Opinion: CAQ takes 'Kill McGill' football cheer and runs with it

Tuition-hike scheme appears to have no rationale or constructive basis for building a better Quebec or “protecting” the French language.

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When I think of Quebec’s planned tuition changes, I think of my friend Benjamin from Bishop’s University. He comes from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, where he was a unilingual English-speaker. Benjamin graduated with distinction, the medal for the highest average in his program and took numerous French courses.

He chose to remain in the Eastern Townships, settled in a majority French-speaking community, married a francophone classmate, raises two daughters bilingually, and sends them to French-language school.

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Highly educated, accomplished professionally, proudly bilingual, friendly and courteous, and rooted in a French-speaking household, Benjamin is a model of a what a newcomer could become.

Would he have ever attended Bishop’s and moved to Quebec had these changes — the nearly doubling of tuition fees for out-of-province students — been in place before he came here?

“Not a chance,” he told me.

The financial disincentives from this flawed policy risk leading to a near-complete extinguishment of the number of students from the rest of Canada to Quebec’s English-speaking universities.

Over 30 per cent of Bishop’s students hail from the RoC, and the financial blow threatens to shutter the institution. I attended a reunion at Bishop’s this past weekend, with conversations and laughter over old stories and shenanigans turning inevitably to the new policy.

This policy appears to have no rationale or constructive basis for building a better Quebec or “protecting” the French language.

First, Montreal remains a renowned worldwide beacon of educational opportunity. This policy threatens to caponize and reduce our institutions to regional players.

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Second, the economic benefits from the tuition and living expenses of out-of-province students are worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to a report by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.

Third, the diversity of experience, background and perspective adds great benefits to the classroom and campuses of all universities, making them cauldrons of innovation, ideation and accomplishment.

Fourth, these students create a remarkable pool of future Canadians, with educations, lived experience in English and French, integration into our society, and add to our labour pool that is in desperate need of top talent.

Fifth, these students, should they return home, become ambassadors for Quebec and all of Canada, seeding the rest of the world with our culture, and maintain networks that lead to entrepreneurial and creative endeavours.

We must seek to build a framework that promotes the French language in a constructive way.

Ensuring that the French language and culture is a positive right for all Quebecers and Canadians is a laudable goal. We need not make supposed “protections” cripple the economy, violate basic human rights and hinder Quebecers of all linguistic groups from reaching their full potential.

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We can achieve this by providing incentives:

  • offering tuition credits for students who choose French-language universities;
  • instituting dual degrees and creating “sister” English- and French-speaking universities;
  • promoting exchanges between institutions;
  • providing bursaries for students choosing partial studies in French;
  • and promoting optional second-language courses in subject matter tailored to skill level.

It seems the CAQ government’s approach — with legislation like Bills 21, 40 and 96 — is to extinguish English-language institutions and the ability of English-speakers to survive as a viable community, and to eradicate all potential sources to institutional and demographic strength.

While this new tuition policy threatens to shutter Bishop’s, it appears to be aimed squarely at McGill: a much-loathed institution in nationalist mythology promoted by Quebec’s political elite (their own attendance notwithstanding), and the effervescent cosmopolitan nature of downtown Montreal.

My former classmates at Bishop’s and Queen’s used to chant “Kill McGill!” at Percival Molson Stadium and Coulter Field, in a playful taunt during football games.

It seems the CAQ took it a bit too literally.

I’m not cheering this time.

Colin Standish is the leader of the Canadian Party of Quebec. This commentary is co-signed by Jonathan Gray (education critic), Myrtis Fossey (deputy leader) and
Liz Campbell (president).

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