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Creating a double standard

The hearings on Bill 14, the Parti Québécois’ proposed language reform bill, at the National Assembly last week continue to cause controversy in the anglophone community.

The bill is a new piece of legislation designed to reinforce French as the language of work, education and government. Bill 14 will make French “the normal and everyday language in which they address others and are addressed” and “[make] sure that it is possible for all who so desire to live in French in Quebec and that French is the language used in the public sphere.”

It will also repeal the provisions on the bilingual status of municipalities, increase red tape for smaller companies which will be required to offer more French services to their employees, and affect the rights of military families.

The bill that serves to tighten French in this province will restrict access to English schools.

One of the exceptions to this law is in Section 72 of the Charter of the French Language, which claims removing “an exemption for the child of a member of the Canadian Armed Forces or his spouse’s child.”

However, if Bill 14 passes it would amend this law, forcing children of a member of the Canadian Armed Forces to have to attend a French institution.

Steven Lafleur, a physiotherapy student at McGill University who was able to attend an English high school since his dad was in the military, does not agree with the changes at all.

“I think that this bill is total nonsense,” Lafleur said. “My parents are in the military and I for one have gone to English schools for the sole reason that they are in the army.”

Lafleur explained that the main reason why children of parents who served in the military would be an exception to the law is because they don’t control where they are posted.

According to section 88.0.4 in Bill 14, nothing under the subdivision of education “shall be interpreted as requiring or authorizing a decrease in the quality of English instruction dispensed by schools to students declared eligible for instruction in English.”

Lafleur was born in Cold Lake, Alta., where his parents were posted when he was born before moving to Saguenay.
He explained how difficult the transition can be for a child adapting to a new home.

“I can imagine how a child would feel if he/she would move to a totally new place, have no friends and on top of that, have to learn a new language,” Lafleur said. “By granting military children the right to attend English schools, this made it easy for those being posted in and out of Quebec.”

Lafleur stated that should the bill pass, there will be consequences.

“If the bill passes, I know of at least two schools that would probably have to close, being mostly composed of military kids,” Lafleur said. He doesn’t understand why the government would remove this privilege to children whose parents served in the Armed Forces because it really benefits them.

“Bill 14 doesn’t do anyone any favours,” said Donna Varrica, Dawson College’s communications co-ordinator. “We’re going to be worried if the bill passes because we’d lose a portion of our enrollment.”

Bill 14 wants to create a second exit test in anglophone colleges, Varrica stated. Usually, when leaving a college, you complete an exit test in the language of your school. If Bill 14 passes, it will implement a second exit exam in French within the anglophone colleges required by graduation but will not implement an English exit test in francophone colleges.

“They would create a double standard by doing this,” Varrica said. “The end results would create a graduate who has shown proficiency in both languages rather than one. In a sense, it would penalize francophones.”

The passage of the bill will be decided by the Coalition Avenir Québec, the party that holds the balance of power in the National Assembly right now.

“I seriously have no idea why the PQ would want to remove this right,” Lafleur said. “Knowing English nowadays is a huge benefit for sure, and I’m not any less Quebecois because I attended English schools.”

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Night protesters are back

Photo by writer

Students took to the streets of downtown Montreal last Tuesday in the first night protest since last spring to denounce a planned indexation of tuition fees by the provincial government.

According to the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, 72 people were detained during the course of the night. The SPVM ticketed 62 protesters for unlawful assembly while the remaining 10 were arrested during clashes police officers.

Several thousand students were protesting increases that will see tuition rise by three per cent a year. The proposal was brought forth during the summit on higher education hosted by the provincial government in late February. As part of their election platform, the Parti Québécois were adamant on addressing unresolved issues from last year’s tumultuous spring where students condemned former Premier Jean Charest’s tuition increase of $1,625 spread out over five years.

In a statement on Wednesday, Premier Pauline Marois urged people to stay calm.

“I believe what we proposed is reasonable and I hope it will be seen that way,” she said. “In the meantime, I’m inviting everyone to remain calm.”

The protest kicked off from Place Émilie-Gamelin around 8 p.m. and was declared illegal as soon as demonstrators started marching. The SPVM agreed to allow the protest to continue if it remained peaceful but intervened just over two hours later.

Cries of “À qui la rue? À nous la rue!” echoed through downtown alongside the occasional blast of fireworks as protesters followed a banner bearing the words “social peace is behind us,” while helicopters followed overhead.

At around 10:15 p.m., windows of the Sheraton Centre on de Maisonneuve Blvd. and glass at several banks were smashed with pieces of concrete. Protesters ran as police officers split the group in two on Viger St. just outside the Palais des Congrès. Police charged the large crowd and used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters.

Several hundred protesters made their way back to Place Émilie-Gamelin where clashes with police continued. After 45 minutes of a cat-and-mouse game, the SPVM detained the remaining 62 protesters who refused to leave the corner of Beaudry and Ste-Catherine Sts.

One student was hospitalized after being injured by a stun grenade and one officer was also treated for minor injuries to his eye after a firework reportedly hit him in the face.

Some are arguing that Montreal police targeted people indiscriminately.

Frederic Bourgault, 24, was detained by police after he went to retrieve his bicycle on his way home after the protest was over and received a $625 fine.

“What they did was unjustifiable as none of us were dangerous,” said Bourgault. “Everyone I was with was going home.”
Bourgault claims that officers threw his bike on the ground before handcuffing him.

“I didn’t do anything wrong but I was treated terribly.”

A similar protest in Quebec City last Thursday lasted just several minutes and resulted in three arrests. More night demonstrations are planned throughout the month of March in Montreal, including a protest this Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Place Émilie-Gamelin.

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Student leaders slam Léo Bureau-Blouin

Photo by Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft

Léo Bureau-Blouin, former student leader and current Member of the National Assembly for the Parti Québécois, has come under fire following the provincial government’s announcement of an increase tuition by three per cent in line with the cost of living next year.

Bureau-Blouin, who first came to prominence as the president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec during the student protests last year, has stood by the decision of his party to index tuition by roughly $70 a year, a stance that has not pleased his former colleagues.

Martine Desjardins, president for the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, told The Concordian that she was disappointed when Bureau-Blouin chose to support the indexation proposal, but that she was not surprised.

“Personally, when he decided to go up front and support the inflation proposed by the government, it was a shock,” said Desjardins. “But at the same time it’s easy to understand why because he’s like, you know, a deputy and he needs to follow the line of the party,” she said.

Desjardins explained that students felt deceived when Bureau-Blouin went against his initial position for a tuition freeze, something he advocated for as a student.

“There’s no surprise but there’s a lot of deception,” said Desjardins.

Following the announcement of the increase, Bureau-Blouin’s Facebook page became a place for students and protesters to vent their frustrations over his decision to support the indexation. One poster called Bureau-Blouin a traitor and demanded he resign, while another accused him of letting down a generation of students. Conversely, others voiced their support for Bureau-Blouin and congratulated him for his work.

The day after the education summit, Bureau-Blouin wrote that he had received threats and attacks but would still attend a monthly event to meet with his constituents on March 16.

When reached for comment, Bureau-Blouin’s office said that he would not comment on the threats on Facebook but did, however, call the situation “deplorable.”

On Facebook, Bureau-Blouin defended the increase by stating that by the 2015-2016 academic year students would be receiving an average of $1,140 in additional bursaries.

However, Desjardins called into question the suggestion that additional money for financial aid programs would help offset the increase claiming that not all students are eligible for bursaries.

“We know that there are a lot of problems with the financial aid program,” she said. “Actually it’s only 40 per cent of the students that have access to the financial aid program, so what are we doing with the other 60 per cent?”

On the Facebook page for the monthly meeting, critics promised to attend in order to face Bureau-Blouin and demand answers. Spokesperson Camille Robert for the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiantes, the student group in favour of free tuition, asked if he would be using his salary to help cover the cost of the indexation.

Simon-Pierre Lauzon, VP external for the Concordia Student Union, said he was not surprised that Bureau-Blouin’s interests had shifted from those of a student to those of a politician. He hoped, however, that the former student leader would push for student’s interests from within the PQ.

“He cares about his position within his new political context, and at the same time we should stop looking up to him as a peer,” Lauzon said. “He no longer is a FECQ representative, and we should treat him as such,” he said.

Lauzon believes students are now divided between those who see indexation as a realistic compromise and those who are in the streets again because they reject any increase.

“We went in the streets in significant part because we had no seat at the table, and our voices fell on deaf ears,” he said. “With the PQ, although we might not have every single thing we ask, we still have a measurable influence. Our leverage is still very potent, and while the printemps érable is in the PQ’s short term memory we will act to get as much as we can.”

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An ideological divide

Photo by Catlin Spencer

The highly anticipated summit on higher education organized by the provincial government began Monday morning, where Premier Pauline Marois clarified that the two-day conference would “establish an open dialogue” on post-secondary learning but would likely not reach a solution.

Following a whirlwind provincial election, the Parti Québécois announced the summit in September in an effort to appease all sides in the student movement crisis that rocked Quebec for months last spring. The minority provincial government cancelled the tuition fee increase of $325 per year over five years, and later $245 over seven years, imposed by the Charest Liberals upon taking office, effectively freezing tuition for the time being.

The conference was initially pegged to resolve the issues at the core of an ideological impasse over higher education.

Heavily guarded by the Montreal police, guests had to pass through three checkpoints before entering Arsenal gallery on William St. in Griffintown.

Day one

During the first day, Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne offered three proposals in relation to post-secondary education: create a provincial council to oversee universities, a law that would provide a framework for universities and a plan to hold institutions accountable for financing and budgeting.

In a meeting that lasted over 12 hours, multiple issues were discussed: the development of post-secondary funding, research, quality of education and accessibility.

While various concerns were voiced by participants, the most contentious issue of the day was the issue of tuition.

The PQ announced later in the evening that they plan to index university tuition at approximately three per cent annually, meaning that tuition will rise by $70 per year leaving student representatives feeling deceived.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, said that indexation would “punish” students and send the wrong message. “I’m telling you there will be an impact,” said Desjardins.

However, Duchesne said that the province can simply no longer afford the same rates and that a freeze would force Quebec into a crisis.

Lowering the expectations

The summit has been the subject of backlash the last few weeks, with university rectors only receiving invitations 10 days before the start of the summit. Principal Heather Munroe-Blum of McGill University blasted the provincial government, citing disorganization and poor planning before calling the conference “a joke.”

Concordia University is waiting on the results of the provincial conference to know when the additional funding promised by the PQ is coming — something that was promised to the university in the wake of the tuition freeze.

Protests throughout the day

Peaceful protests marked the first day of the summit, with a small contingent gathering outside Arsenal gallery in the early morning during guest registration. Approximately 30 protesters passed through the streets of Griffintown calmly without ever accessing the highly guarded building.

Similarly, a gathering of 20 demonstrators including professors, students and civilians congregated on Notre-Dame St. to reiterate their position on accessible education. The protesters did not mobilize, choosing instead to read poetry and sing in support of students in front of the building.

In the afternoon more than 1,000 protesters marched through the streets of downtown Montreal, leaving from Cabot Square. The protest was promoted by the Association pour une solidarité syndicate étudiante, the student association that backed out of the conference since free education would not be part of the discussion.

“We feel sort of betrayed by the Parti Québécois,” said Concordia University student Serge Del Grosso. “They say they support the student movement and are against the hikes and then they say they will index it.”

Del Grosso went on to say that those present didn’t want tuition to rise and genuinely believe free education is a possibility.

Protesters headed south before arriving at the summit, where police officers from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal and provincial police guarded the building. There was no intervention before demonstrators resumed their march east toward the downtown core.

The protest, though declared as illegal from the start, was largely peaceful. The SPVM reported two arrests. Police claimed that projectiles were launched and flags from some downtown hotels were removed by student protesters.

By 6:30 p.m. protesters had made it to Ste-Catherine St. and McGill College St. but by 7 p.m. most of the protesters left after tear gas was deployed. Several demonstrators met at Parc Émilie-Gamelin heading east but dispersed close to Beaudry Metro station.

Vandalism

Earlier Monday, several buildings were vandalized with red paint including the offices of Duchesne and of former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin. The Ministry of Education building located on Fullum St. was also covered in red paint.

Vandals wrote in white outside the offices of the minister responsible for Montreal, Jean-François Lisée, and several windows were also broken.

No arrests have been made in relation to those incidents.

With files from Robin Della Corte and Matthew Guité.

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The pressure is mounting

Image via Flickr.

With the highly anticipated education summit less than two weeks away there remains uncertainty in the realm of provincial universities over the conference. The provincial government will be holding a two day conference on Feb. 25 and 26, where details still remain under wraps, to discuss the future of post-secondary education in Quebec.

When the Parti Québécois won a snap election in September, Premier Pauline Marois immediately cancelled the tuition fee increase proposed and already implemented by the Charest Liberals. Months of the student strike movement used the power of the streets and triggered a province-wide discussion over the state of education. The endless, exhausting crisis forced residents to address a fundamentally ideological question: what is education worth?

The education summit is supposed to be a solution to a plethora of concerns that extend beyond the problem of tuition. Issues include the financing of universities, the management of funds and the accessibility of higher education. The objective of the education summit is to not only address students but also the unease of university administrators as well as the taxpayers who heavily subsidize education.

This is The Concordian’s guide to what you need to know for the upcoming summit:

The themes

The quality of post-secondary education
Accessibility and participation
Governance and financing of universities
The contribution of research to Quebec society

The numbers

$124 million – The slash in funding to Quebec universities during the last few months of the academic year. It was announced in December 2012.

10,000 – The amount of students ready to boycott class during the day of Feb. 26 to protest the agenda of the education summit because free education will not be discussed.

$13.2 million – The cut to Concordia University’s operating grant for the rest of academic year that forced the university to declare a deficit.

$7.5 million – The highest amount that Concordia will claim as a deficit for the year.

Four – The number of times that universities had to revise their budgets in a little over eight months.

22 – The date for which a student demonstration in the downtown core of Montreal is planned to protest the lack of discussion regarding free education.

2014 – The provincial government has promised to freeze tuition until November 2014.

The positions

FEUQ (the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec) – For the umbrella group of university associations, it is advocating for a permanent tuition freeze.

Universities – CREPUQ (The Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec) is worried about slashes to universities’ budgets. During a Board of Trade meeting in early February, administrators felt that the reputation of Quebec universities is at risk.

ASSÉ (the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante) – The student association is livid that the notion of free education, which is the group’s mandate, will not be discussed and have planned protests.

The PQ – While remaining open to suggestion, there has not been an official stance from the provincial government with the exception for Education Minister Pierre Duchesne taking free education off the table.

The details

The location, the invites and the structure of the conference have not yet been announced causing unease for students, administrators and those waiting on the summit. University rectors, including Principal Heather Munroe-Blum from McGill University and President Alan Shepard from Concordia University, have yet to be invited to the summit.

With less than a month to go

“A joke.” – Munroe-Blum said the education summit fails to take into account the opinions of professors and families. She slammed the structure for not allowing an open debate.

“The irony of the dollar figure is that it didn’t capture the costs.” – Shepard on the provincial government slashing budgets of post-secondary institutions.

“Now it’s an opportunity for students to voice their vision on universities.” – VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon of the Concordia Student Union on the summit itself.

“It’s a lot of stress on a single day.” – Shepard, worried about the results of the education summit.

“We want the government to step back from their position and realize they can’t keep asking students to pay more and pay without a proper evaluation.” – Martine Desjardins, the president of FEUQ, at the CSU’s town hall.

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Searching for a solution on education

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

One of the most anticipated promises from the Parti Québécois, the provincial summit on education, will be held next month to discuss future plans for Quebec’s governance and management for post-secondary education funds.

As a part of her agenda, Premier Pauline Marois abolished the proposed tuition fee increase of $1,778 over the next seven years imposed by the previous provincial government led by former Premier Jean Charest. Near the end of last year, Marois stated that it was time for discussion and an open debate on the subject of education in the province. The conference, to be held on Feb. 25 and 26, will not only examine the dispute on tuition, but other aspects of higher education and identify the main goals of the universities in Quebec. It will take into account the voices of university administrations, students and taxpayers in the province.

The provincial government has been accepting comments and questions electronically, through a website and a Facebook page created for the summit. Denis Comeau, a real-estate agent, says he remains skeptical on the contribution of opinions from taxpayers like himself despite the outreach from the PQ.

“The system is only as good as the people who use it and maintain it,” said Comeau.

He explained that when it comes down to the summit itself, a pressing issue is the quality of university education and some schools are “suffering” from being underfunded.

Due to Marois’ freeze on tuition, universities are short $32 million. In December, the provincial government slashed universities’ budgets by $124 million, with Concordia suffering a $13.2 million loss.

In an interview with The Concordian, University President Alan Shepard said that the best scenario which can come from the summit next month is having “clarity of funding, support for students, research funding, [and] renewed and refreshed commitment to the central role of universities in our society.”

Marois acknowledged that many will push for tuition increase, others for indexations and the rest for free tuition — a subject that many Quebec residents remain divided on.

“I do believe that they should not raise the tuition more, in fact, they should lower the tuition,” said TD Canada Trust financial sales representative Vita Carrara. “It is already very difficult for young adults to be able to afford today’s living expenses and have to pay for their own education.”

Karyna Bourgault, a dog groomer, said she believes that the relevance of the curriculum taught in the post-secondary environment should be reviewed. She feels that students shouldn’t have to pay more tuition because “accessible education will allow more opportunities.”

Members of the Liberal Party of Quebec, the official opposition of the PQ, believe the PQ is going into the summit with their minds already made up on the issue of tuition. If the freeze continues, some Liberals argue it will put Quebec universities in an $80 million shortfall.

“Students should pay more tuition, eventually. You can’t keep something like that frozen. I don’t agree with having to pay more, but yet, just like opus passes, people will be forced to pay more,” said Joe De Cicco, a customer service representative at Indigo Books and Music.“I don’t see any other way around it.”

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Unbalancing the budget

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

With four revisions to its operating budget in eight months and little communication from the provincial government, Concordia University is heading for a deficit, all the while waiting to hear about additional funding from the Parti Québécois.

It was revealed Friday during a Senate meeting that confusion and uncertainty have clouded the university’s finances during the entire academic year. Following the PQ’s decision in December to cut universities’ budgets across the province, Concordia lost $13.2 million for the last four months of the year — a slash that runs so deep that the university is now backed into a corner.

President Alan Shepard discussed the issue with Senators, saying that the revision created “so much uncertainty” for Concordia.

“It’s a very difficult time,” said Shepard. “We’re trying to figure out where we could get more money.”

In order to offset the cancellation of the tuition fee increase initially proposed by the Charest Liberals, the PQ was supposed to provide additional university funding. During Senate, Chief Financial Officer Patrick Kelley said that the provincial government has not been forthcoming with information as to when Concordia will be provided with that money.

“It’s absolutely physically impossible to not declare a deficit,” said Kelley. “We will have a deficit.”

During this year alone, the university’s projected funding dropped from $372 million to $359 million by December. The provincial government promised Concordia an additional $3.4 million for the 2012-2013 academic year to compensate for the shortfall they incurred from the freeze implemented in September when the university announced they would refund students the additional tuition they paid.

According to Kelley, the provincial government “categorically refused” to answer when Concordia requested a date for when they would receive the funding.

In the meantime, Interim provost Lisa Ostiguy emphasized that administration will have to cut funding to all sectors and that the university will have to be more careful with its fiscal management.

“We need to be fiscally responsible,” said Ostiguy. “It’s going to be difficult because reductions and changes are shared by all and there is no one sector that will take the hits.”

Ostiguy explained that the larger cuts will affect sectors such as the president’s office and advancement in order to minimize the setback for academics and student services. Furthermore, suggestions about how to use resources more effectively and ideas to “generate official revenue” are also welcomed by the administration.

What concerns the administration now is the lack of directives for the following academic year and if additional cuts will follow. Shepard stressed that while information has not yet come to light regarding potential reductions in the future, Concordia’s administration did ask Premier Pauline Marois if the shortfall in funding was an isolated incident.

“We asked Madame Marois if it was a one-time occurrence,” Shepard said. “And she said to wait until the education summit.”

At the meeting, Shepard urged Senators not to propose a motion to denounce the PQ as he deemed it a “dangerous move” in a time of unpredictability.

Until more is known, Concordia will not declare a budget until March or April for the 2013-2014 academic year that starts on May 1, so that the university does not commit to a budget it may not be able to handle.

The Board of Governors will hold a special meeting Tuesday to discuss declaring a deficit.

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A loss in funding is a loss for all

Following the provincial government’s decision to cut millions of dollars in university funding, Concordia University will declare a deficit for the academic year.

In December, the Parti Québécois slashed $124 million in post-secondary funding with only a few months left in the academic year for universities. For Concordia, this means that the institution must incur a loss of $13.2 million.

In an interview with The Concordian, President Alan Shepard said he plans to recommend a deficit to the university’s highest governing body because Concordia has little choice.

“I will be recommending to the Board of Governors a deficit in the upcoming school year,” said Shepard. “I don’t like deficits; I think they are not good but in this case it’s inevitable.”

Shepard stated that after recommending the deficit, the Board of Governors still must approve it.

With Concordia potentially claiming a shortfall in the wake of its fourth revised budget in just under eight months, Shepard believes the most important aspect is to ensure Concordia has a stable and secure funding on a long-term basis.

Furthermore, Shepard said he believes the provincial government will be reimbursing universities for part of the loss of money stemming from the cancellation of the tuition fee increase initially slated by the Charest Liberals.

“They [the government] said they will make it up and we calculated a number,” said Shepard. “We estimated $3 million and we are counting on that money coming in.”

During a Senate meeting on Dec. 8, Shepard informed faculty and students that the multi-million dollar budget cut would likely affect the university “across the board” due to its size and with only four months left in the academic year.

University spokesperson Chris Mota explained that while a deficit is impending, it is not sure how much will be claimed.

“We will be feeling it everywhere,” said Mota. “The sectors that will feel it a tiny bit less are academics and research.”

Mota added that the budget cut of $13.2 million this late in the year is the equivalent of Concordia having to initially slash its annual budget by $45 million and that, unfortunately, “everyone will be affected.”

On Monday, the administration held community sessions closed to the media to address the provincial government’s decision and how to move forward as a university. Patrick Kelley, the university’s chief financial officer, said that he does not know how much Concordia will claim as a deficit.

“We had planned on a very small surplus but there have been a series of continuous reductions in tuition amounts and revenues,” said Kelley. “We’re working furiously looking at our numbers to see the size of what the deficit will be, but I cannot tell you with precision where we are.”

Kelley also confirmed that the PQ will be handing over anywhere between $3.4 million to $4 million to the university for all the losses incurred this year but the government has yet to confirm a date or clarify the amount.

Interim-Provost Lisa Ostiguy said that Concordia has been working closely with other universities to discuss strategies on how to handle massive slashes to the budget. The different faculty members and staff at the university have also been working together to ensure the cuts do not affect the quality of the institution.

“There’s been no backlash and we’ve been quite taken at how everyone is committed with this,” said Ostiguy. “It takes the full commitment of the whole university.”

President Schubert Laforest of the Concordia Student Union felt that the university does not have a choice considering the amount of time that is left in the school year.

“No one wants a deficit but I can see why they’re requesting one, given the context, since we can’t cut programs or other fundings at this point,” said Laforest. “There’s always many ways to approach a situation but given the time, it would be hard to have an ideal situation.”

Kelly said that it is too early to know if these cuts will affect the operating budget for next year but that the main concern is if the the provincial government will continue to do it in the future.

With files from Marilla Steuter-Martin

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The Parti Québécois reveals new provincial budget

The Parti Québécois plans to eliminate Quebec’s hefty deficit by the end of the next fiscal year through its new budget proposed last Tuesday that offers tax increases coupled with spending cuts.

The budget presented by Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau includes a raise in taxes on banks and the wealthy, and an increase in sin taxes on products such as tobacco and alcohol. Individuals earning more than $100,000 per year will see their income taxes increase by 1.75 per cent to 25.75 per cent; combined with federal taxes, Quebec’s highest earning residents will pay nearly 50 per cent of their salary in taxes.

The provincial government also backtracked on its electoral promise to remove the health-care tax initially implemented by the Charest Liberals. The proposed plan shows a shift in the health-care tax, which will now be factored by income. Adults earning less than $18,000 per year will not be required to pay and those earning more will contribute $100, $200 or up to $1,000 annually. The budget also introduced a tax break for parents with children engaging in sports or cultural activities, and a scaling back of Hydro-Québec rate hikes due to begin in 2014.

The Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec, the two opposition parties, did not approve of the provincial budget which may trigger a snap election in January that could potentially remove the PQ from power. While the Liberals were quick to criticize Marceau at first, party members backed down from their threats to potentially form a coalition. Since the PQ holds a minority provincial government, it requires the support of the opposition to move forward with the proposed budget.

One area that received little attention in the new budget was post-secondary education. Universities and students hoping for more information on future funding were left in the dark as the budget specifically mentions that as the government does not know “the decisions that will flow from the summit on higher education” they cannot make specific plans.

“Another reason why not to trust that elections will resolve problems,” said Vanier College student and Mob Squad member, Anthony Kantara. “It just encourages us to further mobilize.”

What little information is available in the budget’s section on universities may be disappointing for some students. With the tuition fee increase cancelled, the budget outlines the amount of money this has cost the government, starting with $24 million this year and continuing upwards at the same rate each following year. Additionally, the PQ plans to reduce the money available to students for loans and bursaries to 2011-12 levels after this year, undoing the increase that the Liberal government put in place. The cancellation of the tuition hike is the reason cited for this reduction.

A single line in the universities section of the budget indicates that, as previously stated, the government “could compensate universities for the shortfall stemming from cancellation of the tuition hike” but does not provide any details.

Concordia University spokesperson Chris Mota said that Concordia’s position was reflected in a statement issued by the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec, which represents 19 universities in total including McGill University, Bishops University and Université Laval. In the statement, CREPUQ raises several concerns, including the impact the budget will have on research in Quebec, its commitment to compensating universities for the reversal of the tuition increase, and for the fact that no commitment to compensate universities for additional costs incurred by student protests has been made.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, told The Concordian that she did not believe universities had truly lost money to the cancellation of the tuition hikes, saying that “when you’re good administrators, you’re planning for the worst, you’re not planning for the best. It’s their problem if there is a loss because they should have planned for this first, because we didn’t know if the tuition fees would be going up.”

Desjardins also said that FEUQ was disappointed with the lack of research funding, and that many items on the budget would be brought to the upcoming education summit for discussion.

“Every little part of the budget will be discussed, hopefully, in the summit, but right now we have a lot of concerns,” she said. “We’re very disappointed that the PQ are using the same financial plan as the Liberals were proposing last year, so we still have the same structure.”

With files from Kalina Laframboise.

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Tuition hike may not be gone for good

Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

Concordia University refunded all students upon receiving official directives from the provincial government concerning the tuition fee rollback while McGill University’s international and out-of-province students are still waiting on adjustments to their accounts.

The letter sent out to Quebec universities earlier this month confirmed the cancellation of the proposed tuition fees increase. The document also cites that the Parti Québécois is considering raising tuition fees for out-of-province and international students. McGill chose not to reimburse its foreign students in anticipation of an increase.

“We all got the same instructions,” said Chris Mota, Concordia University spokesperson. “We responded in one fashion and McGill chose a different route.”

This was also confirmed by Chief Financial Officer Patrick Kelley, who told The Concordian that the administration at McGill did not interpret the official directives from the the provincial government differently than Concordia but decided differently.

Simon-Pierre Lauzon, VP external of the Concordia Student Union, said he didn’t agree with the direction that McGill chose to take.

“McGill is kind of going in another direction and not doing what I think they’re supposed to be doing right now,” said Lauzon. “I find it very unfortunate that McGill students find themselves in this situation, it’s very unfair and I hope that it gets resolved quickly.”

Joël Bouchard, the press attaché for Pierre Duchesne, the minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, confirmed that no decision has yet been made about increasing tuition fees and that the proposition is being studied.

“If we are then told at a later date that we have to increase tuition for out of province and international students, we will do so,” said Mota.

McGill University spokesperson Carole Graveline explained that the university has not refunded the increase initially tabled by the Charest Liberals because of a potential increase for out-of-province and international students on the way. Although there’s no indication of precisely when the increase will be announced, if there will be one, and just how much it will amount to, it remains “very likely” according to Graveline.

VP external Robin Reid-Fraser of the Students’ Society of McGill University said the process and wait has been disheartening.

“People are frustrated and confused,” said Reid-Fraser. “The contact we have with the administration is that they’re waiting on the government to put out their budget and really finalize what the plan is with the international and out-of-province fees.”

The Parti Québécois minority government will present a budget on Nov. 20.

“I presume there will be something in the budget but there’s no knowing,” said Graveline. “We’re not waiting on the budget, all we’re doing is taking a different path.”

Categories
Opinions

Commonwealth tradition with a Quebec spin

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

Premier Pauline Marois made headlines when she gave her inaugural speech at the National Assembly two weeks ago, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Many veterans and citizens across Canada were offended when they realized the poppy she was wearing in honour of Remembrance Day had a fleur-de-lis, a symbol of Quebec’s cultural and political identity, over it.

After the incident, Marois’ director of communications, Shirley Bishop, told the Globe and Mail that Marois’ “objective was not to create a controversy.”

If her objective was not to create controversy, then what was it? To promote Quebec’s national identity on a holiday that celebrates Canada’s triumphs in past wars? To solely support Quebec’s veterans in the war?

Marois proved to be incredibly close-minded in the past few months, and that’s made her look ignorant and disrespectful.

Bishop continues to tell the Globe and Mail that “Marois has a lot of respect for veterans and a lot of respect for all the people who’ve lost their lives for their homeland. The fact of putting a fleur-de-lis was not at all, not at all, a political act … She’ll continue to wear the poppy but, given the controversy, she will not put the fleur-de-lis.”

I believe Marois knew very well that putting adding the fleur-de-lis pin was a political act. I feel this shows Quebec, and the rest of Canada, that she supports the Quebec soldiers in the war and perhaps doesn’t take any consideration for all the other Canadians soldiers who lost their lives as well.

Margot Arsenault, the Royal Canadian Legion’s provincial president, also believes that it was a political act and told the Globe and Mail that “[the veterans] fought for Canada, not just Quebec.”

Arsenault stated that she received 15 calls and about a dozen emails that day from veterans (even Quebec veterans) who claimed the act was unacceptable. The Legion states on their website that the poppy is not to be modified or altered in any way.

Remembrance Day is the day Canada remembers all the veterans who fought for freedom. To put any political symbol within the poppy automatically portrays you as supporting a single portion rather than the whole. In Marois’ case, having the Quebec symbol placed over this Canadian symbol clearly shows that Marois prefers one over the other.

For Marois’ director of communications to actually state that she didn’t want to create controversy is very ironic because Marois has been stirring up controversy ever since she was elected.

I’m extremely fed up with Marois’ acts. It’s embarrassing to be a part of a province with a premier who doesn’t recognize that we live in Canada. Furthermore, on a holiday that means so much to most Canadians, trying to display her political views through a symbol that symbolizes unity of Canada is extremely frustrating.

Marois would have been hard-pressed to keep wearing the fleur-de-lis, and I give her credit for taking it off just in time. Maybe this once, she can respect a Canadian tradition without making it strictly Quebec related.

Categories
News

Concordia refunds the tuition hike

Full-time Quebec students can expect a $254 refund for the 2012-2013 academic year. Photo via Flickr.

The provincial government issued official directives to post-secondary institutions on the rollback of the tuition fee increase last week.

Quebec university students will be reimbursed the additional money they paid as part of the Charest Liberals provincial budget that sought to lift the freeze on tuition fees. Therefore, full-time Quebec students can expect a full refund or credit of the $127.05 increase per term or total of $254 for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec, slated an increase of $325 a year over a total of five years for a hike of $1,625 sparking a seven-month long student strike movement. While negotiating with student leaders, the government then escalated the original increase from $1,625 to a total of $1,778 over seven years. Students this year were required to pay an additional $8.75 per credit.

Although Premier Pauline Marois announced the cancellation of the hike the day after the Parti Québécois won a minority government in the provincial election Sept. 4, universities were waiting upon official, written directives from the Quebec government before issuing a refund.

Joël Bouchard, the press attaché for Pierre Duchesne, the minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, confirmed in an interview with The Concordian that universities could expect instructions from the government in the following days.

McGill University announced on Sunday that its administration would be taking steps to apply the refund to students who pay Quebec tuition rates. Unlike Concordia, international and out-of-province students at McGill will not be reimbursed until the provincial government “renders its final decision” according to the statement.

In comparison, Concordia University released a statement online on Thursday Nov. 1 to inform all students that an adjustment and credit would be made to their fees for next semester. However, if students wish to be reimbursed before January, they can submit a request through their MyConcordia student portal and the university will comply.

Concordia President Alan Shepard discussed the refund during presidential remarks at Senate on Friday, saying that the downside of reimbursing students is that “it costs money to make those cheques” but that the university would issue them nonetheless.

Not all universities have issued an official notice of the repeal but both Concordia and Université du Québec à Montréal addressed statements to all students.

For Heather Gleason-Beard, a second-year education student at McGill from Toronto, she felt it was unfair that only Quebec residents received a reimbursement.

They did say they are awaiting to hear from the government, … so it may happen,” said Gleason-Beard. “It is pretty frustrating and unfair but I won’t lie, it is something I would expect from McGill.”

The Concordian contacted McGill, but the director of media relations could give no information on the matter.

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