McGill, News

McGill sues Quebec over tuition hikes, cites discrimination and lack of consultation

On the morning of Feb. 23, McGill announced that the university has filed a lawsuit against the Quebec government over tuition hikes. These mean that new out-of-province students attending anglophone universities in Quebec will pay roughly 30 per cent more than in previous years. This announcement came alongside the news that out-of-province applications to McGill dropped by over 20 per cent this year. Concordia, which also saw a significant decline in applications, filed a separate suit over the tuition hikes the same day. 

In the suit, the university claims that the tuition hikes are discriminatory, as they target anglophone students; that they constitute an overreach on behalf of Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education, Pascale Déry; that they were instituted without proper consultation with universities; that they are “a disguised and illegal tax” created without the permission of the National Assembly; and, finally, that as an obstacle to accessing education across provinces, they create an unconstitutional barrier to interprovincial trade.

In an email to The Tribune, Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle pointed out that the university’s concerns about the tuition hikes have been echoed by the committee in charge of advising the Minister of Higher Education and the Minister of Education on issues surrounding the accessibility of education.

“The government’s own Comité consultatif sur l’accessibilité financière aux études, composed of representatives of government and French-language universities and [CEGEPs], who said that the decision risks compromising access to a quality education and depriving Quebec society of potential talent. Therefore, the Committee ‘strongly urges the government to reconsider this decision.’”

Gregory Kelley, a member of the Quebec National Assembly who represents the Jacques-Cartier electoral district, which includes Macdonald Campus, spoke with The Tribune about the implications of the tuition hikes and of McGill’s lawsuit. Kelley, who is a McGill graduate, celebrated the university’s decision to “fight against something that they see as being unjust,” but wishes it had not come to this.

“I think that it’s […] extremely frustrating to see that McGill and Concordia have to go to the courts, because this can easily be avoided by just not having this policy in place at all,” Kelley said. “But it is a little bit of the style of the current government. If we look at Bill 40, the challenge to the school boards thing, again, there was no need to have a court battle over the constitutional rights, the English-speaking community to manage and control its own school boards.”

Kelley also spoke to the lack of consultations carried out prior to the tuition hikes being announced.

“Some of the principals of our institutions have learned about this announcement through a tweet,” Kelley said. “From what I understand, the consultations that were being done beforehand were more directed towards developing a francisation plan, which McGill and Concordia and Bishop’s were all about working on. And then all of a sudden they hear this different announcement come from the CAQ [Coalition Avenir Québec] government that took them completely off guard [….] It just so goes again that the CAQ was sort of making things up on the back of a napkin.”

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President External Liam Gaither believes that the university’s decision to sue was a predictable one. He emphasized, however, that he thinks the decision is less about its students and more about protecting its own financial viability. 

“I think that it [the lawsuit] will certainly put the question to students and whether they want to participate in activist mobilizing against tuition hikes, and my response to that is, I think both things have to happen in tandem,” Gaither said to The Tribune. “We can’t just let the university handle this on our behalf, because the university actually does not represent us; they represent themselves [….] This is a move to protect the university’s bottom line, more so than the affordability of education for students in Quebec.”

Gaither pointed out that the student body has been grossly overlooked throughout negotiations over the tuition hikes. He urges the creation of a “roundtable-style consultative body” as discussions continue. 

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