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Feds transfer $275 million to Quebec students

FEUQ worried misallocation of funds could hurt students

Corrections appended Feb. 10

On February 4, Christian Paradis, minister of Natural Resources and Conservative MP for Mégantic-L’Érable, and Josée Verner, minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Conservative MP for Louis-St-Laurent, officially announced that the federal government will transfer $275 million to the Quebec government to compensate for its spending on the student loans program in the 2009-2010 school year.

In the government press release, Verner said that the “ announcement clearly demonstrates that our government and our provinces are working together in the spirit of co-operation to achieve concrete results for youth in the Greater Quebec region.”

Currently, the Quebec Student Financial Assistance Program and student aid programs in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories operate independently from the Canada Student Loans Program used by all other provinces. For Quebec and the Territories, the federal government provides alternative payments for their student aid programs. Friday’s announcement represents an increase of $150 million to these payments compared to the 2008-2009 school year.

Payments of $1.6 million to Nunavut and $2 million to the Northwest Territories indicate an increase of over 100 per cent. These recent increases to alternative payments correspond to ten per cent increases in student loans for provinces involved in the Canada Student Loans Program.

VP External Affairs Myriam Zaidi explained that when the federal government abolished the Millennium Bursaries scholarship two years ago, it decided to replace it with provincial transfers – money that would be directed at provincial student loans programs.

“The issue is that although the amounts were increased also last year, the provincial government didn’t reform the student loans and bursaries program in order to reflect the incoming money,” she said.

The allocation of these funds for post-secondary education ultimately fall within the purview of the Quebec government. Esther Chouinard, a spokesperson for Line Beauchamp, minister for Education, Leisure, and Sports (MELS) in Quebec stated that “it is up to the finance ministry to decide where the funds are sent.”

This allocation scheme has left many Quebec post-secondary organizations concerned that the funding may not reach students. These groups include the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ).

FECQ president, Léo Bureau-Blouin, applauded the federal government for increasing funding for loans and bursaries, but expressed reservations.

“We believe that students will never receive the entirety of the transferred [funds]…[Quebec Finance Minister] Monsieur Bachand said that the whole amount will not be given to Quebec students and we think it is only acceptable that the finance ministry use all these amounts to improve the loans and bursaries program because the needs are chronic…thus we want action taken now,” he said.

Bureau-Blouin was referring to an article published December 3, 2010 in the Journal de Québec. The article explained that the cheque from Ottawa will be in the hands of the Quebec Finance minister, who, according to a spokesperson speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Finance and MELS, “could decide to allocate a portion of that money for other purposes.”

Zaidi claims that “the onus is not only on minister Bachand but also on Beauchamp,” adding that,  “Last year, Minister Courchesne said that she would look into reform but didn’t do anything.”

Bureau-Blouin elaborated on the pressing needs facing Quebec students. “Tuition fees have been increasing for three years now… for example with the McGill MBA; we’re talking about a $40,000 Master’s degree… The Quebec government may announce another tuition increase that could bring our tuition fees to the national average,” he said. “The costs are increasing each year while the [funding towards] loans and bursaries programs is not being increased.”

Bernard Drainville, spokesperson for Intergovernmental affairs, indicated that federal transfers for post-secondary education are still far below former levels of investment.

“Before the cuts of…the Chrétien government in the early 1990s, Quebec would get $800 million more every year. Unfortunately, while Charest said the government would make this issue a priority in 2005, he got nothing, and, worse, now he has totally given up on this issue as yet the issue of funding universities is a major challenge,” Drainville said in a Quebec government press release.

Zaidi expressed that she has “little faith” in the current provincial government.

“This is the same government that cut 103 million dollars from student loans and bursaries system in 2005 … it took 100 thousand students in the street and millions [sic] on strike to put it back,” she said. “I don’t think their priority is accessibility at all… they want to increase tuition as well so we have to keep a close eye on them.”

Due to an editorial error, the Daily failed to obtain an interview from VP External Myriam Zaidi at press time. Her comments are therefore included in this web version only. An earlier version of this story also incorrectly printed that it took millions of students on the street to put back the 2005 students loans and bursaries cuts, in fact it took millions of students on strike.

Esther Chouinard was originally cited as the spokesperson for the Minister of Finance and MELS referred to in the Journal de Québec article. She is in fact the spokesperson quoted on behalf of MELS only.

Bureau-Blouin was originally attributed as the FEUQ president. He is in fact the FECQ president.

The Daily regrets the errors.