Opinion: It's time for prominent alumni to condemn Quebec university scheme

English-language institutions should stop apologizing for what they are.

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The raison d’être of democratic governments is the common good, which is fair and equitable treatment for all citizens, with special concern and care for the weakest and most vulnerable in society. Governments are fallible, of course, and democratic ideals are too often overtaken by partisan policies and squabbles. All in all, though, our governments in Canada, at all levels, have been democratic institutions, and have ensured a fair quality of life and generally equitable treatment for our citizens across the land.

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However, the current Quebec government is increasingly veering toward a model and spirit of governance that seems to set it aside from the general democratic trend. It has become intensely partisan and intransigent, rejecting fundamental charter rights and freedoms in its legislation, issuing rules and edicts without consultation and justification, and targeting the English-speaking minority relentlessly and with sustained vindictiveness.

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The recent university diktats, coming out of the blue and taking their aim at Quebec’s three English-language universities, are not only mean and self-defeating, but an assault on educational and minority freedoms, as well as the sustainability of these worthy and historical institutions — an essential part of the contributing fabric not only of Quebec, but of Canada and lands beyond.

What else would provoke another petty and self-defeating decision from the Quebec government if not an obsessive bias and animosity against a particular language group? Why would the government persist in its obviously misguided partisanship in the face of outright objective criticism from key sectors and leaders of opinion regardless of language and culture? Why would the government not only dig in its heels, but double down on its flighty and abusive demands by multiplying the ante on the percentage of out-of-province students who must reach an intermediate level of French by graduation, without the least shred of justification to back it?

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The 40 per cent offered by the universities, already a very steep hill to climb, has suddenly morphed into an arbitrary 80 per cent — and we are supposed to believe this is warranted and serious and fair, and by some magic will protect and improve the status of French in our midst.

I have been convinced, since the start of the university fiat, that making nice with the government and trying to placate it by invoking its mantra of the decline of French was naively playing into its hands, as events have shown. I have never understood why bona fide and loyally contributing English-language institutions suddenly believe they have to “play the game,” instead of simply affirming the reality and the truth — that they are English-language institutions, that being such is not a sin, and that they contribute their very significant share to the commonweal.

There is unfortunately a sad spirit of needless apology now arising regarding minority rights. The recent French-only board meetings of the MUHC tell their own surprising tale, and reflect neither sense nor necessity.

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It is high time for English-language institutions to stop apologizing for what they are, and tell the government enough is enough. To start with, it is high time for the McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s alumni here, there and across the world to raise their voices in unison, and raise them very loud, to denounce the outright discrimination and vindictive edicts against their alma maters. Among these alumni are luminaries and recognized leaders whose opinions carry considerable weight.

Premier François Legault never admits being wrong, except when being embarrassed in the public square, as the Quebec City tunnel fiasco and the hockey games for Kings and billionaires have shown. He deserves the same fate for his petty bullying of the universities.

This is thus a clarion call to leading alumni to publish an open letter in prominent newspapers here, in the rest of Canada, in the U.S. and across the oceans, denouncing the senseless and discriminatory raid on the universities — and the time is now.

Yes, it is high time to say, loud and clear, assez c’est assez.

Clifford Lincoln resigned from the Quebec cabinet in 1988 over the use of the notwithstanding clause in Bill 178. He later served as a federal MP. He lives in Baie-D’Urfé.

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