Quebec’s largest student lobby groups are calling for the federal government to transfer a portion of the funds earmarked for the new Canada Student Grants program to the province.
The new grants program is set to replace the Millennium Scholarships on Jan. 5, but unless a deal is reached between Quebec and Ottawa, students in the province will be shut out of the new program.
Canadian law allows a province to opt out of federal programs if that province already has a similar program. While Ottawa has recognized that Quebec will not be participating in the program, an agreement has yet to be reached on how Quebec’s share of the funds will be transfered to the province.
Quebec also opted out of the Millennium Scholarships, and the foundation that administered the program transfered an average of $70 million to the Quebec government each year.
The FÃ©dÃ©ration Ã©tudiante universitaire du QuÃ©bec, the province’s largest student lobby group, along with the FÃ©dÃ©ration Ã©tudiante collÃ©giale du QuÃ©bec, which represents CEGEP students, launched a new website on Monday, with a countdown to the date when the new grants will take effect.
According to Ariane Brisson, vice president of the FECQ, Quebec students stand to lose over $100 million annually in the event that an agreement is not reached.
Brisson said FEUQ and FECQ are calling for the money to be transfered to Quebec without conditions. She said the federal government needs to respect the division of powers in Canada’s constitution, which makes education a provincial responsibility.
While she admitted Quebec could use the money for other purposes, she doesn’t think they should. “If they do that students will be angry,” she said.
The groups are planning a protest for Parliament Hill on Jan. 5 if an agreement is not reached. If the protest doesn’t get their message across, Brisson said they will “stop being polite.”
FEUQ represents over 120,000 students at several universities in Quebec, including Concordia undergrads.
On Dec. 2, close to 50 protesters from the Association pour une solidaritÃ© syndicale Ã©tudiant, another student lobby group, attempted to enter a Revenue Canada office in downtown Montreal and scuffled with security guards before police entered the building.
The protesters left peacefully after staging a brief sit-in.
Later in the day they tried to occupy the Montreal office of Quebec’s finance minister.
The ASSÃ‰ protesters were calling for a guarantee from the province that if it does receive the federal money, it will be invested in student grants and that if the money is not received the provincial government will maintain current levels of funding for student grants.
The protesters, who were followed from downtown on the metro by police, were quickly removed from the finance minister’s office.
According to Christian PÃ©pin, spokesperson for the ASSÃ‰, police took one person away from the scene.
“We need a guarantee that the money that would be invested by the Canadian government would serve the Quebec program for bursaries and loans,” said PÃ©pin, “and not be used to pay for cuts to other programs or used to justify new decreases in taxes for the rich or big corporations.”
ASSÃ‰ is a student lobby group with over 40,000 members at several CEGEPs and universities across the province.