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Contracts in limbo
University leaders are shaking their heads in disbelief over education minister François Legault's announcement that he is suspending the contrats de performance process with the province's universities. No new contracts will be finalized and the ones that have already been signed, including McGill's, are now in limbo.
The announcement has added considerable fuel to recent rumours coming out of Quebec City indicating that the government is rethinking its plans to substantially increase funding to higher education.
There is even growing concern that new budget cuts to higher education, thought to be a thing of the past, might be on the horizon.
In a statement issued Sunday by the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec, the province's university heads decried the government's actions.
"[We] were informed of the decision of the ministry to suspend the signing of the contracts of performance with the universities, [a decision] which supports the rumours heard recently concerning new cuts to education.
"It would be completely unacceptable for the government to refuse to respect the promises it made to the young people of Quebec at the Youth Summit less than a year ago concerning reinvesting in the funding of higher education."
Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky says it's difficult to know what impact the government's move will have on McGill's budget planning. As recently as last Friday, a ministry official indicated to McGill administrators that he didn't believe any major cuts were imminent, but rumours continue to circulate about an upcoming cut of $400 million to the education ministry's budget.
Yalovsky says the widespread uncertainty was one of the reasons for CREPUQ's statement. By making their concerns public, university leaders are hoping to get some questions answered. Will there be cuts? To what extent?
During the summit, Quebec City promised to provide $1 billion in new funding to higher education. McGill was to have received $100 million in new funding over the next three years as a result of signing its contract with the government.
Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet says it is "incredible" that the increased funding to universities "could be in jeopardy when the ink on the performance contacts is barely dry."
Government relations director Ginette Lamontagne finds the sudden uncertainty surrounding university funding "absolutely amazing" given the clear commitments to reinvesting in higher education the government made at the Youth Summit and during the prolonged contrat de performance discussions. "It wasn't just Legault making those promises at the summit, it was the whole government."
So why is the government back-pedalling?
Lamontagne attributes it to two factors. The government finds itself in worse financial shape that it had expected. And, despite this grim economic news, Quebec City is determined to cut taxes.
Lamontagne says student leaders are gearing up for mass protests against the possible cuts to higher education. In an interview with La Presse, Christian Robitaille, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, said, "I've never seen students so angry. They feel tricked."