The ink was barely dry on Quebec’s 2014 budget announcement — seen by many as generally positive for post-secondary education in the province — before Premier Pauline Marois announced a snap election, rendering the document moot.
The budget allocated a three per cent funding increase (or $493 million) to the education sector, including both the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology.
Overall government program spending was limited to two per cent globally, with all departments, with the exception of education, health, and social services, targeted for various cuts, consolidations and savings.
Yves Lacouture, CAUT’s executive committee member-at-large for Quebec and president of the Syndicat des professeurs et professeures de l’Université Laval, said an increase after years of cuts would have been welcome.
“Of course we are applauding the three per cent increase in the budget of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, but we don’t have details on how it will be distributed, and no indication of what part will be sent to the universities,” he said.
The government did not table its spending estimates prior to the election call.
Lacouture also questioned how the government would support a renewed promise to invest $1.8 billion in Quebec universities over the course of the next seven years through gradually increased funding — if they stick to their “national research and innovation policy” tabled in October.
That promise originated in the wake of widespread and success-ful student protests in 2012 over proposed tuition increases, a crisis that disrupted university life for months.
Marois’ minority Parti Québécois government tabled the budget Feb. 20, while calling for needed support from opposition parties in order to pass the economic road map through the National Assembly.
But politics overtook that process before debate could even begin on details contained in the budget, with Marois yielding to pressure from advisors pleased with the PQ’s recent strong showing in the polls.
On March 5, eager to ride a wave of popularity in Quebec generated in part by her proposal to adopt a “secular charter of rights” banning display of overt religious symbols in the public sector, Marois called the election for April 7, and for Lieutenant-Governor Pierre Duchesne to dissolve the National Assembly.
Max Roy, president of the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université, was also encouraged by the short-lived budget’s tone. “It’s a pre-electoral budget. The real budget will come later,” he said. “But we hope the $1.8 billion will be maintained.”
Roy said the funds could, among other things, help bolster investment in basic research, the social sciences and humanities, which are “areas generally forgotten.”