have to worry about major disruptions from their group.

No festival disruptions planned

"This is not in our plan," Desjardins said. "We are targeting more the [byelections] that will be in ridings June 11.… So, we’re not targeting festivals, of course not, because we want to have the support of the population."

The province’s other two main student groups representing college students and student associations haven’t commented on their plans for the summer. However, even if a resolution is reached between the students and the government, Rozon said, it will take some time for Montreal to rebuild its image because of the media attention the protests are receiving outside Quebec. 

"It will probably be a couple of years for sure because at this point," he said. "What we are seeing on the news is like a civil war and people are scared to death."