Dawson College board asks to meet Premier Legault after suspension of $100 million expansion plan
Quebec’s largest CEGEP, Dawson Anglophone College, accuses the CAQ government of language-based discrimination after the government’s decision last week to suspend a long-planned $100 million campus expansion project .
“I believe this is unfair treatment of all of our students at Dawson. We do not distinguish between English-speaking, French-speaking and allophone students,” said Diane Gauvin, director general of the school, during a press conference Thursday.
“We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We’re asking for what we’re entitled to.”
The college’s board of directors is demanding a face-to-face meeting with Premier Francois Legault, who said last week that with limited capacity to build new infrastructure, he wants to prioritize investments in French-language CEGEPs.
Gauvin said Legault’s explanation makes no sense.
She said Quebec’s education ministry itself acknowledged in December that Dawson, which has been overflowing for years, needs an additional 11,000 square meters of space to meet provincial standards.
“We don’t have spaces for students to socialize or study. We have very crowded classrooms, and with COVID that’s very problematic,” she said.
Gauvin said the suspension of the campus expansion project will prevent Dawson from moving forward with an innovative plan for a student-run medical clinic which could serve thousands of patients each year.
“We are all filled with dreams”
Dawson students told CBC they felt caught in the middle of a language war.
“I feel like the government is making this decision right now, they’re saying English speakers shouldn’t understand this and French speakers – yes,” said social work student Daniela Diaz.
“That means we won’t have the space to learn, but also to breathe a bit, because it’s really crowded and it’s like overwhelming,” Diaz said.
Carlos Vidaurre, another social work student, said he had a message for the prime minister.
“Legault, my friend, I speak french too much. Come on, take care of me,” he said.
“Look at us here, we’re all filled with dreams,” Vidaurre said, gesturing to the crowd in the hallway.
“We all have hopes. We all want to push, and the fact that we’re more fluent in English shouldn’t bother us,” Vidaurre said.
Francophone CEGEPs support Dawson
An association representing French-speaking CEGEPs in Montreal supports Dawson.
“CEGEPs must meet the training needs of Quebec society in all areas, regardless of where they are,” said Nathalie Vallée, president of the Association of CEGEPs of Montrealsaid at the press conference.
Vallée said that while many CEGEPs are running out of space and are waiting for more government funding to expand, Dawson’s needs are particularly urgent.
“We are very pleased with the widespread support we have received from the Anglophone and Francophone community,” Gauvin said. “People understand it’s about fairness.”
The Department of Education announced last week that it would make a final decision on the Dawson expansion project in the spring.
Gauvin said she thinks she can still persuade the government to change its mind.
“I have high hopes of being able to meet Mr. Legault. We will do everything in our power to remedy this unfortunate situation,” Gauvin said.
The CAQ gets involved
The prime minister’s spokesman, Ewan Sauves, insisted the government would not change its position.
“We have chosen to prioritize expansion projects in French-speaking CEGEPs and universities in Greater Montreal, due to the strong demand and the great anticipated needs,” Sauves said in a press release.
“Minister McCann, however, is working with Dawson to find other alternatives, but the expansion project as we know it will not proceed.”
Sauves didn’t say if Legault would agree to a meeting with Dawson’s board. He referred all other questions to Danielle McCann, the minister responsible for higher education.
McCann was not immediately available for comment.