Dawson: a dangerous precedent

The author was a journalist, then a senator. He is now a director at the national strategic consultancy Navigator and senior colleague at the University of Ottawa Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Quebec has always prided itself on treating its English-speaking minority well, proving the existence of quality educational and health institutions as evidence. In reality, these were mainly built by the Anglophone community itself, but it is true that the state of Quebec has made a major contribution.

The cancellation of the Dawson College expansion project, for purely political reasons, has changed that. It appears from the explanation of the Prime Minister that from now on a student of an English-speaking university is no longer entitled to education of the same quality as a student of a French-speaking university under the decisions of the Quebec government. As Michel C. Auger noted in: The press a clear case of discrimination last Sunday.

According to data collected by the Department of Higher Education, Dawson College is the CEGEP in the Montreal region with the greatest need for short-term space. The ministry estimates this shortage at 11,272 square meters. This is more than the short-term and long-term deficits of other colleges in the metropolitan area, with the exception of those planned for the long-term in Cégeps Montmorency (Laval) and Lionel-Groulx (Sainte-Thérèse).

Dawson’s needs have long been recognized by Quebec. Among the problems identified, Cégep rents classrooms and labs in the former Montreal Forum, which is certainly not an ideal place to learn.

The extension project designed by the college, in collaboration with the Société québécoise des infrastructures, was approved by the government of Philippe Couillard. For its part, the Legault government has even included it in the priority infrastructure projects defined by Bill 66, passed by the National Assembly in December 2020.

This project is not intended to increase Dawson’s clientele, but to better serve its current clientele. In any case, it is the government that determines how many students each college can accommodate.

Suddenly, under pressure from nationalist movements that saw in Dawson’s expansion another step toward the assimilation of French speakers, the Legault government dropped the project that had given it priority. Why ? The government doesn’t hide it; it was not a rigorous assessment of needs that dominated this choice. “Is it better, Mr Chairman, to expand French-language CEGEPs before expanding Anglophone CEGEPs? We at the CAQ think so; in the Liberal Party we don’t think so,” the prime minister said on Feb. 3. In other words, expansion projects for French-language colleges will come ahead of Dawson’s, even if the latter’s needs are greater. Relief!

All this is based on the assumption, widely accepted by everyone (although the statistics show that this is not necessarily the case), that French language in Quebec is seriously deteriorating and that Anglophone colleges bear some of the responsibility in this situation. Yes, half of Dawson’s 8,100 students are French-speaking or Allophone (depending on mother tongue). But we’re talking about 4,000 young people out of a total student population, at university level, of 175,000 students: 2%.

According to the most recent report from the Office québécois de la langue française, 92.8% of new registrants with native French studied French at CEGEP in 2015 (a decrease of four percentage points compared to 1985). Nine out of ten: where is the assimilation? In addition, the share of allophones studying French at HBO level is rising sharply: 57.9% in 2015, compared to 25.1% 30 years ago.

It is true that the number of Francophones and Allophones entering Anglophone CEGEP after completing their secondary education in French is growing: 10.1% in 2015 compared to 7.8% five years earlier. But this increase represents only a few hundred students out of a student population, let’s not forget, of 175,000 people.

A matter of rights

Smart as ever, François Legault knows full well that no minority receives less sympathy from French-speaking Quebecers than the Anglophone minority. It is true that the latter is less vulnerable than others, due to its North American linguistic context. But that doesn’t mean that Anglophones in Quebec should have fewer rights than their French-speaking fellow citizens.

In this regard, the Supreme Court ruled in the Rose-des-Vents school case in Vancouver that the right to education in their language of children from an official language minority includes the right to educational services of the same quality as those of the majority: “What is essential , judge Andromache Karakatsanis wrote in 2015, is that the educational experience of the children of guaranteed rights holders [par la Charte] is of a quality that is truly comparable to the teaching experience of majority language students. †

The precedent set in the Dawson file is dangerous. Will the Quebec government henceforth systematically favor Francophone institutions over Anglophone institutions, regardless of the objective assessment of needs? If an English-speaking hospital is in great need of a new diagnostic device, will the application be rejected because French-speaking hospitals should be given priority? How far does this systemic discrimination go?

And so a majority are led to reproduce the behavior of which they themselves have been victims in the past. And it unfolds indifference in general; because in Quebec, who cares about the “English”?

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