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McGill versus Quebec

McGill sues Quebec government over tuition hikes for out of province students

On February 15, McGill launched a legal case against the Quebec government following two measures announced on December 14, 2023. This includes an increase in tuition for out-of-province undergraduate and master’s students, as well as changes to the funding model for international students at both the undergraduate and master’s level. 

McGill’s President and Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini has explained how this has come about as “the Quebec government has confirmed it is unwilling to reconsider the changes to tuition and financing for students from outside of Quebec,” adding that “we have no choice but to take extraordinary action.” 

In February, Quebec announced its intention to raise tuition fees for out of province students from the current minimum of $8,992 to $12,000. This comes alongside a requirement for 80 per cent of students to achieve French conversational proficiency by graduation. 

Following an announcement on February 15, the university mentioned how it has issued a stay, which hopes to stall the implementation of the two measures “while the court considers the challenge,” mentioning how it is a violation of both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. At the forefront of McGill’s legal battle is lawyer Pearl Eliadis, who mentions how Quebec’s government measures focus on “differential treatment, the discriminatory treatment [and] the attacks on major institutions” in an interview with CBC. She added that “they [McGill and Concordia] have been very valuable to the province of Quebec.” 

Quebec ministers have played key roles in the lawsuit against McGill, with the university announcing how the measures are “an unreasonable exercise of power by the Minister of Higher Education since they were incompatible with the mission assigned to her.” Pascale Déry, the Minister of Higher Education in Quebec has been focal in Quebec’s attack on English language institutes, initially proposing that out-of-province tuition be increased to $17,000 in October 2023. 

SSMU Arts Representative Rishi Kalaga, who is also Chair of SSMU’s Combatting the Tuition Hike Committee, noted how “the tuition hikes will severely harm daily life at McGill by bringing on funding cuts and hiring freezes.” He expressed support for McGill’s lawsuit as  “[t]he Quebec government does not seem to be listening to our calls to repeal the new measures so I think the best course of action to take from here is to take the issue to the courts.” 

SSMU adopted a ‘Motion Regarding action against tuition hikes,’ approved on January 18 which includes two appendices outlining their plan to fight the tuition hikes. Appendix I states how “[t]he SSMU will continue to explore the ways in which these tuition hikes can be opposed” through “mobilisation and protest movements.” Appendix II establishes the formation of the Combatting the Tuition Hike Committee. 

Due to the issue being “before the courts,” the Quebec government has failed to respond to the concerns of McGill or Concordia, adding to confusion. 

Concordia joins McGill’s decision to sue the Quebec Government, filing a separate lawsuit, where, unlike McGill, it wishes to also challenge the 80 per cent French conversational proficiency hallmark set for Concordia students as well as the out of province tuition hikes. In an opinion piece for the Montreal Gazette, President Graham Carr stated “From Day 1, it has been obvious that the government is improvising — never presenting accurate data to support its claim, refusing to engage in respectful dialogue or constructive consultation.” 

Bursaries have been introduced as a mitigation measure for McGill and Concordia students, with McGill proposing a ‘Canada Award’ of $3,000 for 80 per cent of incoming undergraduate students to bring the tuition rate closer to its current rate of $9,000. Arts, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Music, Education, Nursing, and Architecture departments are all eligible. Saini mentioned in a press release how “offering this award will require the university to make financial sacrifices,” yet the question remains: where will these sacrifices come from and what form they will take? 

SSMU’s motion mentions how sacrifices may come in the form of “enrollment and revenue drops, program cuts, layoffs and major reductions in the varsity teams,” having collateral effects in almost all areas of McGill. McGill’s budget for 2023-2024 creates a larger shadow of doubt of whether financing such an ambitious bursary program will be possible, with the university already in substantial long-term debt of $1.28 billion.

The Daily reached out to Liam Gaither, SSMU Vice-President External Affairs , on the topic of the financial sacrifices which McGill will be hit with. Gaither mentioned how “[t]he university will have to make a lot of cuts in all areas of the institution” . One particular area which Gaither focused on was the fact that there will be “no floor fellows” next year as a result of persistent cuts, causing further difficulty for incoming undergraduates. He hoped to reassure these students by mentioning that “the McGill degree’s prestige still remains intact, although one suspects that it will undergo some degradation if these measures are successful.” 

Concordia has already reported a 27 per cent decline in out of province applicants for the coming academic semester, while McGill reports a decline of 20 per cent for Fall 2024 and Winter 2025 with the fallout from these tuition hikes already visible. It remains to be seen what result the lawsuit will bring about. Yet, it is clear that anglophone institutions are not backing down, with Pearl Elliadis mentioning how Quebec’s measures “from a legal perspective raise some very serious questions.”