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'Back down for good': Liberals call on Legault to reverse language rules, tuition hikes for English universities

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The François Legault government is dividing Quebecers by forcing English universities to adopt "harmful" new French-language rules for out-of-province students, the Official Opposition says.

One day after Quebec Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry announced the new requirements for McGill, Concordia, and Bishop's universities, the Quebec Liberal Party's interim leader, Marc Tanguay, published an open letter calling on the government to reverse course.

Under the new policy, announced by Déry in a social media post on Thursday, anglophone universities could face unspecified financial penalties if 80 per cent of their students don't reach an intermediate, or level 5, on the French-language proficiency scale by graduation. Just a few days ago, the trio of universities had proposed a threshold of 40 per cent, but now say what the government is asking for is unrealistic.

"Unfortunately, the government chose division over progress, rejecting this proposal in favour of an unrealistic 80% francization requirement," Tanguay wrote in his letter on Friday.

"The Legault government couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that non-resident Canadian students changed the linguistic dynamic in Quebec. Instead, they made their choice based on ideology instead of facts. There was no need for such a mess, and this remains true. There is only one way out: François Legault needs to back down for good. Being a nationalist has nothing to do with harming Quebec or undermining its institutions."

Déry also announced Thursday that under the new measures, tuition for non-Quebec undergraduate students at McGill and Concordia would rise from about $9,000 to $12,000, down from the previous figure of $17,000 the CAQ had originally announced on Oct. 13. Bishop's University, located in Sherbrooke, Que., is exempt from the tuition hike.

Déry says the changes, which will take effect in the 2025-2026 school year, are necessary to stop the decline of French in Quebec, particularly in Montreal, and that the added costs will be redistributed to the French-language post-secondary institutions.

However, the Legault government has come under fire for the controversial plan, which critics say was introduced without any data to back up their claims about out-of-province students contributing to the decline of French and appeared to be in direct response the sovereigntist Parti Québécois (PQ) surging ahead of the CAQ in recent polls.

Tanguay says in his letter that the lowering of the tuition hike to $12,000 was a positive step, but still "insufficient."

"This tuition increase is detrimental to the renowned academic institutions of Quebec, as it fails to provide any assurance of the additional revenues that the government hopes to generate; on the contrary, students will choose to attend other universities," the letter reads.

The head of McGill called the new plan a "targeted attack on institutions that have been part of Quebec and have contributed to Quebec for hundreds of years."

When the first version of the new measures was announced two months ago, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante had said the tuition hikes would hurt the city's reputation. On Friday, a member of her executive committee provided his reaction to the government's intentions.

Robert Beaudry, a city councillor for the Ville-Marie borough where McGill and Concordia are located, called on the Quebec government to "support the development of our universities."

"The Canadian and international students who choose Montreal have the potential to form a large pool of skilled workers that Quebec needs to meet the challenges ahead," Beaudry wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Montreal is a great university city. Regardless of the language in which they are taught, our institutions are recognized around the world and their reputation is second to none. Let's keep the dialogue going. Let's keep Montreal attractive."

McGill officials said at a press conference Thursday that the institution has been a part of Quebec society for more than 200 years and, in the face of what it calls a "catastrophic" government policy, it isn't ruling out opening a satellite or branch campus outside of the province.

Marc Tanguay: A Meaningful but Insufficient Reversal

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