Education Debate at UQAM Throws Liberal Party to The Wolves

Hélène David Remained on Offensive About Past Austerity Budget

Candidates from each major party gathered on Tuesday for the debate on education, which took place at Université du Québec à Montréal. Photo Miriam Lafontaine

Higher Education Minister Hélène David anxiously clutched the armchair of her seat all throughout Tuesday night’s debate on education, at Université du Québec à Montréal.

David constantly had to defend herself as candidates from the Coalition Avenir Québec, Parti Québécois, and Québec Solidaire hit her with a flurry of criticism on her party’s cuts in education over the past four years.

A recurring theme throughout the debate was how each party plans to make teaching more attractive to society.

The fact that many students and graduates from teaching programs drop the profession within five years was a recurrent theme throughout the debate. Opposing candidates spent a lot of time pointing out how the Liberal Party had failed to correct that their last fours years.

“It’s taken too long for the Liberal government to realize that we need more professionals in schools,” said Christine Labrie, the QS candidate for the Sherbrooke riding and spokesperson on education.

“We can’t make budget advancements by cutting the services for children.”

Though Québec Solidaire promises free and accessible education from daycare to the graduate level, it remained unclear through the debate how they plan on making it a reality. Labrie said that Québec Solidaire wants to pour $2 million in education.

All four parties agreed that they would make it a priority to give young teachers a better salary to keep them in the field.

David had to emphasize that the government has “cleaned up” their public financing and stressed they plan on investing more money in hiring teachers and other professionals in schools, such as resource specialists and speech therapists.

This money includes increases of $105.2 million in grants to schools in the 2018-2019 school year and bonuses of $6.3 million for smaller establishments. David also briefly mentioned that that additional funding is planned for faculties such as medicine.

Carole Poirier, the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve riding’s PQ candidate and education spokesperson, said her party would implement laws to protect the education budget from future cuts.

“Deprive someone of water for three days, they’ll thank you crying tears of joy when you bring them a glass of water.” — Jean-Francois Roberge

“No more playing yo-yo with the budget,” she said. “We want to make sure that the costs are insured so that education can have the means to develop and offer these services all over Quebec.”

Labrie backed up Poirier’s idea, adding that the government needs to put the money in the budget and truly respond to the demands in the domaine.

“We need governments that are consistent in their discourse,” she said. “If they say that education is a priory, they must invest as such.”

What About Universities?

The debate’s host, Brian Myles, director of Le Devoir, brought up the fact that Francophone universities are at a disadvantage because they don’t get as much funding from donors as Anglophone universities.

When asked what their parties propose as a solution to this gap, David brought up the Liberal Party’s recent modifications to the university funding model. According to ministry of higher education, this model would increase public investments in universities by an average of 11 per cent. According to the Liberal Party this proposal would bring in $1.5 billion between the 2016-2017 school year and the 2022-2023 one.

David said that though universities are asking for more money, many are pleased with this model.

When asked if they would keep the Liberal Party’s university funding model, Jean-Francois Roberge, the CAQ candidate in the Chambly riding and education spokesperson, said it was like putting a band-aid on the issue and that though it was going in the right direction, it was a little too late.

He said that David’s claim that the universities were “very pleased” with the model was weak.

“Deprive someone of water for three days, they’ll thank you crying tears of joy when you bring them a glass of water,” he said.

Roberge also brought attention the additional funding from the Liberal government to Francophone universities and CEGEPs to attract new international students.

“We have to remember that [Francophone] universities will only gain additional funding for each new international student,” he said. “In fact, this will create a gap in wealth between Francophone and Anglophone universities, and that’s unacceptable.”

Roberge said that it’s important that Francophone networks have better financing because it’s harder for them to get money from international students. Since the Quebec government has agreements with France and Belgium that ensures their students pay cheaper rates in our province’s schools, they have a harder time increasing their revenues.

Roberge said though he agrees there needs to be more grants for international students, they shouldn’t only attributed to new international students.

Poirier added that this, coupled with the deregulation of tuition fees for undergraduate international students, means that popular Anglophone universities will be able to charge excessive amounts in tuition. This, she said, will end the redistribution of wealth between universities that the government had previously.

Poirier said that the new compensation plan will only create more competition for international student recruitment–to the detriment of universities.