Student groups across Quebec are calling on the federal government to correct its mismanagement of the Canada Student Grants Program by transferring close to $118 million of financial support that has been withheld from the province.
The new grants program allocates $500 million in financial assistance to post-secondary students across Canada each year, replacing the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation (CMSF), whose mandate expired on January 5.
Quebec opted out of the federal program since the province already administers Aid financière aux études, a loans and bursaries program for Quebec students. The province also opted out of the Millennium Scholarship, instead receiving an average of $70 million per year to support the provincial program.
No agreement has yet been reached to settle the terms for a fund transfer from the Canada Student Grant Program. According to Concordia Student Union president Amine Dabchy, negotiations between the federal and provincial government have failed to make progress. Until an agreement is reached, Quebec students are ineligible to access the new funding.
Dabchy condemned the federal government for withholding the funding that is due to Quebec students, as well as the provincial government for failing to reach an agreement with Ottawa.
“When the Millennium bursary was closed, the $118 million which belongs to Quebec was not given to the government. That means that a lot of Quebec students are missing out on the funds, which could go toward loans and bursaries. We have all the rights to these funds,” he said.
Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan, SSMU VP External, said that a cash transfer should be reached since the Canada Student Grant is funded by taxes paid by Quebeckers as well.
“The program as it stands right now does not provide eligibility for Quebec students, but it is of course coming from tax dollars that are provided from all different Canadians, from all different provinces. The province is not getting its tax dollars back for education programs,” said Ronderos-Morgan.
The demise of the CMSF resulted in a shortfall in student aid available in the province, which was made up for by funding provided by the provincial government.
According to Christian Pépin, secretary of coordination in l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), however, additional investments made by the Quebec government would not excuse the federal government from making a contribution toward education in the province.
Provincial student lobby groups have demanded that the federal government not only make up for the shortfall, but also transfer funds from the grant equivalent to the per capita percentage of aid due to province of Quebec.
“New investments from the Quebec government shouldn’t substitute the money that should already come from the federal government. There should be some other money to improve student access, and financial aid for students, since there are lots of problems going on, and the money that is given now is below the rate of poverty,” said Pépin.
“Right now we are asking students to live with $200 per month, and that is below the decent revenue for students, students who work lots of hours, and it constrains them. By the end of the month they just can’t survive,” he added.
On December 2, 50 members of ASSÉ staged a protest in downtown Montreal to draw the attention of both levels of government. The protesters attempted to enter the Revenue Canada building and later tried to occupy the office of Quebec’s Finance Minister, Raymond Bachand.
“[The federal government] should transfer the money that is available with no conditions toward the Quebec government.… We will put pressure that the money [is used by the province] at the right place so that we can address the more deep problems about financial aid needed for students,” said Pépin.
Olivier Gégou, spokesperson for the Table de concertation étudiante du Québec, said that the federal transfer to the province would strengthen the financial aid mechanisms that already exist.
“If the federal program is not repatriated then there will be two programs for Quebec students, and every student from Quebec should do two applications for two different loans and grant programs,” said Gégou.
The protracted negotiations between the two levels of government have led student lobbies to demand a quick resolution to the issue so that Quebec students do not lose out in the semesters to come.