Collège Militaire Royal to issue university degrees under Tory government, Harper says

A Conservative government would make Quebec's Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean a degree-granting military university, Tory leader Stephen Harper said Wednesday as he prepared for the first French-language leaders' debate.

Conservatives would spend $4M per year to re-establish college as degree-granting military university

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said a re-elected Tory government would spend $4 million per year to make Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean a full-fledged, degree-granting military university. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

A Conservative government would make Quebec's Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean a degree-granting military university, Tory leader Stephen Harper said Wednesday as he prepared for the first of two French-language leaders' debates. 

Harper made the announcement in a pre-recorded video posted to the Conservatives' website and social media pages rather than at a campaign stop, where Harper would face questions from media. He is hunkered down with his team in advance of Thursday night's debate in Montreal, which will be conducted entirely in French. 

The military college, located in the town Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu about 40 kilometres south of Montreal, was established in 1952 to offer French-language education to cadets.

By 1985, it had begun issuing university-level diplomas. The college was closed by the Liberal government in 1995 as part of what the Tories have labelled "a decade of darkness" marked by budget cuts and "neglect" for the Canadian Armed Forces.

It was reopened by the Conservative government in 2008 and integrated into Quebec's publicly funded CEGEP school system — a network of pre-university vocational colleges throughout the province. 

In a news release that accompanied the announcement, the Conservatives said if they form the government following the Oct. 19 vote, they would work with the province to re-establish the college as a degree-granting university. The effort will cost about $4 million per year and "will help recruit Quebec-based cadets and improve bilingualism in the Armed Forces," the release said. 

Currently, there is only one degree-granting military university in the country, the Royal Military College of Canada.

The move gives Harper something concrete to take into Thursday night's debate and also could provide a segue into the issue of security, which the Conservatives have made a central theme of their campaign thus far. 

Nicholson trains sights on human rights abusers

In a separate security-related announcement today, the Conservatives unveiled a plan to strengthen Canada's sanction regime to clamp down on dictators and tyrants who abuse human rights.

Proposed changes would automatically impose travel bans on people who've already been sanctioned by the Canadian government. They would include gross human rights violations on the list of reasons for imposing sanctions.

"It is about ensuring those who are responsible for gross human rights violations are held to account and to lead and rally the world to implement similar sanctions," Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said at a campaign event in Etobicoke, Ont.

He said changes would build on an already robust sanctions system that has worked on Russia, Syria and Iran.

The Conservatives have traditionally been billed as the party that is strongest on issues facing the Armed Forces and veterans. In recent years, however, their relationship with some veterans has deteriorated following a number of controversial policy moves, including a decision to close nine regional Veterans Affairs office across the country. 

Both the NDP and Liberals have courted veterans during the campaign with pledges to boost benefits and services.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said a New Democratic government would commit $454 million to improving health care services for veterans and reopen regional offices closed under Harper. 

For his part, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised to reinstate lifelong pensions for wounded veterans and provide $300 million to expand and create new military support programs. 

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How to watch Thursday's debate

The French-language leaders' debate will be broadcast live and livestreamed online 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET Thursday.

You can watch the debate in simultaneous English translation on CBC News Network and online at cbcnews.ca/canadavotes. The debate will be broadcast in French by Radio-Canada (check local listings) and livestreamed online at ici.radio-canada.ca.

With files from CBC's Catherine Cullen