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Ottawa’s intervention at Campus Saint-Jean: a step in the right direction

The federal government proposes to invest in maintaining the Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) attached to the University of Alberta, subject to a financial commitment from the provincial government. However, the dynamics animating the players in this file are proving to be complex and seem unlikely to be conducive to the conclusion of an imminent favorable agreement between the two levels of government.

Marie-Paule Berthiaume – Local Journalism Initiative – APF – West

Budget cuts in post-secondary education, announced by the Alberta government in February, resulted in the abandonment of 77 courses out of the 410 courses offered, and 30 people were laid off at the CSJ. According to the former senator from Alberta and former dean of the CSJ, the Honorable Claudette Tardif, additional budget cuts of 8% are planned for 2020-2021 when “the only French-speaking post-secondary institution west of Winnipeg” has just welcomed “more than a thousand students” for the first time.

The Honorable Claudette Tardif, Former Senator from Alberta.
Credit: Courtesy

The Honorable Claudette Tardif recalls that there has been no major investment at the CSJ for almost twenty years and that an injection of $ 3.7 million, to renovate the electrical installations and create classrooms. virtual, is necessary. “I think Minister Joly’s letter is a step in the right direction,” she said, “but the Alberta government appears to be adopting an obstructionist policy. “

Keep up the pressure

The history professor at the CSJ, Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon, co-signed an open letter, last May, asking the federal and provincial governments to help the establishment. According to her, the federal government must follow behind the Alberta government until a solution to the chronic underfunding of the CSJ is found.

Campus Saint-Jean was founded in 1908, as was the University of Alberta. Credit: Courtesy

“Provincial jurisdiction in education and the federal government in official languages ​​must find common ground in order to safeguard the existence of the Campus. Right now, no one seems to want to take responsibility, apart from the federal government, which is putting money on the table, ”she observes.

valerie lapointe gagnon
Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon, history teacher at Campus Saint-Jean.
Credit: Courtesy

According to Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney may be inspired by what his Ontario counterpart, Doug Ford, did in the case of the University of French Ontario. “We must not forget that the United Conservative government announced this summer an investment of $ 98 million in post-secondary infrastructure to ensure the province’s economic recovery. At that time, no funds were allocated to the Campus, she mentions. There would therefore be money available, hence the importance of maintaining the pressure. “

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Institutional context

But according to the professor of political science at the CSJ, Frédéric Boily, the situation on the campus is different from that which was for the University of French Ontario where there could be a negotiation between the university and the provincial government. . In the case of the CSJ, he explains, the negotiations pass through the University of Alberta, which itself is under severe economic pressure. “Obviously, we can always say that the government [provincial] has a responsibility, but we do not yet know exactly this responsibility because the case is in court, ”he recalls.

Credit: Courtesy

Support from the University of Alberta

According to Frédéric Boily, “there are three restructuring scenarios which have been recommended by the University and in the scenario which seems to be the one approved by the University, scenario 2 [b], the Campus continues to be an institution. “

frederic boily
Frédéric Boily, professor of political science at Campus Saint-Jean. Credit: Courtesy.

The head of strategic communications at the University of Alberta, Hallie Brodie, agrees, stating that the University “is committed to working with its partners and stakeholders to support sustainable and flourishing Francophone programming.” However, she adds that the establishment is working on an academic and administrative restructuring which will have an impact on all its faculties and units.

According to Senator Claudette Tardif, the University of Alberta should not treat Saint-Jean the same way as other faculties. She reports that the agreement contract signed in 1976 between the University, the provincial government and the Oblate fathers during the sale of the CSJ, stipulated that the buyers would continue to invest in Saint-Jean to allow it to grow, “this that they did not respect. “

Credit: Courtesy

Political context

Like Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon, Frédéric Boily does not believe that the political climate is conducive to a provincial-federal agreement in favor of the CSJ. He recalls that Jason Kenney’s government has often complained about the absence of the federal government in the province’s major fields of activity. He adds that the education sector is not a priority for the provincial government currently engaged in a “struggle” with hospital staff.

Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon adds that the activists of the United Conservative Party are urging the province to distance itself from the federal government. “With the separatist sentiment that continues to be expressed in Alberta, Jason Kenney surely does not want to show that he is bowing to the federal Liberals,” she recalls.

Credit: Courtesy

Potential pressure tactics

Claudette Tardif suggests that the federal government, which annually transfers large sums of money to the provinces for post-secondary education, block certain transfers or reduce the amounts offered until a viable long-term agreement is reached. concluded for Saint-Jean. She also suggests that amendments to the Official Languages ​​Act be made to ensure a continuum in the field of early childhood education to post-secondary education in Alberta.