FRANCOPRESSE – The Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, Mélanie Joly, calls on the Government of Alberta to reverse its decision to cut funding for the Saint-Jean campus of the University of Alberta, in a letter addressed to the first Provincial Minister Jason Kenney. The federal government would even be ready to contribute financially if the provincial dollars are there.
Bruno Cournoyer Paquin – Francopresse
Because of the compressions budget at the University of Alberta, Campus Saint-Jean – one of the only French-speaking postsecondary institutions in Western Canada – had to remove 77 of the 409 courses offered by the establishment.
In an interview with Francopresse, Minister Joly indicates that “our objective at present is for Jason Kenney and his government to back down on their decision to cut funding for Campus Saint-Jean. […] Because it puts the sustainability of the French fact in Alberta at risk. ”
Professor Rémi Léger, from the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University, explains that Minister Joly’s letter sends the message to Franco-Albertans that the federal government is working to ensure their interests, but that the Alberta government “does not” is not a good player ”.
For his part, the official languages spokesperson for the Conservative Party, Alain Rayes, observed in an interview with Francopresse that “the problem of the Saint-Jean campus is not new. You just have to listen to the rectors to see that there has been underfunding for years! From government to government, I concede it to you, but when I hear petty politics like that … they’ve been [les libéraux] are in power, and although they manage the problem! ”
Federal funding for Campus Saint-Jean has been frozen since 2003, specifies Alain Rayes.
No federal dollars without provincial dollars
“We basically want [le gouvernement Kenney] continue to fund Campus Saint-Jean as before, and if it needs help, make a request to the federal government. We are going to be ready to work with him, but he must make this request himself and put money on the table, ”underlines Mélanie Joly.
Rémi Léger has trouble explaining Minister Joly’s lack of clarity: why not simply say that the federal government wants a funding agreement where the costs are shared equally by Ottawa and Edmonton?
Professor Stéphanie Chouinard, from the Department of Political Science at the Royal Military College of Canada, explains that “Ms. Joly is taking the same approach as what has been done for the University of French Ontario, that is – in other words, “the government in Ottawa is listening, we want to help you, but we want the province to do its part”. So I see that as a repeat of the scenario that took place between Ottawa and Queen’s Park last year. ”
In the case of the French University of Ontario, the federal and Ontario governments had committed to fund the project equally, with Ottawa assuming the costs of the first four years of the project and Queen’s Park taking over thereafter.
Political scientist Stéphanie Chouinard thinks that the French University of Ontario’s funding model would have the potential to lead to a “domino game” where all French-speaking postsecondary institutions would look to Ottawa to improve their funding.
The risk is, however, that this will become “a way for the provinces to clear their customs of adequately funding post-secondary education in French,” adds Stéphanie Chouinard. The provinces could make cuts in the hope that Ottawa makes up for the shortfall.
“But the issue in the West, at least in Alberta, is that the provincial government does not want to play the federal game. And the federal game is to share the bill 50/50, ”continues Rémi Léger.
“Is the federal government ready to put money on the table without the provinces putting it as well?” asks the political scientist.
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Minister Joly reminds that education is a provincial jurisdiction, and that consequently the federal government cannot go it alone in this matter.
The development of francophone postsecondary institutions outside Quebec “depends on the goodwill of the provinces. And every time there are Conservative governments elected, every time they cut. And each time, the federal Minister of Official Languages must intervene. And that is problematic, ”says Mélanie Joly.
Statements that political scientist Rémi Léger questions: “[La ministre] says the federal government cannot fund universities because education is a provincial jurisdiction, but that’s not true. The federal government has the power to spend. And the spending power is a wild card in its game. If the federal government really wants to support francophone post-secondary institutions, it can do so with the spending power. ”
The deputy for Richmond-Arthabaska, Alain Rayes, opines: “When the government of Justin Trudeau wants to interfere in health, like the issue of CHSLDs in Quebec, it is not shy.”
“It is the constitutional responsibility of the federal government to protect the vitality of Francophone minority communities,” adds Alain Rayes, and Minister Joly must act according to him.
Another way to fund postsecondary institutions in minority settings would be to add a post-secondary education component in the Action plan on official languages federal government, explains Rémi Léger.
“In the Action Plan on Official Languages, there is a component on justice, health, health immigration, education – but above all amounts that are directed to kindergarten education to 12e year. So we could add a component, with additional sums […] which would be allocated to support francophone colleges and universities outside Quebec, ”says Rémi Léger.
For the professor, when the government claims to have its hands tied when it comes to funding francophone post-secondary institutions, “it’s playing politics at the expense of francophones.”
However, the federal government’s strategy is to require the provinces to invest in post-secondary education in French, continues Rémi Léger.
“It is a way for the federal government to ensure that the provinces also support Francophones outside Quebec, that the Francophonie is not just a federal issue; it is a question that concerns both levels of government, ”concludes Professor Léger.
A “new vision” for official languages presented in the coming weeks?
“I think the issue of post-secondary education is important, and in the context of strengthening the Official Languages Act, we are going to want to find a way to help our institutions, be it educational, health, in short, everything that is key to the vitality of a linguistic community. And over the next few weeks, I will have the opportunity to present our government’s new official languages vision, ”says Mélanie Joly.
For Alain Rayes, the project to modernize the Official Languages Act drags on: “For years, consultations have been held in parliamentary committee, in the Senate, the Commissioner of Official Languages tabled his report. Everyone agrees, everyone is calling for a bill so that we can move forward. And the minister did not even do this simple exercise there of giving a deadline before the holidays. ”