MONTREAL — Thousands of students and their supporters huddled under umbrellas and banged on pots as they marched in the streets of Montreal in the rain Saturday, two days after talks collapsed between student groups and the Quebec government aimed at ending weeks of protests over proposed tuition hikes.
The failed talks came at a crucial time for the Quebec government, with Montreal's peak tourism season fast approaching with international events such as the Grand Prix F-1 race and international jazz and comedy festivals that bring millions of dollars in tourism revenue.
Student groups called for a tuition freeze, but the government ruled out that possibility. Students also object to an emergency law put in place to limit protests.
Quebec's average undergraduate tuition — $2,519 a year — is the lowest in Canada, and the proposed hike — $254 per year over seven years — is tiny by U.S. standards. But many Quebecois are more likely to compare themselves to European countries where higher education is mostly free, rather than the U.S.
"The attitude is to send a message to (Quebec Premier Jean) Charest that, at this moment, it is not only a student struggle but a popular struggle," said student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who had called for more protests after talks collapsed Thursday.
"We see a lot of people going in the streets every night in Montreal and now all over Quebec."
More than 2,500 people have been arrested since a student strike at more than a dozen Quebec colleges and universities began in February. Most have occurred during marches in Montreal and Quebec City.