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CAQ vs. English universities: François Legault’s specialty is cutting Quebec off at the knees

“François Legault’s decision to double the cost of university tuition for out-of-province students is shortsighted, mean-spirited and, from an economic vantage point, completely idiotic.”

When it comes to fucking yourself over, no one succeeds like the petty nationalists running this province into the ground. 

François Legault’s decision to double the cost of university tuition for out-of-province students is shortsighted, mean-spirited and, from an economic vantage point, completely idiotic. It is precisely the kind of xenophobic, politically motivated pandering to the most closed-minded elements of Quebec society that hinders our province’s progress. 

That this is being done, according to French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge and Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry, with the specific intent of lowering enrolment at Quebec’s three anglophone universities, is more evidence that cruelty really is the point. Bills 21 and 96 were bad enough, but without sufficient pushback from the federal government or mayor of Montreal, it was only a matter of time before Legault and his merry band of hate-mongers would go for the jugular with a stunt like this.

That Roberge and Déry positioned this as a way to save money and the French language is remarkable in that they actually thought they could get away with it. No matter what politicians say, the French language is not threatened anywhere in Quebec, least of all in Montreal, where it is the language of public life and business.

Legault may present himself as defender of Quebec’s culture, society and language, but he does so in a manner no different from the Catholic Church that held the province captive throughout la Grande Noirceur. Rather than reward or encourage the preservation and promotion of the French language, he comes up with new ways to penalize and handicap the anglophone minority.

Déry and Roberge were explicit in articulating this penalty: doubling tuition for out of province students will cost McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s tens of millions of dollars. None of the institutions were consulted before Legault made his decision.

This wasn’t an unexpected consequence of an ill-conceived plan or program gone awry, but a deliberate choice to penalize successful institutions that are responsible for bringing tens of thousands of Canadians to Quebec. To study here, to start businesses here, to pay taxes here, to fall in love and marry here.

Roberge said out of province students leave once they graduate, then blamed them for their ‘anglicizing effect’. Is it any wonder they might not wish to stay here, when they are so consistently blamed — without reason — for the imminent destruction of the province?

These are not the actions of enlightened leaders, but of reactionary thugs. 

Though Legault has framed this as a financial decision, his justification doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. 

For one, the anticipated lower enrolment means thousands, if not potentially tens of thousands fewer people participating in the economic ecosystems of these universities. Second, the sudden loss of revenues — Bishop’s anticipates a loss of as much as a third of their revenue — will likely have a debilitating effect on the universities’ finances in the short term, which will result in a trickle down effect of negative economic impacts within the universities’ economic ecosystems. This may require subsequent government bailouts. 

What the long-term economic impact might be is anyone’s guess, but likely won’t be positive. It’s not unlike a brain drain.

That Legault is using Roberge and Déry as the public face of what is already proving to be an unpopular decision on both sides of the linguistic fence is ample evidence of his cowardice. He’s testing the waters on a decision he likely doesn’t have much faith in.

But positioning this as a purely financial decision is bullshit. There are other ways to finance Quebec’s francophone universities that don’t involve penalizing the anglophone minority, not to mention far superior methods of promoting the French language in Montreal. If Legault needs a few hundred million to invest in Quebec’s francophone universities, he could consider abandoning his plans to replace the roof of the Olympic stadium, a building that has no purpose, and for which a new roof would not provide any.

By Legault’s logic, we have plenty of money to piss away on a new retractable roof for a stadium with no anchor tenant, but incentivizing out of province students with discount tuition — something both péquiste and liberal governments have evidently had no problem with for decades — is unsustainable.

This has nothing to do with increasing funding to francophone universities or protecting the French language in Quebec. This much should be evident in a place where everybody already speaks French, where all the anglophone institutions of higher learning are already completely bilingual, and where having more than a working knowledge of French is necessary to get even menial employment.

This is about cesspool politics. This is about the CAQ losing a by-election to the Parti Québécois. Not unlike Bills 21 and 96, it’s about scoring cheap political points off groups that are already so marginalized in Quebec they likely won’t be able to organize to fight back. 

What is truly disturbing and despicable here is the insidious manner by which ethno-nationalists such as Legault have sought to confine and constrain the remaining anglophone community of Quebec, limiting its growth in ways that would be completely unacceptable had they occurred anywhere else. 

It isn’t ethnic cleansing, but it is the most recent step in a decades long effort to minimize a minority group, undermine the foundations of their community and progressively limit that community’s ability to grow and develop on its own terms.

The anglophone community of Quebec is artificially limited in how it develops. They can have as many children as they want, but like everywhere else across Canada, having a lot of children isn’t practical, just as it is economically unviable for the majority of the population and environmentally unsustainable. Just like francophone Quebec is somewhat dependent on immigration for its continued population growth, so too is its anglophone minority. And as all Quebec anglophones know, immigration to Quebec prioritizes francophones, and new immigrants to the province must be educated in French. As a consequence of this, there has been considerable downsizing of Quebec’s English-language public education system, and as any sociologist, urban planner or policy analyst will tell you, the loss of a public school is a red line for any community. Once it’s lost, it is almost impossible to get it back, and whatever community existed previously isn’t likely to soldier on much longer. 

Don’t believe me? Visit any post-industrial American city’s traditional Black neighbourhood (they all have, or at least had, one). More often than not, you’ll find an abandoned school in the middle of what used to be a thriving community.

When Bill 101 became law in 1977, it didn’t quite seem as dire a situation: the anglo community had a baby boom just like the francophone community. Insisting new immigrants go to French schools was a bit of a ‘tough love’ approach to language equity, but it also solved a nagging problem that had caused several incidents, including the Saint Leonard Schools Crisis of 1968 and 1969. 

What couldn’t be anticipated in 1977 was the combination of Montreal’s deindustrialization, the capital shift of major corporations to Toronto over the course of the 1980s and the nearly nonstop constitutional battles that would rage for 15 years between the first and second referendums. All of these factors contributed to a major population loss for Quebec’s anglophone community, so much so that the various institutions that had historically served as the pillars of the community began to shutter. Elementary schools, high schools, libraries, hospitals, newspapers, radio stations and a hell of a lot of small businesses all disappeared. The loss of these foundational elements of the anglo community only exacerbated the population loss. Quebec’s anglophone community has not, and will never, recover from this.

Quebec’s anglo population adapted to this new reality as best as it could: it taught its children to speak French, and coalesced around the institutions it still had. Montreal went through some tough times in the 1990s, particularly downtown. The concentration of anglophone institutions and inexpensive apartments made for a strong combination that kept the city interesting and livable. Attracting out of province students was a key component of an unwritten survival strategy. These factors not only kept Montreal’s city centre vibrant through a period of relative economic decline, it further helped bridge historic linguistic divides.

Montreal is the city it is today in no small part because of this unique component of our history. It’s quite literally the socio-cultural experience underpinning the city’s artistic renaissance around the turn of the last century. These institutions aren’t just valuable to whoever calls themselves an anglo, but for the city of Montreal and the whole of the province as well. 

It is undeniable that the few remaining anglophone colleges and universities used to be a small but important source of growth for the anglo community, but what is far more significant is that it was a source of inter-cultural exchange and innovation the whole province benefited from. The French face of Quebec is not threatened, not in the least, but its long-term viability certainly is when pompous populist politicians seek to enforce a monoculture for their own gain. Quebec already has serious problems with racism and xenophobia, despite its obvious dependency on immigration. Rather than provide newcomers a way to avoid integrating, as language zealots so often claim, the effectively bilingual anglo institutions of higher learning served first and foremost as places where cultural divides could be bridged, languages learned and people could integrate and innovate together. With his most recent inconsiderate and unlettered decree (coupled with the impact of Bill 96), Legault has effectively put an end to this. 

For shame — it’s the whole province, not only the anglophone community, that will suffer the consequences.

We — all of us, irrespective of our mother tongues — are being bullied by a coward who is not acting in the best interests of the people of Quebec. If we fight back, even a little, I expect he would fold like a cheap umbrella. 

On a closing note, I haven’t seen or heard any comment from Mayor Plante on this issue.

Her silence is deafening. 


Shortly after this article was published this morning, Mayor Plante made a statement indicating both her anxiety and surprise at Legault’s decision. She didn’t quite come out and condemn it, but instead opted to remind the public of how important this is to Montreal’s economy and reputation. She’s not wrong, though I would have preferred stronger, more explicit language.

That said, I’ve noticed several additional editorials come out making a strong case against this hopelessly backwards decision, and now Legault has gone on record saying this isn’t any kind of anti-anglo manoeuvre. I think I’ve detailed above how it is.

Hopefully this is a sign that Legault is on the ropes.

As to Plante, I’d like her to take a moment and reflect on what kind of Montreal she wants, and ask herself whether her vision for the future of this city doesn’t put her in a position where she must take a much stronger position advocating for minority rights and ‘convivialité’ against the oppressive, regressive and populist monoculture that wins one a majority in the National Assembly. The anglo community of Quebec, like all minority groups, needs a champion. It may as well be the mayor of Montreal. ■

Read more editorials by Taylor C. Noakes.