News | New Quebec budget denounced

Panel criticized provincial response to the fiscal crisis and university underfunding

Julius Grey, Françoise David, and Gaétan Barette criticized Quebec’s most recent response to the fiscal crisis, and addressed university underfunding in a panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon at McGill.

The panel was organized by SSMU and the Table de concertation étudiante du Québec (TaCEQ).

Many of speakers’ statements were motivated by the 2010-2011 Quebec budget, tabled Tuesday by finance minister Raymond Bachand.

The budget calls for the government share of university funding to align with the average of the other Canadian provinces.

In 2007-2008, Quebec’s share was 67.9 per cent. Led by Jean Charest, Quebec Liberals want to bring the province’s share down to below 60 per cent.

The Liberal government is especially adamant that students, who currently shoulder 12.5 per cent of costs, increase their share to reach the average tuition fees of other provinces.

David, co-spokesperson of the Québec solidaire party, criticized the budget.

“Yesterday’s budget plan is not the Quebec we want. What’s happening here is a historical moment, but it’s history in a bad sense,” David said in French.

Increases in tuition fees of $50 per semester for all students are planned for the next two school years. This move is part of a 2007 decision to lift a 13-year tuition freeze instituted by the Parti Québécois. The freeze ends in 2012, and increases are capped at $100 per year.

Without specifying the amount, Quebec has also already announced that a new higher tuition will apply after the fall of 2012. The “Meeting of Partners in Education” next fall should lead to clearer guidelines.

SSMU’s web site claims that tuition hikes will not significantly alleviate underfunding. Currently, Quebec universities need at least an additional $400 million a year – but with the proposed hikes, students will only account for about $20 million more in investment.

The new budget also includes a graduated health tax, other public service user fees, and a higher provincial sales tax.

David spoke against the recent trend she saw in economic policy following the recession.

“I am indignant and revolted because this financial crisis is not due to everyone, but only financial speculators. Why was Quebec protected more than other governments? Because of our modèle Québécois. We all pay together collectively, and this is social solidarity,” David said.

Julius Grey, a prominent Canadian human rights lawyer and former SSMU president, spoke on the dichotomy between the utilisateur-payeur model, in which only the user pays for services, and social solidarity, in which everyone pays for everybody.

“The government’s stance is that the user of the service is the only one responsible for paying for it, but making a sick person pay for his cure fundamentally goes against the principle of equality and social justice,” Grey said.

On February 23, former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard and 15 other Quebec politicians, among them prominent former student leaders, signed a declaration, the “Pact for the Competitive Funding of Universities,” supporting an increase in post-secondary tuition.

According to Bouchard, universities face $500 million in combined debt, and taxpayers foot 80 per cent of the bill. His plan also proposed a differentiated tuition model, varying fees according to program and job prospects.

Grey and David both advocated and encouraged student presence at today’s protest against increased tuition, organized by several Montreal student unions and lobby groups.

“Everyone should protest the management program [which costs] $25,000 a year. This kind of model directly feeds the creation of “a new class system,” Grey said.