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Quebec gov't, student groups jostle over tuition

DRUMMONDVILLE, Que. - Quebec student groups didn't get along well with the province's Liberal government — and now things don't seem too rosy with the ruling Parti Quebecois.

The two sides appear to be at odds over tuition rates in the lead-up to a summit on post-secondary education.

PQ Premier Pauline Marois says she wants to reduce the student debt load, but won't rule out a tuition increase tied to inflation.

But many student groups are pushing for a freeze on tuition rates.

Huge protests erupted last spring over the former Liberal government's planned increases, with thousands of students taking to the streets.

Marois scrapped the increases after the PQ took power in September.

At a PQ delegate meeting in Drummondville, Que. on the weekend, Marois faced some pressure from the youth wing to further reduce tuition rates.

The party's youth wing suggested in a motion that tuition frees should be frozen and eventually eliminated.

PQ leaders shied away from that proposal, however, and the party passed a more general motion on Sunday, saying it was committed to a tuition freeze or anything else that would cut student debt.

Marois said that may include an increase tied to inflation.

That didn't sit well with student leaders.

Martine Desjardins, the head of a university student association, said Marois was playing with words. Desjardins said her group will fight against a tuition increase of any kind at the summit, though she said there were no plans for another student strike yet.

"There are plenty of other ways to ensure success," she said.

Meanwhile, Marois stressed to reporters that her party's ultimate goal remains Quebec independence, particularly since the province's needs aren't being met by the federal government.

"Our goal is to do to the promotion of sovereignty," she said Sunday.

"We do not have any real responses to our needs with the federal government, if you talk about language or investment in the economy."

Quebec's labour minister, Agnes Maltais, is scheduled to meet on Monday with federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley to discuss Ottawa's reforms to Employment Insurance.

Maltais said the changes will be very damaging to Quebec, which makes up about 40 per cent of the country's seasonal workers.

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