MONTREAL – Liberal leadership favourite Justin Trudeau waded into two areas of provincial policy, at one point even taking shots at the Parti Quebecois government, while visiting Quebec today.
Trudeau offered his opinions on Quebec language legislation and on tuition fees, while also reiterating his promise to increase federal involvement in education.
Speaking at his alma mater, McGill University, he offered indications that a Trudeau prime ministership would be a marked departure from a Harper era defined by a hands-off approach to provincial issues.
Trudeau says the federal government should play a bigger role in education — as long as it respects provincial jurisdiction.
“We need to be the best-educated country in the world,” Trudeau said, describing his goal to increase post-secondary enrolment from 50 to 70 per cent.
“That’s a position that Mr. Harper certainly won’t take because he doesn’t particularly believe in national leadership, and secondly, Mr. Mulcair certainly wouldn’t take it because he’s so worried about his nationalistic base in Quebec to feel that talking about education is something that the federal government can do — but it is.”
“We have to do it in a way that respects provincial jurisdiction, but we need to understand that education will be the single-most important thing to get right in the coming years.”
He also weighed in on two Quebec political issues that have made headlines in recent days.
Trudeau says he thinks the Parti Quebecois’ plan to tighten language laws goes too far. Later in the day, at another stop, he even teased the government over an ongoing internal spat in which party figures are divided over whether Montreal’s metro system should offer guaranteed bilingual service.
“I came out in the fall in Quebec City against any strengthening of Quebec’s language laws. I don’t think it’s necessary,” he told students at Dawson College.
“I don’t think it’s helpful and, actually, you can see the extent to which the approach that this government has is very much based around electoral concerns and the idea of drumming up controversy rather than anything else.”
He said it makes little sense that, on the one hand, the PQ’s Bill 14 would reduce access to English services while, on the other, the party is talking about making the metro more English — much to the dismay of former premier and PQ icon Jacques Parizeau.
“So, what you have is a hodge-podge of reactions that are very much around trying to generate controversy and positioning and electoral interests and appease base rather than actually do what’s in the best interests of communities,” he said.
“For me, it’s an old issue that becomes less and less relevant with every passing day as more and more Quebecers become bilingual, as people no longer see a tremendous conflict between English and French.”
Trudeau did back up the PQ government on one policy.
Trudeau said he doesn’t support free university tuition, which also happens to be the provincial government’s position.
The idea of free education is at the heart of a dispute between the government and the more hardline student faction.
Those comments on provincial issues did not actually come up in a speech — they only emerged in response to students’ questions.
Trudeau is making several stops in Montreal today during a Quebec tour.
His appearance at McGill drew an audience of a bit more than 100 students, with some unable to fit into the room.
He later spoke to a packed auditorium, with about 300 people filling a hall at Dawson College, a number of whom stayed behind later to chat with him and get photos and autographs.