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Federal Minister Says Quebec Made the Wrong Move On Tuition Hike, But its Jurisdiction is Clear

Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says Quebec’s recent announcement that it will double tuition fees for most out-of-province students is a “bad decision” that will end up hurting the province.

“I think in the long term this damages Quebec’s ability, economically and socially, to have interesting, productive long-term relationships with their partners in the federation,” LeBlanc said in an interview on CBC Radio’s The House airing Saturday.

LeBlanc said the choice to hike tuition fees falls completely within Quebec’s jurisdiction and the federal government is Quebec’s partner in protecting the province’s French culture.

But he told host Catherine Cullen that the move to raise tuition rates would not be a significant factor in the fight to keep the French language vibrant in Quebec.

“Do we think it’s a good decision?” he said. “Of course not.”

The government of Quebec Premier François Legault announced last week that, starting in the fall of 2024, most new Canadian out-of-province students attending university in Quebec will have to pay double the current tuition, bringing their fees up to around $17,000 per year.

The three major English language universities in the province — Bishop’s, Concordia and McGill — tend to have a higher proportion of out-of-province students than their francophone counterparts and are likely to be more affected by the tuition increase if students decide to look elsewhere.

Leaders of all three of those universities have expressed concern about the measures.

Some students, such as doctoral or research masters students, are exempt. Students from France and Belgium, whose home countries have reciprocal international agreements with Quebec, are also not affected by the policy.

Premier Legault framed the measures both in financial terms — as a means to defray the province’s costs for hosting out-of-province students — and as a way to protect the French language in Quebec.

“Yes, when I look at the number of anglophone students in Quebec, it threatens the survival of French,” Legault said this week.

Pascale Déry, Quebec’s minister of higher education, said the money received from the tuition hike would be used to support francophone institutions.

“The fundamental question is, do we the taxpayers in Quebec still need to fund, to subsidize those students that come here and benefit from programs that are at a privileged tuition fee, and then leave the province? I think we need to question ourselves. We subsidize them at a high cost,” she told Radio-Canada.

Montreal voices opposition

Several federal ministers whose ridings are in Quebec also expressed dissatisfaction with the policy, even as they acknowledged provincial jurisdiction. Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez said that universities act as a window to the world and Quebec is partly closing that window.

In a separate interview on CBC’s The House, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the measure will tarnish Montreal’s reputation as a city that welcomes students and warned that the move will have economic repercussions beyond the city’s boundaries.

“It really hurts the [city’s] reputation because we want to have more and more students, not less,” Plante told host Catherine Cullen.

Plante said she believes in the goal of strengthening French in Montreal but added a robust system of francophone universities could be supported through positive incentives for those schools.

Plante said there are signs already of labour shortages throughout the province’s economy and having fewer students in the province will only worsen the problem.

“There’s a direct impact for universities but in the medium and long term, it affects the entire economy of the province,” she said.

Plante argued that the decision helps to create an impression that the governing Coalition Avenir Québec does not have Montreal’s best interests at heart.

To make the pitch to international investors, students and tourists, she said, “I need to also have a government that believes in the metropolis, that believes that if we’re doing well, it’s good for the entire province. And right now it is difficult to believe that, based on the decisions that have been made.”

Source : CBC