On Campus

Car allowances, tuition hikes and the Quebec election

Will voters remember this at the polls?


Quebec’s university administrators have long said their schools are underfunded. They blame the province’s low tuition rates, which are capped by the government at less than half what universities in Ontario and Nova Scotia are allowed to charge.

The administrators say they need more money to hire top researchers, attract international students, reduce class sizes and improve libraries.

Their demands were more or less met when the Liberal government announced it would nearly double tuition over several years.

Student groups, on the other hand, have long argued that Quebec universities don’t have a funding problem. They say it’s a spending problem.

That’s one of the arguments they used to get students to skip classes and march in the streets as so many did earlier this year. It’s an argument that will matter in the Sept. 4 election.

Those opposed to tuition hikes now have the perfect symbol to show it’s a spending problem—not underfunding. Here it is: car allowances. After all, if universities have no trouble coming up with money for their elites to drive luxury vehicles, do they really need more from students?

Here are the details.

Concordia University’s vice-presidents are entitled to a monthly car allowance of $900. At least one vice-president leases a Lexus. At McGill University, $16,000 of President Heather Munroe-Blum’s more than $200,000-worth of non-salary compensation is for cars. At the Université de Montréal rector Guy Breton gets both a Lexus and a driver. Université Laval has a chauffeur on staff.

It’s not just the students who are angry about the spending. In a letter leaked to student media, two Concordia professors said they’ll stop donating to the university because of the car allowances.

“I think we had assumed that the university community and Quebec universities as a whole would re-evaluate how public money is being spent, especially considering these protests over tuition hikes,” Judith Kornblatt, one of the professors, told the Montreal Gazette.

A taxpayer’s group concurred. “In today’s environment, for students and taxpayers alike, this is a flagrant lack of respect,” Claire Joly, of the Ligue des contribuables du Québec, told the Journal de Montreal. “It’s clearly a backdoor way to inflate the salaries of vice presidents,” she said.

This isn’t the first time Quebec’s universities have been criticized for the way they spend tax and tuition dollars. McGill and Concordia came under fire after the Journal de Montreal reported that the city’s two English-language universities spent over $500,000 on extra security this spring.

That’s not all. Concordia University was fined $2 million in March by the provincial government after the school spent more than $4 million on severance packages for departing administrators.

And all of this pales in comparison to the Îlot Voyageur construction project, which resulted in hundreds of millions sunk into a still unfinished building and a $200 million taxpayer bailout.

Quebec’s voters go to the polls on Sept. 4. If they remember the car allowances and spending scandals, it could drive them to the Parti Québécois, which has promised to scrap the Liberal tuition increases, or the Coalition Avenir Québec, which is proposing a smaller tuition increase. The CAQ also promises to hold universities more accountable for their spending. It’s easy to see why.

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