FRANCOPRESSE – The recent victory of the French-speaking school board of British Columbia (CSFCB) in the Supreme Court suggests a possible expansion of section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the recent cuts to French-language programs at the Campus Saint-Jean of the University of Alberta, Saint-Paul University and Laurentian University are prompting a revisit of current modes of governance, funding for the Francophone postsecondary education could also benefit from a return to the drawing board.
Bruno Cournoyer Paquin – Francopresse
The recent victory of the CSFCB before the Supreme Court could open other avenues for financing post-secondary education in French, believes political scientist Stéphanie Chouinard.
Thearticle 23 confers the right on the francophone or anglophone linguistic minority to obtain primary and secondary education in their language. A generous interpretation of section 23 – as advocated by certain jurists, including Mark Power – would open the door to funding post-secondary education, according to Ms. Chouinard.
“In order to be able to offer education in the official minority language in all provinces, there must be a place to train future teachers, to train future school counselors, future psychologists” , notes the political scientist.
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ACFA gets involved
Sheila Risbud, President of the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta (ACFA) clarifies that section 23 does not refer to post-secondary education. “For Campus Saint-Jean, the link we see is that it is the place for teacher training for our French-language schools and our immersion schools. If these institutions are not adequately funded, how can we provide quality education to our children? [comme le préconise] section 23 of the Charter? ”
Rémi Léger, political scientist at Simon Fraser University, stresses like Stéphanie Chouinard that such an interpretation of article 23 has never been tested in court.
A situation that could change, since the ACFA has just initiated a lawsuit against the province of Alberta for the underfunding of Campus Saint-Jean. One of the pillars of their legal strategy is anchored in this reading of article 23: underfunding Campus Saint-Jean would hinder the training of qualified teachers to work in French-language schools in the province, which would constitute a hindering the education of young Franco-Albertans.
In addition to funding issues, some are considering reconsidering the governance structures of post-secondary institutions that offer programs in French, including Campus Saint-Jean.
“We find ourselves in a situation that is unique in Canada,” stresses Stéphanie Chouinard. It is an institution which was once autonomous, under the Oblates, but which was brought by the province in a kind of forced marriage with the University of Alberta in the 1970s. From that time on, it was governed by an authority which did not fully understand the particular contribution of this institution within the broader framework of the University of Alberta. ”
Sheila Risbud believes that Campus Saint-Jean should have greater autonomy. “We [l’ACFA] tabled a memo two weeks ago to the committee which is reviewing the governance structure of the University of Alberta, and it suggests a federated model for Campus Saint-Jean that would give us greater freedom at the academic and administrative level. ”
The case of Laurentian University in Sudbury, which is also a bilingual institution, raises other questions, according to Stéphanie Chouinard. “Laurentian University is a priori a bilingual institution, but unlike the University of Ottawa, it has never given itself a quota or minimum number of francophone students. The result is an institution that has already been much more bilingual, but which ends up with only 10 to 15% of French-speaking students. So the programs that are offered in French are often more vulnerable to financial pressures because there are very few students in those programs. ”
In the case of Alberta, agrees Sheila Risbud, part of the problem is a difficult economic situation. “At the same time, we have a government that believes it shouldn’t have a big role, that it shouldn’t fund post-secondary like it does. So it hits all post-secondary, but for a smaller institution like Campus Saint-Jean, the impact is greater. ”
For Rémi Léger, autonomous governance structures are not necessarily a panacea since the financial realities would remain the same. “If French-language programs at Laurentian University were managed by Francophones and for Francophones, should we have cut ten programs? Well, we don’t know, because we’re not in this parallel universe […] But if the institution’s financial situation is difficult, whether the institution is governed by Francophones or not, it may well have to cut programs. ”
Professor Léger added that we must consider that the programs offered in French in the Canadian Francophonie nonetheless depend on a small population base and that we should establish priorities accordingly, and even think about specializing. “Should the University of Moncton’s offer be the same as those of the University of Montreal or the University of Ottawa?” The question is valid.