Every Friday, the Tribune’s editorial board meets to plan our editorial for the coming issue. We start with a range of ideas, and ultimately focus on the one that seems to us to be the most relevant, controversial, and interesting. We then discuss, each member bringing forward individual perspectives, but all the same aiming to reach group consensus. For this special issue, we take you behind the scenes of our editorial board discussion with an annotated editorial. Please see the image on the left to see the full version.
By the time that this editorial goes to press, the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) long-awaited Summit on Higher Education—being held on Feb. 25 and 26—will have come and gone. The Summit, announced upon the PQ’s electoral victory in September, promised open and sincere discussion on education policy that had the potential to produce immensely constructive results. Unfortunately, much of the optimism that met the initial announcement has died down; the poor communication, planning, and a range of other issues leading up to the event have greatly hampered the likelihood that the Summit will fulfill its full potential.
Although some election promises, such as the PQ’s inflexible approach to issues of language and culture, were immediately at the forefront of its agenda, the summit took much longer to materialize than most expected. Until very recently, it was only referred to by the government in the vaguest of terms: the date and location were not announced for months; parties attending the summit were only told what would be on the agenda immediately before the pre-summit consultations; even now, on the French-only website that has been put together for the event, information is extremely difficult to find, and does not show the time and location of the Summit on the front page. More than anything, the Summit looks as though it has been thrown together at the last minute, a trait that is seeming increasingly common for the PQ’s style of governance.
The nature of a minority government is such that its future is always uncertain; there is a constant need to make concessions, and satisfy enough of the opposition to remain in power. This government’s actions since being elected, however, go further than this. It seems to act with no eye to the future, simply reacting to the problem at hand. In December, the PQ announced of $140 million in funding cuts to universities across the province. They were unveiled with no prior warning to stakeholders, and shortly after the announcement of the PQ’s budget. This budget seemed to make a point not to take money from post-secondary education, and continued to herald the PQ’s implementation of a tution freeze. Once again, a lack of communication made the situation much worse than it might otherwise have been, as stakeholders scrambled to react.
Although the amount and timing of the cuts are proving catastrophic to schools—especially those like McGill that were already encountering budgetary problems—it is not all that much money for a government in the grand scheme of things. If the government viewed education as a priority, there are other places this money could have come from which would have had a less immediate and crippling impact. One example that springs to mind is the Plan Nord, which has seen none of its $2.1 billion in government funding face cuts. Ultimately, $140 million is small when dealing with billion-dollar budgets.
The cuts will inevitably shape the discussion at this week’s summit. They essentially conveyed the message, before discussions even began, that extended funding to schools is off the table. The same has been said about the possibility of a discussion on free tuition, with Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne dismissing the idea only weeks before the Summit. If matters like these are not even part of the discussion, then the discussion is inevitably incomplete. The balance of power was established before the Summit even began, and the government has made it clear that it will only hear ideas to which it is already favourable.
All of this has culminated in a situation where no party approached the Summit with any real optimism as to what can be accomplished here. Whether the PQ truly doesn’t view education as a priority, or is simply finding itself overwhelmed with the realities of running a province, it has essentially doomed this Summit to failure, making little progress on deciding the future of Quebec’s education system. Although the PQ has recently seemed to equate ‘culture’ with ‘language,’ education has long been an integral part of Quebec culture. If this government chooses to neglect it, it will be writing off a large part of this province’s past—and of its future.