Amid a simmering dispute over tuition fees for out-of-province students, Quebec’s minister responsible for relations with the English-speaking community will speak at a closed-door event at McGill University on Friday.
Eric Girard, who is also Quebec’s finance minister, will participate in an “interesting fireside chat” hosted by McGill President Deep Saini, McGill said in an invitation sent to some students.
In December, Saini described the Coalition Avenir Québec’s tuition plan as “catastrophic,” calling it a “targeted attack” on English universities.
It’s unclear if enrollment will increase at this week’s event.
McGill says Girard’s talk will be “a unique opportunity to gain insight into the economic policies and career path of a McGill graduate contributing to the growth and development of Quebec.”
The event, which will take place in a large conference room, is for students and some staff and will be closed to the media, a McGill spokesperson told the Gazette on Tuesday.
When asked why journalists will not be allowed to attend the fireside chat, Girard spokesperson Claudia Loupret cited the upcoming provincial budget. Budgets are normally presented in March, but no date has been set.
“We don’t deal with the means before the budgets,” Loupret said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The minister made himself available to journalists last week when the CAQ held a meeting in Sherbrooke.
Girard, a McGill-trained economist who has said he attended university in part to improve his English, has remained silent on Quebec’s decision to increase tuition for students from other provinces by 33 per cent.
The McGill event comes as Concordia and McGill students mobilize to fight rising tuition. Some students at both universities say they will strike on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to highlight their demand that the CAQ step back.
Groups representing at least 6,000 Concordia students and a smaller number of McGill students say they will picket the institutions during the three-day strike.
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Legault’s government has increased tuition for students from other provinces from just under $9,000 to $12,000. The tuition increase is part of Premier François Legault’s effort to increase funding for French universities and reduce the number of non-French speakers at Montreal post-secondary institutions.
McGill and Concordia say they stand to lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue due to an expected drop in enrollment in the rest of Canada.
Some Anglophone groups have urged Girard to intervene as his ministerial responsibility extends to the Anglophone community.
The Quebec Community Groups Network accused Girard of “remaining silent while his cabinet colleagues deny rights and access to services to English people, penalize English institutions such as universities and CEGEPs, and publicly denigrate the sound and the very presence of English in a cosmopolitan world and class-city.”
Last fall, when universities and English-speaking community leaders publicly denounced rising tuition, Girard resisted getting involved in the debate.
“My message is that these universities are our universities, they are Quebec universities, they are very important for the economy, for the social fabric,” he said in one of his few comments. “They have concerns, they have expressed them and I understand that they are currently in talks” with the Minister of Higher Education, Pascale Déry.
Girard, who grew up near Quebec City, once told an interviewer that studying at McGill allowed him to “access the world of finance and learn English. Before college, my knowledge of this language was limited to Red Sox games, which I followed religiously” on American television.
In 2015, Girard ran unsuccessfully for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in a race on Montreal’s West Island. He has been a CAQ MNA since 2018 and represents a riding north of Laval.