The Parti Québécois is concerned about the Legault government’s plans to fast-track an expansion of Dawson College’s facilities as part of its sweeping bill to revive the province’s economy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Interim Leader Pascal Bérubé voiced his worries on Thursday morning to a crowd of reporters in Quebec City, saying he isn’t sure why funding used to accelerate the construction of a pavilion is not being spent on the province’s smaller French-language CEGEPs in the regions.
“I was pretty upset that a lot of little colleges all around Quebec can be the host of those students, can bring great experience, great programs,” he said. “And every single time people want to go to Dawson, we say yes.
“We should put a stop to this and we should ask ourselves, as a nation, if it’s a good thing that we fund some francophone students to go to an anglophone college.”
Bill 61, which was tabled last week, puts more than 200 infrastructure projects in the health, education and other sectors on the fast track. As the health crisis puts a strain on the economy, the government claims this will help stimulate it as businesses reopen and lockdown measures are eased.
The bill itself has drawn criticism from all opposition parties in the province and the auditor general. Many of the concerns centred on easing the rules when it comes to awarding public contracts.
On Thursday, Bérubé described the government’s acceleration of the construction of an additional pavilion for Dawson, an English-language college in Montreal, as a real issue when it comes to protecting the French language in Quebec.
“I ask myself the question whether, with public funds, we are helping to assimilate Quebec youth more into the English-speaking community,” he said.
Dawson College, for its part, issued a statement on Thursday about the expansion of its facilities in order to “set the record straight.”
The college said that it has a space deficit — an issue it says that the province’s Education Ministry acknowledged in 2014.
“The construction of the new pavilion is to better accommodate the current number of students, not to expand its enrolment,” the college said, adding that its students are both francophone and anglophone.
Quebec Premier François Legault also weighed in on the PQ’s comments on Thursday during his briefing on the province’s COVID-19 measures.
He said the Montreal-based college is appreciated and that he backs its expansion.
“I know that some francophones are going to Dawson,” he said. “And putting money to expand the capacity of Dawson doesn’t mean that we refuse other projects in the francophone colleges.”
Legault also added that he has “no intention” of changing Bill 101, the province’s landmark charter that protects the French language. While it places restrictions on who in Quebec may pursue their elementary and high school studies in English, those rules don’t extend to CEGEPs and universities.
Bérubé, for his part, said earlier in the day that he believes the PQ will revisit the idea of including CEGEPs in Bill 101.
“We’re going go have this reflection with our members, but I’m pretty aware that a lot of our members and a lot of people in the civil area want to reopen this debate,” he said.