Montreal Gazette

Mayor defends stance on tuition

Plante `surprised' by the barrage of criticism from CAQ government


Valérie Plante says she was surprised by the blast of criticism she received from the Legault government last week after she criticized a tuition hike that is expected to hurt Concordia and Mcgill universiti­es.

But Montreal's mayor said it's normal that she and Premier François Legault don't agree on everything — and she insisted the city and province continue to have a productive relationsh­ip.

“Am I a little surprised by the co-ordinated criticism? Yes, but that being said, this is not the first time that the CAQ government and ... our administra­tion have not completely agreed on something,” Plante told reporters Friday.

She added: “I am the mayor of Montreal, so it is very important in this situation, in particular, to say yes, we want to and we must protect and promote French, but we must also support all the university institutio­ns that make us shine internatio­nally.”

A day earlier, the CAQ government publicly chastised Plante.

Legault said she “doesn't care about French in Montreal.” French Language Minister Jean-françois Roberge said Plante can't state Montreal is the francophon­e metropolis of Quebec while “opposing the French fact in Montreal.”

They were reacting to Plante's criticism of the Legault government's decision to raise tuition fees by 33 per cent for students from the rest of Canada who attend Concordia and Mcgill.

“We certainly see it as a measure that directly attacks Montreal, and that is not fair,” she told reporters Wednesday. She said she agrees that French universiti­es need more support, “but do we have to penalize anglophone universiti­es for that? My answer is: No thanks.”

The tuition increase, which only affects Mcgill and Concordia, is part of the CAQ government's effort to increase funding for French universiti­es and reduce the number of non-french-speakers in Montreal post-secondary institutio­ns.

Concordia and Mcgill say the tuition hike could scare off most outof-province students. The hike, coupled with changes in the financing of internatio­nal students, could cost them tens of millions of dollars in revenue per year, they say.

Both schools say they have seen a dramatic drop in applicatio­ns from the rest of Canada — a 27 per cent drop at Concordia, and a 22 per cent drop at Mcgill.

Last week, the Conference Board of Canada said population growth in Montreal is being directly affected by “the increase in tuition fees for foreign students and the more stringent rules on French-language capabiliti­es, as well as the national cap on foreign students.”

Plante said she's worried about a possible decline in the number of students from the rest of Canada because they help Montreal's economy, particular­ly downtown where most Concordia and Mcgill operations are based.

“I think it's important not to forget that we all, including the (CAQ) government, want downtown Montreal to be lively,” she said.

“We know how bad it has been since (the pandemic) for merchants, restaurant­s, businesses. Everyone must pitch in to find solutions.

“But the possibilit­y of having fewer students also plays a role. For me, it's a complete ecosystem, so I don't think we need to choose between (protecting French and ensuring English universiti­es thrive). You have to do both at the same time.”

She said it's not that her administra­tion and the Legault government “bicker or have spats. It's just we don't necessaril­y have the same vision of things.

“But in the end, things get done. I work with all the CAQ ministers. I have very good relations with them, talk with them, we text each other. Things are going well.”

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