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Tuition hikes are bad for Montreal's reputation, will push students to Toronto: Plante


Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante says Quebec’s tuition hikes will send would-be Quebec students to other provinces at a time when the city is in serious need of workers.

"Let’s be honest," she said during a Wednesday press conference, where she faced a flurry of questions from reporters asking her if she agreed with the Calition Avenir Quebec’s plans.

School administrations, opposition lawmakers, and students present and future were reeling this week after the government said it would raise university tuition for out-of-province students.

Under the proposed hike, tuition for out-of-province students will jump from $8,992 to $17,000 in the fall of 2024. International students will have to pay a minimum of $20,000.

"We need workers. We need students. We want our economy to grow," she said. "(If the CAQ wants) to reduce the gap between Ontario and Quebec, I have to say, this measure, what it will support is more people going to Toronto universities." 

Higher Education Minister Pascale Dery made the announcement last Friday, saying the nearly-doubled price for students would mirror what their education costs the government.

The measure is supposed to protect the French language. Quebec’s three English-language universities — McGill, Concordia, and Bishop's — receive a much higher percentage of their student base from outside Quebec, compared to French schools.


"They want to push the French language, which is fine, and they’ve already put several laws in place," Tashya Weatherstone, an English literature major, told CTV while walking through Concordia’s downtown campus on Wednesday.

"I don’t think its going to make a difference. I think it’s just going to make a lot of people angry," she said.

"When I moved here, I learned French. I respect the province," said Silas Howard, who came to Montreal from upstate New York to study at Concordia.

"Are we saying foreign students aren’t welcome?" he asked. "We’re saying that, if you’re not from this province, then you can’t come here unless you reach a certain income level?"

In a Wednesday statement, McGill University said there’s "no question" Quebec’s incoming tuition hikes could affect enrollment, with students opting to study elsewhere in Canada to escape rising fees.

"Our focus is to work with government and our partners to reverse these impacts," said spokesperson Cynthia Lee.

English schools are in talks with the government this week, Finance Minister Eric Girard confirmed. He also voiced his sympathy for their concerns during a Wednesday scrum.

"These universities are our universities, they're Quebec universities, they're very important to the economy, to the social fabric," he told reporters.

But some feel the hike contradicts that idea.

Alexandrah Cardona, academic and advocacy coordinator for Concordia’s student union, poses for a photo outside the university on Oct. 18, 2023 (Luca Caruso-Moro, CTV News)

"Not only are we losing amazing talent, bright students … but the monetary impact is huge," said Alexandrah Cardona, academic and advocacy coordinator for Concordia’s student union (CSU).

She said that she was briefed by the university, which informed her that revenue loss could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars within the next five years if the measure becomes law.

"The province is really stifling its own institutions and preventing us from really contributing significantly to the economy, and Quebec society as a whole," she said.

Mayor Plante herself echoed those concerns. She said she’s proud to say Montreal is North America’s only French metropolis, and that French should be protected.

But, she said, a hike would threaten the city’s economy.

"I guess I’m disappointed, because it’s hard for the international reputation for the metropolis," she said, adding that the city had not been told about the CAQ’s plan beforehand. 

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