PQ Minister drops out of Charter of Values debate at Concordia

It was the showdown that wasn’t. Concordia University’s Graduate Students’ Association organized a debate about the highly-contested Charter of Values proposed by the Parti Québécois, which included Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville. The minister backed out the morning of, citing safety concerns.

With less than three hours before the debate in Montreal on Thursday morning (Nov. 28), Drainville announced his decision to pull out due to a planned demonstration by students denouncing the charter. In a statement released by the PQ, it cites that Concordia could not guarantee security for Drainville or attendees in the wake of a protest.

“We see that a group of people are threatening to disturb the debate instead of allowing us to have a democratic discussion,” said Drainville in the statement. “I sincerely regret this situation.”

However, the debate continued and so did the protest against the charter that consisted of approximately 10–15 students.

“We need to walk out on the street without being seen as others,” said protest organizer Christina Xydous, from Quebec Public Interest Research Group.

Jaggi Singh, a well-known Montreal activist and organizer of the demonstration, denounced the charter entirely.

“I’m not saying Bernard Drainville is a bad person,” said Singh. “But he is complicit in racism.”

The debate turned into more of a discussion with Liberal MNA Kathleen Weil and Québec Solidaire’s André Frappier, who both mocked Drainville and the PQ’s absence to discuss a bill proposed by them.

Frappier called Drainville’s absence “disappointing” while Weil said that she was sure the debate would still be peaceful if Drainville was present. The discussion lasted about two hours; both Weil and Frappier explained why they could not support Bill 60. Frappier said while his party supports secularism and sovereignty, the proposed legislation isn’t appropriate.

“What does that even mean, Quebec values?” asked Frappier. “We are horrified to see a process like this that puts others aside.”

Weil echoed the statements, explaining that Bill 60 will fail in court and called it “inapplicable.”

“It’s too disruptive for Quebec society to be living this debate,” said Weil. “You don’t legislate because people are fed up — there has to be a real problem.”

Following the debate, students asked questions regarding the legislation, though some of them couldn’t be answered by Weil or Frappier since the bill was proposed by the PQ.

Drainville has visited francophone universities such as Université Laval in Quebec City to defend the PQ’s charter over the last few months. The debate at Concordia passed without incident.

The Charter of Values, known as Bill 60, aims to promote secularism in the public sector by prohibiting civil servants from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols and limiting time off based on religious grounds. It also seeks to amend Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms by outlining measures for reasonable accommodations. The PQ announced Bill 60 in early September and it has garnered a mixture of opposition and support.



Parti Québécois aims to electrify Quebec

In a speech on Nov. 1, Premier Pauline Marois announced the Parti Québécois’ plans to electrify transportation in the province.

The PQ released a 113-page public document outlining a three-year plan that would cost $516 million.

Among other expenses, the government will invest $35 million to create the Institut du transport électrique, $50 million to attract companies in the field of electric transportation and spend $220 million to foster the electric transport industry.

“The goal is to make Québec a world leader in electric transportation,” said Marois, as quoted on the Quebec government website. “With this exciting project, we can create wealth here in Québec while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in order to attain our ambitious targets by 2020.”

The PQ claims the project will play an important role in creating new jobs; in her speech, Marois stated the plan will create 2,000 jobs.

The government believes the Institut du transport électrique would attract world class researchers to the province. As it states on their website, this institution would also encourage “research teams from Québec universities and specialized centres to participate in the research and build ties between researchers and industry in Québec and abroad.”

The plan’s objectives consist of making Quebec a global leader in the transportation electrification field, capitalizing on Quebec’s expertise in electricity, building the future around a high-performance sector and making Quebec a model to follow.

The major projects of the plan include adding more than 12,000 electric vehicles to the current 4.4 million personal vehicles in Quebec, over three years and incorporating an electric trolley-bus network into the province. Funding will also be made available to add 525 electric taxis to the roads.

As reported in The Gazette and on CTV news, Marois said that consumers will be eligible for grants of up to $8,000 for electric or hybrid cars and $1,000 to install a charging station at home.

Furthermore, a section of St. Michel would be electrified with 25 trams, the blue metro line would be extended, and a light rail — an electric railway system — would be created on the Champlain Bridge.

Marois noted only $30 million for this plan would be new money, while the rest would come from the Green Fund. Created in 2006, this fund’s goal is to support environmental measures aimed at promoting sustainable development.

While the intentions of this plan are valuable, several Quebecers have expressed their concern over the cost and budgeting. Coalition Avenir Québec economy critic, Stéphane Le Bouyonnec, told CTV Montreal,

“To try to accelerate the electrification of transportation could be very costly and we know our government is broke.”


Pauline Marois’ electoral gamble will amount to a loss

It would be untrue to say that Quebec’s political scene isn’t wildly entertaining. This zoo we call our political system has been embarrassingly inadequate for the past few years, no matter who has been running it.

Graphic Jenny Kwan

When it came time to hit the polls last year, it was none other than Pauline Marois, infamous leader of the Parti Québécois, that took the vote by a mere one per cent, ousting the corruption-laden Liberal Party.

After over a year of watching Pauline Marois and her minority government struggle to make any valuable contribution to Quebec, Quebecers were eagerly awaiting to see whether she would call an election at the end of this year.

The answer is a resounding no. It seems 2014 will be the next time we’ll be choosing a provincial leader.

“The government doesn’t want general elections in 2013,” Marois told the press on Oct. 26. “The population gave us a mandate and we will continue to assume it. In the next few days, we will present our governmental orientations for solidarity because we think a responsible government must take care of people. We will also present our electrification strategy in transportation because we want Quebec to be a leader in that technology.”

Most importantly for Marois, it gives her a bit more time to convince voters to let her stay, no matter how unlikely that seems when you look at the facts.

Marois’ time in office has been a laughing affair. All the good she’s done politically has been almost completely shunned and overshadowed by a few major stunts that changed her reputation from separatist leader to separatist wacko.

Regardless of when the elections are held  the hole Marois and the Parti Québécois have dug themselves will barter the same result:  a change of heart politically for Quebecers. Whether it’s the reformed liberals, with Pierre Couillard now holding the reins, or the newly formed Coalition Avenir Quebec, it is highly unlikely that Marois will ever lead this province again.

QMI Agency political analyst Jean Lapierre said the PQ realized it didn’t have the poll numbers to win a majority government.

“Marois got spooked,” Lapierre said, according to The Toronto Sun. “Marois has been preparing for months to open a window for an election, and she choked.”

The truth is that as a province this isn’t what we need at the moment. Like the rest of the world, Quebecers all over the province have real issues that need fixing.

Our education system is in debt and needs more funding, our construction system is a mess, and our province is falling apart economically, mirrored by the economic plan the Parti Québécois announced last week.

“The economic plan announced last week signals a shift away from fiscal austerity, along with a hefty dose of interventionism in industrial policy that is destined to be rejected by the opposition parties at the first possible opportunity,” said Pierre Martin, a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal, in an article for The Toronto Star.

We took a gamble when we gave a separatist party a chance, and we lost our chips. Truth is, Quebec is a diverse province with an amazing population, and preserving the French language is an incredibly important issue. That being said, the party in place is simply too immature to lead. You cannot focus all of your attention and energy to language and “identity issues,” and ignore other pressing matters. It’s especially disconcerting that the one issue they are focusing on is being handled incorrectly.

The people in this province need to be united, and all the Parti Québécois has done is create issues to separate us. It’s time for a change.


Protesters against values charter take to the streets

Thousands of people flooded Montreal’s streets Saturday, Sept. 14, to protest against the Parti Québécois’ proposed Charter of Quebec Values, which would “prohibit the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols by state personnel.” The route taken spanned over two kilometers down de Maisonneuve Blvd. from Place Émilie Gamelin (UQAM) to Place du Canada.

Photo by Laura Marchand.

Protesters donned multiple religious symbols, such as hijabs, kippahs, and crucifixes through the downtown core in a march to voice their opposition to the controversial legislation. The crowd chanted slogans such as “PQ values are racist values” and “No to the charter of hate”.

“We came together in unity to send a strong message to Madame Marois to let her know that there are so many Quebecers opposed to this bad idea,” said Salam Elmenyawi, President of the Muslim Council of Montreal. “She is trying to solve some imaginary problem to divide the country, and making the stupid claim that it is for women’s equality. In fact, it destroys their equality […] in an exclusionary way.”

“I want to be able to live in this province,” said Sybil Riopelle, a convert to Islam who drove to Montreal from Gatineau for the protest. “If [the charter] happens, they’ll tell us we’ll have to live in another province if we want to wear our scarves. Just for the scarves. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Many took to shouting “Quebec is not France”, referring to the 2004 French law that banned veils, crosses and turbans from state schools, in addition to the 2011 law that banned the niqab in public places.

“Quebec is not France but Marois is Sarkozy,” said Mohammed, a masked protester who preferred to remain anonymous. “What France is doing is racist. What has their law done for them? We will not make the same mistakes they did.”

Others agreed that the proposed charter is not only infringing on the rights of religious minorities, but was racist as well.

“Christians are not affected by this law as much as others. It’s obviously pointed at immigrants who have different faiths,” said Sarena Santilly, who moved to Montreal from Toronto. “The Christians and people without faith who are passing the law are failing the population.”

Participants repeatedly took to shouting “Marois: racist”, an accusation that many did not approve of.

“I don’t think we should use such explosive language,” said Ehab Lotayes, who carried a sign criticizing Marois’ stance on the issue. “I think we should focus on the point itself, and not on cheap shots.”

André Lévesque was one of the few seen carrying a crucifix to the protest.

“I don’t want anyone telling me how big I can wear my cross,” said Lévesque.

While opposed to the charter, he saw no reason why the crucifix in the National Assembly should be taken down. “Canada was built on Christianity. This is a Christian civilization, and if they’re not happy, they can move somewhere else.”

Marois has previously said that the crucifix in the National Assembly in Quebec City would not be removed under the new rules. A poll by survey firm SOM places support for the charter at 66 percent, or two-thirds of all Quebecers, according to CBC News.

However, opponents of the charter are willing to fight the legislation, should it pass.

“We will take it to the Supreme Court,” said Elmenyawi. “All the way to the United Nations, if we have to.”


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.


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.


Concordia digs into deficit

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

Concordia announced Jan. 23 that it will enter into a deficit of up to $7.5 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year; one of the biggest deficits declared in the university’s history.

After the province announced a $124-million slash to university funding across Quebec in December, Concordia administrators were scrambling to find a way to end the winter semester as planned with a loss of $13.2 million.

Concordia President Alan Shepard explained that the cut accounts for approximately five per cent of Concordia’s operating budget and that the interest rate on the deficit will be a standard 2.5 per cent. Shepard went on to say that since provincial funding is dispensed incrementally throughout the school year in the form of an operating grant, Concordia will never see the $13.2 million it had been banking on.

Board of Governors Chair Norman Hébert stated in an interview that “we don’t have a history of running deficits,” and that “both the financial committee and the Board took this extremely seriously.”

University spokesperson Chris Mota confirmed that prior to the government cuts, “this would have been the third year with absolutely no deficit.”

Mota also explained that deficits in the past usually ran between $20,000 to $30,000 and were “not anywhere near what we’re dealing with now.”

As Shepard explained, deficits are a “short-term solution,” and not something the university is eager to enter into. He went on to emphasize that his priority moving forward would be to avoid making any changes which would negatively affect academics, research and student financial aid.

Concordia’s budget has been revised four times since the beginning of the academic year. The university had originally planned for a $600,000 surplus in an earlier draft of the budget, but now the money will go towards covering the $13.2-million loss. The university will also be cutting costs by closing positions which are currently vacant and have been vacant for some time.

Looking to the future, Shepard said that it is still unclear whether or not this government cut will be a one-time occurrence and that “all eyes are on the [education] summit” which is set for Feb. 25 and 26.

Shepard also explained that Concordia will likely not be alone in declaring a deficit.

“It will surprise me if, in the final quarter of the year, anybody has five per cent of the money sitting around and they can just absorb it no problem. We run closer to the bone than that,” he said.

When Quebec Premier Pauline Marois cancelled the tuition hike imposed by the former Liberal government in the fall, universities were promised additional funding to make up for the loss in revenue. As of yet, Concordia hasn’t received confirmation about the exact amount or when that money will be transferred.


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.”


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.


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.


Ministry of education to issue formal directives

Quebec universities can expect to receive official directives from the provincial government regarding the reversal of the tuition fee increase, applied to student accounts at the beginning of the fall term, by the end of the week.

Concordia University has been awaiting formal instructions since Premier Pauline Marois announced last month that her government cancelled the tuition hike. The increase amounts to $254 per student for the academic year, assuming a student is attending university full-time.

Following Marois’ decision, the university stated that the tuition structure in place at the start of the term, which included the increase mandated by the outgoing Liberal government, would remained unchanged until further notice.

Joël Bouchard, spokesperson for Pierre Duchesne, the minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, confirmed with The Concordian last Thursday that an official letter, detailing the formal procedures to follow, would be sent out in a matter of days.

“We will confirm in writing the amount that will be charged and refunded and the document should arrive shortly,” said Bouchard.

Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota confirmed that as soon as the university receives formal instructions, students will be informed immediately.

“The minute we have the official notification, the tuition hike will be reversed,” she said. “As soon as we get those instructions, all of our students will receive an email. Everybody will be alerted to the fact that their accounts have been changed and what options will be open to them.”

Mota re-affirmed that students will be able to request a refund if there is a credit balance on their accounts and will also have the choice of crediting the amount to account for the following term.

McGill University spokesperson Julie Fortier confirmed that McGill is also waiting on formal directives in order to know what amount will be refunded and that students will also have similar options available to them.

Schubert Laforest, president of the Concordia Student Union, said that he hopes that because the university has had time to accommodate the tuition freeze, the transition will go smoothly.

“It would pain me to see students penalized because of an inability to cope with the situation appropriately,” said Laforest.


Tuition fee increase officially repealed

MONTREAL (CUP) – The Parti Québécois’ cabinet meeting last week was the first time Pauline Marois executed her actions as premier of the province, spelling out the end of solidarity within the student movement and heralding a new structure of government-student relations.

Marois announced the abolition of both the tuition hike as well as the controversial Law 12, save a few provisions largely in connection to the scheduling of the disrupted winter semester.

She also announced her cabinet, making public a new ministry – the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology – which will be led by Pierre Duchesne.

Marois’ announcements mark the fulfillment, at least verbally, of some of her campaign promises made by herself and other PQ candidates leading up to the Sept. 4 election.

Division at the base

Despite claiming the seven-month long student strike victory, the abolition of the hike signals the parting of ways for the student associations Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, and the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, which had collaborated, despite a historically tense relationship.

All three representative bodies publicly claimed a tuition freeze as the goal fueling the strike, however, for CLASSE, the goal represented a compromise on their members’ part – a compromise they are no longer willing to make.

“We had adopted a negotiating stance during the strike for a freeze on the 2007 basis – it was seen as a compromise to mobilize more easily and to perhaps win more easily,” explained Jérémie Bédard-Wien, an executive of CLASSE, addressing students at McGill before Marois abolished tuition.

He said that the end of the strike permits CLASSE to focus on some of its own major political projects like their campaign for free education, one of the core objectives for CLASSE and its larger supporting organization, Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante.

Bédard-Wien said that for the Sept. 22 demonstration – a routine of protest held on the 22nd day of each month – the theme was to support free education. For the student federations, however, FEUQ President Martine Desjardins said that the association would not be participating in the Sept. 22 demonstration as FEUQ supports the objective of a tuition freeze, not free education.

“There’s no tuition fee hike, there’s no Law 12 and, so we think, now we have a minister who’s more open to discussion – we need to take this path,” she continued. “We won yesterday.”

Though CLASSE has also publicly deemed the student strike a victory, Bédard-Wien explained that the choice was made in order to emphasize the seven months of mobilization on the part of students.

“We want to make clear that now if the PQ cancels the tuition fee hike and cancels Law 12 it’s because we have risen and we have put intense political pressure on these political parties and they are afraid of us,” he said.

According to him, CLASSE takes a different approach to relations with the newly-elected PQ government than the student federations’ collaborative approach.

“The PQ has a long history of making promises that they don’t keep and are certainly no friends of any progressive social struggle,” he explained. He said that CLASSE is on alert for the tuition hike to return in the coming weeks and months.

A ministry devoted to higher education
First-time MNA Duchesne, a former Radio-Canada journalist and journalism professor at Université Laval, will be the first minister for the newly created Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology.

Staff within the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport said they have yet to receive directives from the PQ as to how responsibilities will be divided between it and the new ministry.

The veteran PQ MNA Marie Malavoy will be the new Minister of Education, Leisure and Sport, a position formerly held by Liberal MNA Line Beauchamp, who resigned in the midst of the student strike before Michelle Courchesne was appointed to take her place.

According to Desjardins, Malavoy will not be involved in settling outstanding issues related to the student strike or the organization of the upcoming summit on higher education, which the premier has committed to organizing. Desjardins said the summit is likely to occur in February or March 2013.

Impact on students

Though now abolished, the tuition increase was already billed to students attending Quebec universities.

Circumstances vary depending on the institution: at the Université de Montréal tuition billing was delayed so no students will need reimbursement. At the Université du Québec à Montréal, the period to pay tuition ranges from mid-July to Nov. 2 so the number of students affected is undetermined, whereas, at McGill University, the deadline for fall 2012 tuition payments was set for the end of August. At Concordia, students were instructed to pay tuition including the hike weeks ago.

Spokespeople from Concordia, McGill and UQÀM confirmed that the universities have yet to receive any official direction from the government as to how and when reimbursements to students are to be provided.

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