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Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks at the legislature in Quebec City on Oct. 3.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

William O’Connell is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s department of political science.

I moved from Nova Scotia to Quebec in 2012 to attend Bishop’s University, one of the province’s three English-language universities. I received an excellent education and made lifelong friends. I left Quebec with a deep appreciation for the distinctiveness of Québécois society and the importance of the preservation of the French language in Canada. The Legault government has turned that all to dust.

On Friday, the provincial government announced they would be doubling tuition for out-of-province students at English-language universities, meaning McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s. The changes will raise tuition for these students to roughly $17,000. For comparison, tuition for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Toronto or at UBC is about $6,000.

Under the new rules, the additional tuition fees will not go to the institutions. They will instead go to the government to be distributed to French universities. This effectively deprives English universities of funding. The province also separately announced they would be taking the first $20,000 from the tuition of international students, who currently pay just over $40,000. Universities previously kept the full amount.

Globe readers share their thoughts on Quebec’s tuition hike for English-speaking students

These changes will cripple Quebec. Twenty per cent of McGill’s population are out-of-province Canadians, and another 30 per cent are international students. For Bishop’s, those numbers are 30 per cent and 15 per cent. For Concordia, they are 9 per cent and 22 per cent. The principals of both Bishop’s and Concordia have made statements that they are unsure their universities can survive this financial hit. For McGill, this change will devastate one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Bankrupting universities benefits no one. McGill and Concordia are hubs of the exact sort of innovation the province needs to grow and prosper. Bishop’s carries a long tradition of vibrant liberal arts universities in Eastern Canada. But few young Canadians will look to Quebec when they can go elsewhere for less than half the price. The province will never retain top talent if they cannot attract it in the first place.

This policy harms Quebec students as well. The province has already alienated its anglophone population. But many of the students at these English universities are francophones. If Bishop’s and Concordia do not survive, these students will have limited opportunities to attend university in English without leaving the province themselves. This is important because, if they stay and attend French universities, it will make it more difficult for them to pursue advanced degrees – where the bulk of research and teaching is in English – in Canada and abroad. Even if Bishop’s and Concordia survive, the quality of education at all three institutions will degrade significantly.

Moreover, the city of Montreal depends on these students. They help build a thriving, diverse community, they pay the bills of the bars and restaurants downtown, and they contribute to what has long been the cultural capital of the country. Keeping these students out will change the city for the worse.

Of course, this appears to be exactly what the government intends. They justify this policy as a way to de-anglicize Montreal, and to protect French language education in the rest of Quebec. They blame out-of-province students for coming to Quebec, refusing to learn French and leaving the second their degrees are done. They believe these students are responsible for the decline of the language, and that they must be punished.

This narrative simply is not true. Yes, some students leave after their degrees. But many stay, learn the language and integrate into Quebec’s distinct society.

In the midst of a national housing crisis, Montreal remains affordable, and the provincial government offers a number of services unavailable elsewhere. There is a lot to attract top talent to remain in the province. Yet the government seems fixated on keeping that talent out.

The irony is that this policy will only make the problem worse. I moved to Quebec with the same preconceived notions as many English Canadians: that the province was intolerant of outsiders, and uninterested in sharing its language or culture with those who were not already there. My time there showed me that nothing could be further from the truth.

Since I left, I have championed the cause of the French language to skeptical Maritimers, disinterested Ontarians and angry Western Canadians. I still believe that Canada can be a truly bilingual country, where Quebec’s culture and language can survive and prosper. I have defended the government’s attempts to preserve its language, at least in principle if not in implementation.

But I cannot defend this. And without the sympathy of the rest of Canada, Quebec will not succeed in its aim to protect the language. I hope the government understands the gravity of tearing down its oldest universities. Perhaps they do, but I fear they don’t care.

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