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New Quebec government scraps tuition hikes

Student leader cheers PQ decree; university funding to be debated
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois presides Thursday in Quebec City over her first cabinet meeting.

The tuition increase that triggered so much social strife in Quebec was cancelled Thursday during an action-packed first full day in office for the Parti Québécois government.

The new government repealed the fee hike, by decree, in its first cabinet meeting less than 24 hours after coming to power.

Student leaders cheered the news.

"Together we've written a chapter in the history of Quebec," said Martine Desjardins, head of the more moderate university student association.

"It's a triumph of justice and equity."

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

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' inflationindex policy is not set in stone. Some students are pushing for zero tuition, as exists in some other countries. "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.

Unlike other provinces, university fees have been frozen in Quebec for most of the last 40 years.

Marois also announced Thursday that she will:

- Shut down the aging Gentilly-2 nuclear reactor in Becancour and create a $200-million fund to diversify the region's economy.

- Cancel a $200-a-year health tax and replace the money lost thereby with income-tax increases for top-income earners.

- Introduce tougher language legislation within 100 days.

- Balance the provincial budget by 2013-14.