Quebec Liberals, anglos in fine mess over Bill 96 CEGEP Amendment
Peter Black - LJI Reporter
Forgive me, but your scribe could not help but think of Oliver Hardy’s catchphrase from those old Laurel and Hardy slapstick comedy films: “This is a fine mess you’ve got us in.” Except in the current instance, Ollie would be played by Liberal MNA David Birnbaum and Stan by Liberal MNA Hélène David, or vice versa.
The fine mess, as followers of the recent foibles of the Quebec Liberal Party would know all too well, is the now infamous amendment the supposedly anglo-friendly party proposed to Bill 96, requiring students from the English school stream, not just allophones and francophones, to take three regular subject courses in French at English CEGEPs.
The Liberals, with the wrath of the English community raining down on them, have asked the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government to withdraw the amendment, but that would require a unanimous vote by the committee studying the bill.
There is no need in this space to go into how such a colossal political screw-up could happen. The Gazette has provided full coverage of the anatomy of the fine mess Birnbaum and David got the already embattled and embittered Quebec anglo community into, not to mention the stinging damage to the credibility and election prospects of leader Dominique Anglade.
Assuming the CAQ, Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québecois don’t agree to rescue the Liberals from their amendment gaffe, the contentious clause and the rest of Bill 96 will become law if passed by the National Assembly before it recesses on June 10.
What then? As Marianopolis College head Christian Corno put it recently in a ferocious opinion piece: “The unfortunate consequences of Bill 96 on student success, graduation rates, the R score, etc. seem far from the minds of our elected officials. Probably because half of college students are not of voting age. Moreover, English-speaking students probably deserve to atone for the sins of their ancestors.”
We assume that the last bit about the “historic” anglos was sarcastic.
For English CEGEP administrators such as Corno, there also would be the challenge of finding qualified staff to teach all those courses in French.
Bernard Tremblay, the head of the CEGEP federation, was equally enraged in his assessment of the impact of the Liberal amendment on anglo students.
In an interview in Le Devoir, Tremblay said, “How can the English-speaking community accept that young English-speaking Quebecers, who have the right under Canadian law to take courses in English, be condemned?”
Some startling statistics motivated Tremblay’s cri de coeur for English CEGEP students. He said more than 35 per cent of the 29,000 students enrolled in English CEGEPs have insufficient knowledge of the French language to take courses in French.
The percentage varies from program to program. In child care techniques, for example, the level, according to Tremblay’s stats, is 85.9 per cent. In nursing techniques, it’s 57.4 per cent.
Besides the question of how these statistics are compiled, there is the overarching question of how can this be? How is it possible that the English public school system in an overwhelmingly French-speaking place like Quebec graduates such a high proportion of students who are so ill-equipped to study and work in French?
Without having the full set of English high school graduation requirements handy, one can assume that from kindergarten to Sec. 5, students are required to take a consistent program of French language instruction. Plus there are immersion and enriched programs.
Students in the English Montreal School Board, according to its website, must have six English language instruction credits and four French language credits in Sec. 5 to get their diploma and move on to CEGEP.
An unintended consequence of the Liberals’ unintended amendment could well be a more concerted effort on the part of English school boards to graduate students with a better grasp of French.
On an individual student level, the requirement might be a motivator for students in the English system; in the end, graduates who are fluent in both academic French and English would seem to have a leg up over unilingual candidates in the competition for spots in post-secondary programs.
Regardless, Quebec anglos are in this fine mess because their self-proclaimed political protectors did not do their homework on the impact of their proposed Bill 96 amendment.