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Budget or language? Quebec’s English community upset by Dawson College funding cuts

“It’s what the students are owed,” says Tim Miller, who teaches physiotherapy technology at Dawson College. Quebec’s minister of higher education said funding cuts is a question of budget, not language discrimination. Pamela Pagano reports.

By Pamela Pagano and News Staff

An organization supporting Quebec’s English community says it’s a question of language – not budget – that saw the province reverse course on its promise to provide $100 million to expand Dawson College.

The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) says it’s clear the province is playing favourites when it decided the funds previously earmarked for Dawson would be better spent on the province’s French-language CEGEPs.

That decision sparked dismay in the anglophone community and accusations the government wants to shore up its nationalist base ahead of this year’s election.

Danielle McCann, Quebec’s minister of higher education, says it’s simply a budgetary decision. But the QCGN isn’t buying it.

“I’m tremendously disappointed that the message we seem to be receiving is that the need is there, the plan is there, the money is there, but we can’t use it because the language of instruction at Dawson College is not the right language,” said Matt Aronson, the QCGN secretary.

“If this was a project that was happening in a francophone CEGEP, I don’t believe that there would suddenly be a budgetary issue.”

McCann said the provincial government needs to consider that there will be an increase of more than 20,000 francophone students going to CEGEPs in the next five years. She says Montreal’s French language also had to be protected.

Quebec Premier François Legault supported the decision to reverse course.

Aronson wants him to reconsider.

“The only thing I can add at this point is to call upon the CAQ government and François Legault to do what they were elected to do, and to be the representatives of all Quebecers.”

Squeezed for space, Dawson College has for years been planning an expansion of its medical technology department that would include a clinic to serve the community and train its students.

But that project has now been halted.

Tim Miller, who teaches physiotherapy technology at Dawson College, said the new building would allow the school to offer a more interdisciplinary approach to medical technology education.

Miller said that if students train together and understand how their colleagues work, then they’ll offer better care to patients.

“We feel as though by creating this space for them to study we would attract young students into the profession and therefore help, again, not just the education system but the health-care system as well,” he said.

“The real issue is that there is a space deficit, and so in using the ministry-approved norms, there’s an equation that you use that determined that we are shy of 11,000 square metres. So about seven years ago the conversation started to happen regarding providing Dawson with this space that students are owed to study equitably across the CEGEP network.”

The Dawson student union says students are unhappy with the province’s decision.

“Understandably there’s been a lot of frustration on the side of students,” said Alexandrah Cardona, the student union president.

“This is really just to correct a space deficit, this project, and not to add additional capacity, so it was really unfortunate to hear that from the CAQ government.”

The higher education ministry met with Dawson officials asking them to work on “alternative options” such as renting temporary space — something the CEGEP has been doing. In the spring, a final decision will be made whether the expansion is a go.

“It’s what the students are owed to study equitably across Quebec at the CEGEP level,” said Miller. “So it sort of confuses us and we’re saddened by the decision since it seems like a situation that satisfied a bunch of different boxes.”

—With files from The Canadian Press

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