Opinion: Tuition hikes and young love at McGill

If fees were higher, would Bob have studied elsewhere? Would Montreal and Quebec have lost out on an incredible talent? Would we have ever met?

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The summer before my freshman year of university two young women were selling T-shirts outside the gates of McGill. Cheaply screen-printed, the maroon Gildan tees read: “Harvard of the North” — a claim I likened to a restaurant at the airport advertising theirs was the city’s best burger.

I didn’t buy one, but maybe I should have. While I never attended Harvard, my experience over the subsequent four years proved with shocking clarity those T-shirts probably weren’t far off. Later in life I would complete a master’s in marketing at New York University. Compared to McGill, NYU was an absolute cake walk, the quality of education was basic at best and the whole thing cost a sum I am embarrassed to publish.

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Conversely, my tenure at McGill was the most cerebrally and socially challenging of my young life. I graduated as prepared for post-grad life as any BA could be, except neither I nor my parents suffered financially for my diploma.

Aside from my brief stint studying abroad (thanks, Dad), my undergraduate education was uniquely affordable: at around $1,500 a semester, I graduated debt-free.

Most of my anglo peers who grew up in Montreal also took advantage of the low, in-province tuition and emerged with a world-class education. But affordability is not the only perk of attending McGill: You meet hundreds of brilliant, diverse students from all over Canada and many from the U.S. who come to Montreal to benefit from a reduced, albeit slightly higher out-of-province tuition (plus the cost of an Arctic-grade parka).

Donning a salt-stained Canada Goose bomber, one of those out-of-province students happened to be the guy who would later become my life partner. Bob is a brilliant young man originally from outside Kingston, Ont. Both his parents were teachers and francophiles, so sending their son to McGill was a no-brainer. Bob got a “Harvard of the North” education without saddling himself in debt (under $4,000 a semester).

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By time we met, Bob had graduated with a bachelor’s and a master’s in architecture, mastered the French language and found a job designing and fabricating artwork for a prominent Québécois artist (whom he met through the incredible McGill network). Twelve years later, Bob has made Montreal his home, our home. He spends his days conversing with vendors, sub-trades and gallerists — completely in French.

If his tuition were higher, would Bob have opted to study elsewhere? Would our city have lost out on an incredible talent? Would we have ever met?

Luckily, Bob and I didn’t have to contend with those possibilities. We now live in N.D.G., work stable jobs under francophone bosses and are preparing to start a family. We have every intention of sending our children to French school.

So why aren’t we the poster children for the Québécois agenda? Via access to affordable education and, as a result, a deep love for our French city and its culture, Bob is the type of anglo implant our policies should aim to include, and our government should aspire to attract and retain.

If Premier François Legault doubles the tuition for out-of-province students, he will actively be detracting the Bobs of the world. Our workforce, our economy and our colourful social fabric will suffer. The next generation of young Quebecers will be inferior to the one you see now.

Before I wrote this, I posted a picture of Bob and me to Instagram with a link to the petition to oppose the tuition hikes and a caption that reads “Raising out-of-province tuition for Quebec universities means your child may never meet the Ontario-raised love of their life at a house party in the McGill ghetto.”

An acquaintance who married a guy from Toronto immediately wrote back to me: “Funny enough, that’s exactly how I met my husband.”

Emily Sheiner works at Living Well Homes as the director of marketing and communications. She lives in N.D.G with Bob and their Labradoodle Flynn.

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