Allison Hanes: Legault is setting up McGill and Concordia to fail

While pretending to offer a compromise, Legault is signing off on a tuition hike that will still decimate enrolment, while holding a new knife to the throats of English universities through unrealistic language requirements.

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Premier François Legault must be so delighted at his own cleverness.

He has managed to concoct a Machiavellian trap to strangle Quebec’s English universities.

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First, he proposed a catastrophic doubling of tuition for out-of-province students that would have bled McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s of students, money and talent. Then, he left them twisting in the wind for weeks, while their rectors proposed measures they hoped would appease the government and meet its murky, contradictory objectives. Now, he is hanging the universities with their own rope, raising the bar on the commitments they made in hopes of reaching a reasonable resolution, while increasing fees to a lesser though still damaging extent anyway.

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Instead of hiking tuition for students from elsewhere in Canada to $17,000 from $9,000, the government announced Thursday it will boost the rate to $12,000 — 33 per cent higher than the national average. And rather than accepting the “historic” offer made by McGill, Bishop’s and Concordia to ensure 40 per cent of their graduates attain a Level 6 intermediate knowledge of French, the government is unilaterally imposing the requirement that 80 per cent of their students reach Level 5 on the 12-point scale by the time they finish their degrees — otherwise, there will be financial penalties.

There is an exception for Bishop’s on the tuition hike and the potential sanctions, but not on the language stipulation. Divide and conquer.

McGill and Concordia say the 80-per-cent benchmark is “completely unrealistic.” The Conseil du patronat, Quebec’s largest employers’ group, has said even $12,000 tuition is too high for the English universities to remain competitive.

So while pretending to offer a compromise, Legault is signing off on a tuition hike that will inflict similar harm, while holding a new knife to the throat of McGill and Concordia, threatening a further hemorrhaging of students and money.

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The universities are being set up to fail, so Legault can shame, punish and further hasten their decline. Brilliant!

Legault has exploited the English universities’ good intentions with his own bad faith. Despite claims that this is about reversing the erosion of French and retaining more “non-Québécois” students who attend English universities — the telling word Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry repeatedly used to describe the targets of the new policy — this is designed to drive them away.

Say you’re a student from British Columbia. You can either pay about $7,000 a year to study liberal arts at the University of Toronto or $12,000 a year to attend McGill University, while also having to master an intermediate level of French mandated by the Quebec government, which could amount to an extra semester of courses.

Which would you choose? Right…

That’s math an accountant like Legault should understand.

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There might be some eager beavers out there with the means to pay an extra $12,000 or more over the course of their degrees in order to master French ($3,000 more per year over four years, when compared to the $9,000 Quebec currently charges out-of-province students annually, based on the Canadian average).

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But even among the French immersion alumni in the rest of Canada, many will surely say non merci — especially since no one knows who will be evaluating the language competency (God help us all if the Office québécois de la langue française is involved). And no one has clarified whether the French courses will count toward their grade point average if students want to pursue higher degrees. That’s a lot of uncertainty for a young person to stake their future on. And the welcome mat isn’t exactly being rolled out.

Out-of-province students have already been scapegoated for anglicizing Montreal and freeloading off Quebec education subsidies. When young people from the rest of Canada don’t come, you can bet they’ll be demonized by nationalists for not wanting to learn French, being anti-Québécois and abandoning McGill and Concordia. It’s a new wedge to drive between Quebecers and fellow Canadians.

This time, Déry didn’t even hold a press conference to try to explain if or how this is supposed to funnel extra money to French universities. She sent a letter. With applications at McGill and Concordia already plummeting for next year, there won’t be more than crumbs to redistribute. But there were never any data or research to validate this fallacious pretext to begin with. The exception for Bishop’s more or less proves it.

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This is just a wrecking ball aimed at world-class institutions because they happen to be English, and an antagonism toward the anglophone community.

True, English-speaking Quebecers aren’t subject to these new fees. Anglophones will continue to pay the $2,900 Quebec tuition rate. But what will be left of McGill and Concordia after Legault presides over their ruination?

And that’s the saddest thing: Legault isn’t just hurting the English community, he’s hurting all Quebecers.

McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s are Quebec universities that contribute to Quebec society. They educate Quebec’s best and brightest — francophone and anglophone alike — alongside the best and brightest from Canada and the world.

Legault’s own Finance Minister Eric Girard is a McGill grad. (Ironically, he’s also the minister responsible for relations with the English-speaking community. Lotta good he did.) Legault’s arch rival, Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, has a bachelor of law from McGill.

It’s hypocrisy at a new low.

Legault’s disdain for English is so great that he’s clearly willing to sabotage Quebec universities, Quebecers’ opportunities, Quebec’s relationship with the rest of Canada, Quebec’s economic prospects and Quebec’s reputation on the world stage.

If closed doors, parochial isolation and decimated institutions are his intent, Legault can be very proud.

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