MONTREAL _ Quebecers are waking up to a mess this morning far beyond the smashed windows and shards of glass being swept off the streets of their largest city.
The intensity of student unrest in the province was illustrated by riotous scenes that unfolded Wednesday night in Montreal.
Banks and other businesses, cars, even a police station had their windows shattered by an angry mob that spilled out from a larger crowd of thousands of student protesters.
Police said early today that 85 people were arrested, including at three minors, and that three police officers suffered unspecified injuries.
Their furious reaction came after talks broke off between the provincial government and student groups seeking an end to an 11-week battle over tuition hikes.
After the talks were suspended Wednesday, the leader of the most militant student group, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, warned: ``All this does is pour oil on the fire.''
The trouble then erupted over several hours as students swarmed the streets and frequently battled with police.
The events that subsequently transpired will have Quebecers asking: What now?
An absence of easy answers was repeatedly underscored by Wednesday's developments.
Some pundits suggested that, in the interest of social peace, the Charest government should back down from its planned $375-a-year, five-year tuition hikes.
The government has repeatedly said it will do no such thing. Even if it did backtrack, there's no guarantee things would settle down.
Some students are now casting this as a deeper struggle _ with the phrase, ``Quebec Spring,'' emanating from the lips of several protesters who Wednesday issued a medley of demands: the resignation of Premier Jean Charest, a general election, the complete elimination of tuition, or even broader social change.
The very idea of a negotiated settlement remains moot, for now.
It took weeks just to get the government and students to sit at a negotiating table. As of Wednesday afternoon, after less than three days of discussion, they weren't talking anymore.
Never mind the policy differences. The sides can't even agree on why their talks broke down.
To hear the government tell it, the blame belongs with the most militant student group _ nicknamed the C.L.A.S.S.E. _ for either implicitly condoning or failing to control vandalism.
The Charest government booted that group out of the talks Wednesday after an unruly Montreal protest the previous night, and after several smoke bombs were launched in the city's metro system.
The government said those incidents violated the so-called ``truce'' it had established as a condition for negotiation.
``You can't play both sides,'' Education Minister Line Beauchamp said.
``I regret that this C.L.A.S.S.E. has chosen its camp.''
She noted that protest sites were previously advertised on the group's website _ and she called that a breach of faith.
The group replied that its website isn't centrally controlled. Nadeau-Dubois suggested the information had been typed in by associate-members who have access to the site.
No matter. They were expelled from the talks. And within minutes of their expulsion, negotiations were over.
The two other main student groups immediately stormed out in solidarity. They took a parting shot at the minister, comparing Beauchamp to a scolding school-master.
The students said she was more interested in lecturing them and in political grand-standing than she was in real negotiation.
Within moments, there were protesters spilling into the streets of Montreal and Quebec City.
By day's end, thousands more were marching in Montreal, denouncing the Charest government and demanding general elections.
A few people in the crowd wore masks. Some fired paintballs at police and media. Cars were vandalized. Windows were smashed at several banks and other businesses.
At one point, some protesters reportedly stepped in to stop others who had tried attacking a Chapters bookstore.
Police responded by pepper-spraying protesters and the journalists in their path; some demonstrators decried the one-size-fits-all police response as excessive.
Law-enforcement, for its part, was rattled on its own turf.
A downtown police station was attacked by protesters. A Twitter post from police read, ``The windows of (station) 21 ... were completely shattered.''
Protest groups say a negotiated settlement was never in the cards, and they accuse the government of sabotaging the talks.
They say the government only cares about diverting public attention - away from the planned tuition increase, and onto the issue of social unrest.
Recent surveys suggest the dispute hasn't hurt the Charest government politically.
On the contrary.
Some pundits - even those who accuse the Charest government of incompetence, or cynicism - suggest it might even help.
Polls indicate Quebecers generally support the fee hikes. And one survey this week showed the poll-leading Parti Quebecois, which has staunchly endorsed the students, losing support and seeing its lead evaporate in recent weeks.
In a sign of how he might view the issue as a potential political winner, Charest has taken to repeatedly pointing out that his political opponents are wearing, on their lapels, those iconic red squares that have come to symbolize the student movement.
A provincial election must be called between this spring and late 2013.
But with a corruption inquiry set to begin in a few months, speculation is rife that Charest might be tempted to beat an earlier path to the polls and call an election this spring.
Which could, against all earlier expectations, transform social unrest into a Quebec election issue.