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Petition to halt Quebec tuition hikes collects 33,000 signatures

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Flanked by students at Quebec's National Assembly, Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy presented a landmark petition to stop the government from doubling tuition rates for out-of-province students.

As of Tuesday, more than 33,000 people signed the petition demanding the Legault government back down on controversial tuition hikes slated for next year.

In mid-October, the province announced it would introduce a tuition hike starting next fall, requiring most new students from outside Quebec to pay nearly twice what current students pay.

The government has maintained the move is supposed to protect the French language. Quebec's English-language universities -- Concordia, McGill, and Bishop's -- enroll more students from outside the province than their French-language counterparts.

Since then, all three universities have called on the government to change course, warning of severe budget cuts and enrollment shortfalls should the hikes pass.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of signatures were presented at the National Assembly demanding the government scrap the new fees, and Rizqy challenged the premise of the hikes.

"This is his real agenda. It's not to protect French. It's just to win some votes," she said, referring to Quebec Premier François Legault and his party's loss in the October Jean-Talon byelection.

Rizqy, the Liberals' education and higher education critic, says her team hasn't seen documented justification for the hikes and their ability to protect the use of French.

"We actually [filed an access to information request] to the Ministry of the French language to get that data," said Liberal MNA Madwa-Nika Cadet during a Tuesday press conference.

"Our request was refused, essentially," she said.

In place of the hikes, McGill, Concordia and Bishop's have offered to create new French-language courses -- a proposal Quebec's Higher Education Minister Pascale Dery is still considering. 

"I've seen the petition I'm still discussing with the universities," said Dery on Tuesday. 

Outside the petition, which is not binding, students in both the French and English sectors have been vocal in their disdain for the hikes, and some prospective students have already told CTV they had considered coming to Quebec before the new fees were announced. 

"I think she's listening, but I'm ready to hear her start talking," said Sophia Stacey, president of Bishop's University Students' Representative Council, during the Tuesday press conference. 

McGill University says, regardless of how the province reacts to sustained outcry, some damage to the school's international reputation has already been dealt. 

"When we travel internationally, we're already being asked, 'What's that news about Quebec? What's that news about double tuition?'" said McGill's Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning Fabrice Labeau. 

"It's not only the lost revenue, but also the huge uncertainty it throws in our system," he added. "Students don't really know what to expect, because nothing has been finalized yet, and we don't know what to tell them."

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