Tuition hikes scrapped at first Parti Quebecois cabinet meeting
Published Thursday, September 20, 2012 3:57PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 20, 2012 7:32PM EDT
QUEBEC --It's over -- the tuition increase that triggered such social strife in Quebec has been cancelled.
The Parti Quebecois government has repealed the fee hike, by decree, in its first cabinet meeting on its first full day in office.
Premier Pauline Marois is acting on a promise that she had made during the election campaign.
She announced the decision at a news conference after the meeting Thursday.
“The increase is cancelled for this year, for 2012-2013 and for the next years, we will have that discussion,” said Marois.
Marois said tuition will go back to $2,168 -- the lowest in Canada. With the planned increases, it would have been $600 higher this year and would have kept growing each year.
Marois said she will not decrease funding for universities, however, and will make good on a promise to hold a summit on how to fund universities.
Some student leaders told CTV Montreal Thursday that they are up eager to get to the roundtable.
“We have to be sure we are starting the process of organization for a summit of education,” said FECQ representative Eliane Laberge.
The government policy entering that meeting will be to suggest indexing future fee increases to the rate of inflation. But she's not making any promises.
"That's a proposal I'm putting on the table," Marois said.
"It's a debate we need to have."
Marois said she will also cancel the Charest Liberals' controversial protest legislation.
Huge protests erupted across the province this spring in reaction to the fee hikes, originally planned at $325 per year over five years and later changed slightly to $254 over seven years. The events -- dubbed by some the "Maple Spring" -- drew international news coverage.
The increases were part of the Liberals' 2011-12 budget and were cast as a way to put public finances on a more sustainable footing, while guaranteeing better-funded universities.
University fees have remained frozen in the province for most of the last 40 years.
Opponents of the fee hikes warned that they could reduce access to higher education, and do serious social harm, while contributing relatively little to government coffers.
Many of those who expressed concern about the Charest Liberals’ special tuition protest law, Bill 78, will be heartened to know that that too should be scrapped soon as part of the PQ promises.
The day also saw Jean Francois Lisee shed light on his new role as provincial overseer for the Montreal area.
He reiterated his plans to promote French but vowed to do it in a way that did not appear too harsh on English-speakers.
“We want to make sure that it is not seen as an assault on anglo rights. I think we can reframe this question in a way that what's good for French is not bad for English,” said Minister Responsible for Montreal Jean-François Lisee. “I think we should start building on reciprocal empathy.”
Fellow newbie cabinet minister Bernard Drainville spoke of his upcoming role as Minister of Democratic Institutions, which will see him taking on the touchy job of drafting the PQ’s first Charter of Secularism.
“We're going to do it thoughtfully, we're going to do it cautiously, but we're going to do it,” said Drainville.
Marois also confirmed Thursday that she plans to shut down the Gentilly 2 nuclear plant and said that she is committed to tabling a balanced budget for 2013-14.
Liberals criticize PQ moves
Opposition leader Jean-Marc Fournier, who is now interim Liberal leader, commented on the PQ announcements. “Today, Pauline Marois marked the first day of her term by doing something that will affect the funding and performance of our universities,” he expressed in a written statement.
Fournier also criticized the PQ's priorities, noting that divisive issues such as identity, secularism and Bill 101 are being put at the top of the government agenda.
He also criticized the composition of Marois' cabinet, which he said contained many divisive figures and too few women.
-With a file from The Canadian Press