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Quebec education minister resigns amid tuition crisis

Veteran Liberal minister and Quebec Deputy Premier Line Beauchamp today announced a surprise end to her political career.

The move comes as negotiations with the province's 175,000 striking students appear to have reached an impasse.

Quebec seeks to impose a $1,625 tuition hike over the next seven years. The increase would still leave Quebec students paying less than the Canadian average.

Beauchamp says she is making "the ultimate compromise" in an effort to end the crisis, adding that she has lost faith in student leaders. The minister met with representatives of four student associations as recently as this morning.

Last week the associations rejected the province's offer aimed at resolving the three-month conflict.

Daily demonstrations have sometimes turned ugly. Organizers claim one protest last week in Victoriaville resulted in 400 injuries, after provincial police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. Two young men suffered major head trauma -- one of them losing the use of an eye.

"I am not giving up in the face of vandalism and civil disobedience," said Beauchamp. "I am resigning because I no longer believe I'm part of the solution." She will give up her Montreal-area seat.

Premier Jean Charest last lost his second-in-command in September 2011, when Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau also unexpectedly resigned.

The move leaves Premier Jean Charest with a razor-thin majority in the legislature -- where the Liberals now hold only 63 out of 125 seats. An election could be called anytime from this spring to late 2013.

Charest says Beauchamp made the decision to resign of her own accord. Her replacement as education minister will be Michelle Courchesne, who previously held the post from 2007 to 2010.

Two weeks ago Beauchamp was the subject of an embarrassing revelation. Montreal newspaper La Presse reported on a Liberal Party fundraiser held in 2009, when Beauchamp was environment minister. Among the small number of guests was notorious Mafia boss Domenico Arcuri. At the time, Arcuri was seeking an upgraded permit for his soil decontamination company. The permit was later granted.

Beauchamp has maintained that she does not know Arcuri and even today would be unable to recognize him.

*Story updated May 14 at 2:15 p.m.

Kai Nagata is The Tyee's writer in residence. With files from the Canadian Press.

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