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Quebec Premier Francois Legault responds to the Opposition during question period, on Oct. 17, at the legislature in Quebec City.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

For many years, Toronto parents have been packing up their offspring and making the trek down the 401 to drop them off for university in Montreal. I’ve done it three times myself to deposit kids at the barrackslike McGill residences perched on the slopes of Mount Royal.

For obvious reasons – all the bars and clubs don’t hurt – Montreal has always been a popular destination for young people from other parts of Canada who want to go to school somewhere away from home. In Montreal they can attend good universities like McGill or Concordia while enjoying life in that beautiful, vibrant city. A few stay on after graduation, learn French and become productive residents of Quebec. Those who don’t gain memories, insights and connections that can stay with them for life.

In a country of two solitudes, the scholastic migration to Quebec schools is a bridge between cultures. Now Quebec is putting a punitive toll on that bridge.

By doubling tuition for out-of-province students to around $17,000, disqualifying all but the most prosperous, the government of Premier François Legault is telling them: Stay home, we don’t want you.

More to the point, it is saying: We don’t want your language. Though Mr. Legault insisted that the fee increase is “nothing against anglophones” – perish the thought – he said the presence of so many English-speaking students in Quebec “threatens the survival of French.”

His Minister of the French Language, Jean-François Roberge, went further. He said having tens of thousands of students arrive on the island of Montreal could not help but have “an anglicizing effect on the metropolis.”

He went on: “There are a lot of people who come to Quebec, who attend an English-language university and who very often express themselves in the English language on a daily basis.”

On a daily basis, no less. The horror.

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The idea that groups of students chatting away in English as they walk down Boulevard Saint-Laurent is a threat to the future of the French language in Quebec is so absurd that it is tempting simply to laugh it off. If the language is really that weak (it isn’t), slapping a tax on young anglos from Calgary and Hamilton is not going to save it.

Sadly, this is no laughing matter. Mr. Legault’s nasty little edict spreads hurt all over. It hurts the many eager students whose dreams of going to school in Quebec now lie in ruins. It hurts McGill and Concordia, those admirable places of learning that have done so much to adapt to a changed Quebec; not to mention Bishop’s, the Sherbrooke university where 30 per cent of the student body comes from other provinces. Its very existence is now at risk.

It hurts Quebec’s anglophone community. Already feeling uneasy about the host of new language rules that the Legault government is bringing in, it now sees the government taking aim at three leading anglo institutions. Though anglophone families are not directly affected, making English-speaking students from out of province unwelcome is bound to make many of them feel unwelcome, too.

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It hurts Montreal. Much of that great city’s appeal lies in the fact that it is not just a French city but a multicultural one, a place where people of many backgrounds – francophone, anglophone, allophone; Italian, Portuguese, Jewish, Haitian, Vietnamese – mingle freely. Mayor Valérie Plante notes that to thrive in the modern world, Montreal needs to attract students and talent from all over. The government’s move taints the city’s “international reputation.”

It hurts Quebec, too, for that matter. Quebec’s own reputation has already been damaged by another nasty measure of Mr. Legault’s: the law prohibiting certain public servants from wearing religious symbols at work. His harsh new language laws compound the harm. Now this.

While a Quebec-firster like him can hardly be expected to worry about what the rest of Canada thinks, he should at least be concerned about keeping the good opinion of the rest of the world. Even a Quebec that is master of its own house needs to think twice about closing off the exchange of people and ideas that makes modern societies flourish.

Quebec nationalists always say that theirs is an open, forward-looking, movement. They insist they are not looking to exclude anybody. Everyone is welcome in the New Quebec. Then they do something like slam the door on innocent young people who want to come study in Montreal. And all because someone didn’t like hearing English on Saint-Laurent.

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