This is the English version of Campus Saint-Jean’s Le Mouton Noir guest column, published in partnership through The Gateway for June 10, 2021.
Last week, the federal government’s Standing Committee on Official Languages, as well as Mélanie Joly, the minister of official languages, met to discuss financial solutions for post-secondary institutions in a linguistic minority situation. This meeting came after the federal government released its budget in April 2021, announcing that $121.3 million in funding will be allocated to post-secondary institutions in minority environments.
However, the government has put a condition on how post-secondary institutions will access these funds — institutions must have equal financial support from their provincial government.
Alexandre Boulerice, a member of Parliament, as well as other members of the Standing Committee raised questions about the implications of this condition on post-secondary institutions offering french programming, specifically those in Alberta and Ontario. He asked whether the federal government plans on waiting for provincial financial support before it will step up and assist Campus Saint-Jean.
Joly responded to these questions by stating that education falls within provincial jurisdiction. The Minister also emphasized her belief that the federal government has already done its part by allocating money to these post-secondary institutions. Joly’s response suggests that provincial governments must now shoulder the responsibility of submitting a funding proposal that offers a financial contribution equal to that offered by the federal government.
How does all of this affect Campus Saint-Jean? As Campus Saint-Jean students, we are concerned with Joly’s response. It is important to understand the complexity of the Campus Saint-Jean’s situation as the only francophone post-secondary institution in Western Canada. In fact, the closest francophone university is the University of Saint-Boniface in Manitoba.
In May 2020, Campus Saint-Jean had to cut almost a quarter of its courses due to underfunding issues. As a result, many students are not able to finish their degree programs fully in French. Since this cut to Campus Saint-Jean’s programs, the Campus has yet to receive funding to address its financial situation.
International students and francophone students from many Canadian provinces and territories rely on the Campus Saint-Jean for French post-secondary instruction. As such, the underfunding that Campus Saint-Jean faces has a very serious impact on francophone students.
To put this into perspective, anglophone students in Alberta have many options when it comes to post-secondary education. In Edmonton alone, there are four post-secondary institutions. However, the francophone students in Western Canada have only one option: the Campus Saint-Jean.
In regards to the Minister’s responses over the course of the meeting, we understand that the federal government wishes to encourage provinces to act in a way that respects Canada’s official languages. However, as francophone students, we worry that supporting the French language is not a priority in Alberta, considering that the provincial government and the University of Alberta are currently defending a lawsuit regarding funding for the Campus Saint-Jean.
We must recognize that putting an ‘equal funds’ condition as a prerequisite to accessing a portion of the $121.3 million will prevent the Campus Saint-Jean from accessing these funds.
Last week, Joly also spoke about how her government is limited in the action it can take to help the Campus Saint-Jean. Why? She states that education falls within a province’s jurisdiction. We do not dispute this fact.
However, we do dispute the fact that Campus Saint-Jean’s situation is purely an educational matter. We believe that the Campus’ situation falls squarely within federal jurisdiction. Although education is a provincial matter, ensuring the respect for and the preservation of the official languages is under federal jurisdiction.
In order to protect the French language in Western Canada, the federal government must not wait for a proposal from the Alberta government. Because the Campus Saint-Jean plays an incredibly important role in the protection and advancement of the French language, the federal government must ensure that the Campus can continue to offer programs in French to its current and future students. In short, we hope that the federal and provincial governments will stop passing around the responsibility to help Campus Saint-Jean.
At the end of the day, the Campus needs financial support. Given its status as a post-secondary institution in a minority setting, the Campus deserves the immediate attention and support of the federal government. We are calling on the federal government to take action. Instead of insisting that the Alberta government provide equal funding, the federal government should relieve the existing financial pressure on Campus Saint-Jean, pressure that has been present for over a year. We ask that the federal government provide unconditional support to French-speaking students in minority settings.
Above all, we ask that it protect and advance the Canadian Francophonie, as is expected from the government of a country that has been bilingual since its conception.
This article was written by Chiara Concini and Joannie Fogue, two elected representatives of the Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (AUFSJ).