Tom Mulcair: Legault adamant he won't be 'out-angloed'

As his popularity sags and Parti Québécois support surges, the premier and his government raise their attacks on a familiar target.

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Quebec’s English-language universities have been watching their future play out before their eyes ever since the Legault government rolled out an ill-intentioned tuition scheme that threatens to radically reduce their enrolment.

The announcement came with no warning but was not without context.

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Legault’s popularity has been in free fall since he cancelled the promised new “third link” highway tunnel in Quebec City. That promise got him elected — twice — in large measure thanks to the support he received in the score of National Assembly seats in and around the provincial capital.

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When he broke that promise, there was no apology; instead, Legault doubled down and offered up an even bigger whopper, citing a drop in traffic because of the pandemic as an excuse for cancelling the project.

The good folks in Quebec City didn’t buy it and knew exactly what to do. In a byelection last month, Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec got its hide tanned by a resurgent Parti Québécois. The same PQ that now leads the CAQ province-wide, according to recent polling.

In response, it seems clear Legault is trying to make sure he’ll never be out-angloed, again by coming up with increasingly reprehensible moves he hopes will placate ethno-nationalists who are rallying back to the PQ in droves.

Legault’s scheme would boost tuition for students from other provinces to $17,000. Pascale Déry suggested that’s in line with tuitions in their home provinces. In fact, that is more than double what students pay at other great Canadian universities like UBC and U of T in the arts and science faculties. To bring this in, just as the universities are ramping up for the next school year, is to inflict intentional harm.

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Chaos may be Legault’s preferred management method; his scheme will make orderly recruitment and enrolment nearly impossible.

Legault’s reply to the proposal from English-language universities — to invest heavily to increase the knowledge of French among their students — could come as early as this week’s cabinet meeting. The universities are also asking for a break on the timing of all of this and have offered to find solutions to the thorny question of tuition for foreign students that would be fair to all Quebec universities.

McGill and Concordia are not anticipating good news. I’m told that Bishop’s may be given a bit of a reprieve because the dog-whistle lament that there’s too much English being heard in Montreal clearly doesn’t apply in Lennoxville. McGill and Concordia would likely increase recruitment of graduates of the French CEGEPs, and a new row will ensue.

Last week, credit rating agency Moody’s announced Quebec’s planned tuition policy for fall 2024 is credit negative for McGill and Concordia.

Last weekend, it was reported Concordia is in dire economic straits with a pressing need to slash budgets.

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On Monday, a former head of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste and current Bloc MP was hysterically rolling out data about the feds subsidizing the English-speaking community of Quebec to the tune of billions.

Make no mistake, this isn’t a one-off. The minister responsible for the French language, Jean-François Roberge, is happily playing the game as he sees it.

Last week, he was lamenting the very existence of English-language vocational education for some newcomers.

This week, he’s excitedly throwing another log on the fire to keep the heat on Legault not to “back down” in his war on anglo universities.

Legault has been quoted by no less a source than former official languages commissioner Graham Fraser as saying he hates les anglais. He seems intent on ensuring that anyone thinking of going back to the PQ knows it.

Tom Mulcair, a former leader of the federal NDP, served as minister of the environment in the Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest.

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