Friday, July 19, 2024
Fair Comment

The final assault on English-language education in Quebec

When I think of Quebec’s proposed tuition changes, I think of my friend Benjamin, a former housemate from Bishop’s University. He comes from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, with some French-Canadian ancestry from Quebec, he was largely a unilingual English-speaker. Benjamin graduated with distinction, the medal for the highest average in his program and took French courses throughout his degree and at Université Laval.
Accepting a job at a local vineyard, he helped put Dunham’s wine country on the map, marketing alcohol across the US and Canada.
He chose to remain in the Eastern Townships, settled in a majority French-speaking community, married a Francophone classmate from BU, raises two daughters bilingually, and sends them to French-language public school.
Highly educated, accomplished professionally, proudly bilingual, friendly and courteous, and rooted in a French-speaking household, Benjamin is a model of a what a newcomer could become.
Would he have ever attended BU and moved to Quebec had these changes been in place before he came here?
“Not a chance,” he told me.
The financial disincentives from this flawed policy will likely lead to a near complete extinguishment of the number of students from the rest of Canada to Quebec’s English-speaking universities.
Over 30 per cent of BU students hail from elsewhere in Canada, and the financial blow threatens to shutter the institution. I attended a reunion at Bishop’s University (BU) this past Friday night, the same day as the Government announced it’s policy change for tuition. A general state of shock and disbelief was pronounced amongst my former classmates at the Golden Lion Pub, Quebec’s first microbrewery, in the heart of Lennoxville. I scanned the room wistfully, knowing that I might have never had the chance to meet my old friends from Toronto, the Maritimes and the West, had this policy existed previously. Conversations over a pint, the laughter over stories and shenanigans turned inevitably to the new policy.
This policy appears to have no rational or constructive basis for building a better Quebec or “protecting” the French-language.
Firstly, Montreal, despite the restructuring of Canada’s economy and demography by decades of flawed Quebec nationalist policy, remains a renowned worldwide beacon of educational opportunity. This policy will caponize and reduce all our institutions to regional players.
Secondly, the economic benefits from the tuition and living expenses are inputs are worth up to a billion dollars annually.
Thirdly, the diversity of experience, background and perspective adds great benefits to the classroom and campuses of all universities, making them cauldrons of innovation, ideation and accomplishment.
Fourthly, these students create a remarkable pool of future Canadians and fellow Quebecers, with educations, lived experience in English and French, have integrated into our society, and contribute to our labour pool that is in desperate need of top talent. My own mother came as a young American to BU, and, never left the local area.
Fifthly, these students, should they return home, become ambassadors for Quebec and all of Canada, seeding the rest of the world with culture and maintaining networks that lead to new businesses and creative endeavours.
Creating a framework which promotes the French-language in a constructive way in Montreal, Quebec and all of Canada is what I and the Canadian Party of Quebec (CaPQ) stands for.
Ensuring that the French language and culture is a positive right for all Quebecers and Canadians is our goal. We need not make supposed “protections” for French that cripple the economy, violate basic human rights, and hinder Quebecers of all linguistic groups from reaching their full potential.
Here are some ideas:

  • offer tuition credits for other Canadian students who choose French language universities,
  • institute dual degrees between Quebec universities and create “sister” English and French-speaking schools (imagine the local, national and international value of dual McGill-UdeM or UdeS-Bishop’s degrees?),
  • promote exchanges between institutions,
  • provide bursaries and scholarships for students choosing to do part of their studies in French,
  • promote optional second-language courses in subject matter tailored to skill level.

It seems the CAQ, PQ and Government of Quebec’s approach is to extinguish English-language institutions, the ability of English-speakers to survive as a viable community and to eradicate all potential sources to institutional and demographic strength. Abolishing schoolboards, hinder CEGEP enrolment and expansion, we have now moved onto a new turf.
It seems the message sent with Bills 21, 40 and 96 is: if they don’t look or speak like us, who cares, right?
While this policy threatens to shutter BU, it appears to be aimed squarely at McGill: a much loathed institution in the mythology of nationalist Quebec’s political elite (despite their own attendance there), and the effervescent cosmopolitan nature of downtown Montreal.
My former classmates at BU and Queen’s Universities used to chant “Kill McGill” at Percival Molson, Richardson Stadiums and Coulter Field, in a playful taunt to the opposing team. It seems the CAQ and PQ, despite their front benchs’ numerous diplomas from the institution, took it a bit too literally.
I’m not cheering this time.

Colin Standish is the Leader of the Canadian Party of Quebec

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