On February 2, Quebec’s Minister of Finance and Minister Responsible for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers, Eric Girard, visited McGill for a fireside chat with President Deep Saini. Girard’s visit has come at a time when many students at both McGill and Concordia are outraged over the tuition increases for out- of-province and international students set to be implemented by the CAQ, the party to which Girard belongs. For the three days leading up to Girard’s visit, departments at McGill and Concordia representing about 10,000 students were striking in protest of this increase. In anticipation of the talk, student protestors gathered outside of the Bronfman building to denounce the CAQ’s tuition hikes, as well as Girard’s silence on the issue.
“I’m aware that this decision has been unpopular,” said Girard when talking to reporters from the Daily and Le Délit. “I think all the concerns that have been expressed are legitimate.” He emphasized the need for the university and the government to sit down and find an “honest compromise.” However, he believes reducing the tuition increase from $17,000 to $12,000 with mandatory French courses is an example of such an “honest compromise.” On the other hand, McGill President Deep Saini has said that these new measures “are expected to have an even more devastating effect on the University than the ones announced two months ago.”
Originally from Quebec City, Girard himself attended McGill from 1986 to 1989 to pursue a joint honours degree in Economics and Finance. He now represents the riding of Groulx in the Laurentides region of the province, and dreams of one day becoming the finance minister of Canada.
During the discussion with Saini, Girard defended the tuition hikes and mandatory French classes as a measure to combat the supposed decline of the French language in Quebec.
“The Quebec government needs to take measures to promote and protect French,” he explained. “One measure is to make sure that citizens coming from outside of Quebec to study at McGill and Concordia will take some of the time in their curriculum to learn French, and therefore it will be easier for them to stay here after they graduate.”
When asked about the concern that the tuition increase, currently projected to be 33 per cent, would price out lower- income out-of-province and international students, including those who may be fluent French speakers, Girard replied that the university should address this concern. McGill has already created the Canada Award to offset the increased cost of tuition for out-of-province students, but the administration has warned that it would require significant financial sacrifices.
Finance or Minister Responsible for Relations with English- Speaking Quebecers. He claimed that these decisions are entirely the responsibility of Pascale Déry, Minister of Higher Education, and would not be included in the 2024-2025 budget to be released in March.
When asked about his role as Minister for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers, Girard was quick to point out that he’s “not a lobbyist” for anglophones. Instead, his role is to “make sure that the communication lines are open, [so] that their points of view are heard when we do legislation.”
As seen by the protesters gathering outside the Bronfman building in anticipation of this event, Girard’s visit has come at a time when many members of the McGill community and beyond remain unhappy with the CAQ’s policies toward language and education. Girard acknowledged that many people advised him not to come at a time like this, but said it was important for him to speak with finance students at McGill.