A day after Quebec’s ruling CAQ party decided to walk back a quota for how many courses English CEGEP students must take in French, the sudden change had more than a few people reeling — educators, and also politicians.
“Liberals were in deep trouble, then CAQ were in deep trouble,” joked the Parti Quebecois’s Pascal Bérubé.
“Because the Federation of Colleges told him that it was not realistic to apply this reform. So, they both make mistakes, you know. They try to help save each other. How cute is that?”
He was talking about the rollback of a certain provision in Bill 96, the language law, that the Liberals first proposed, then tried to remove, and that the CAQ finally agreed to take out at the final hour, on Tuesday.
Beginning in fall 2024, students at English CEGEPs won’t be required to take three of their course requirements in French, as originally proposed. Instead, if their French isn’t good enough for that, they can add three additional French classes focused on learning the language itself.
That woudn’t compromise their grades on their core subjects or their ability to get into university, as CEGEPs had stressed was a risk.
French-language minister Simon Jolin Barrette said the new rule will still do the job.
“French is crucial, but my concern is to give all Quebecers tools to speak and work and participate in society in French, and with three class in French we’ll succeed [in] that,” he said.
Liberal leader Dominique Anglade was still keen to take credit for the compromise, admitting it was her party that went too far in the first place.
“We told CAQ to go back to our rationale and make sure that it was fixed. So, I’m happy that they see this right now,” she said.
About the backlash from the English-speaking community, she said their concerns were heard loud and clear.
“When they realize something is wrong, when they realize that there is something that was proposed that was wrong, they appreciate that we say it — we recognized it,” she said.
“We do a mea culpa and, when we move on, we try to fix it. That’s what we did, that’s exactly what we did.”
The PQ had asked for the stricter version of the amendment to stay and then sat by as the two other parties fought it out.
Bill 96 will go back to MNAs for a third reading and a final vote before the session ends in June. However, with the CAQ’s majority, it’s likely to pass easily, despite the Liberals’ overall opposition to it.
COLLEGE DIRECTORS WARN OF MAJOR CHANGES.
At colleges, all the back-and-forth is adding another element of confusion to what will already by a dizzying series of changes, they say.
Tuesday’s change in policy is positive, said Diane Gauvin of Dawson College, but there’s a lot left to work out, including major changes in staffing.
“It is definitely good news. Our concern was the idea that all Anglophone students would have access to education,” she said.
But requiring all students to up their French classes, one way or another, will also mean significant cuts to the school’s English faculty.
“Right now, if we had to impose it this semester, it would be 50 percent,” she said of the cuts that will be necessary.
Courses will need to be revamped, and the deadline, while a couple of years away, is coming fast considering all that work.
“This particular piece of the bill, we’re hearing, would be applied in 2024, which for us is essentially tomorrow,” said Christian Corno, the director general of Marianopolis Collegel.
That, in turn, has teachers worried about their careers, he said.
“Our staff are worried about losing their jobs. I have people going up to me and asking ‘am I going to be working a year from now?'” he said. “And the best thing I can say right now is: I don’t know.”
Nancy Beattie of Champlain College in Lenoxville also says that recruiting at that scale won’t be easy.
“Who’s teaching these courses?” she said. “Who’s losing their jobs, potentially?”
Then there are even bigger-picture headaches for college administrators, she said.
“There’s a whole financing question around this as well. There’s a lot of cloudiness around implementation,” she said.
“And it’s at the political level and the politicians haven’t done their homework — they don’t understand how CEGEPs work.”
This provision of Bill 96, around classes in French, also doesn’t even begin to touch the true logistical alarm-bells around the bill.
Right now, the bill still maintains what English CEGEPs say is the most damaging element of all: a cap on the number of students they can accept, kept to 2019 levels.
“Effectively this bill strangles the growth of the English institutions forever,” said Beattie.
“We’re not allowed to grow, we’re not allowed to exceed a certain capacity in the network. So that hampers our abilities to respond to our community’s needs.”
In the final weeks before the vote is held, these concerns are set to be voiced increasingly loudly, including at a protest at Dawson College on May 14.