The Parti Québécois (PQ) is under fire from both the administration at Dawson College and the provincial Liberals for allegedly attempting to politicize the government’s funding of a $100m project to add a building to the CÉGEP’s Westmount campus.
Dawson Director-General Diane Gauvin told Global News that the school has been “bursting at the seams” for years.
While campus is empty these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “in normal circumstances, it’s sometimes difficult to walk in the corridors or go up the stairs or the escalators or the elevators,” she said.
Planning for the new building, which is set to house the school’s health programs, began over seven years ago. With a price tag of $100 million, it is expected to be constructed over the next five years. It’s also the only CÉGEP project to be included in the Legault government’s bill to fast-track key infrastructure plans in an effort to kick-start the economy after the pandemic ends.
That last point is what doesn’t sit well with the PQ — the party says French-language CÉGEPs should be prioritized for funding over the English-language system to better reflect Montreal’s linguistic demographics.
The party is introducing a motion in the National Assembly to exclude Dawson from the government’s infrastructure bill.
On Tuesday, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government declined to allow the National Assembly to debate whether the funding for the expansion of Dawson College should instead be redirected to francophone CEGEP’s.
House leader Simon Jolin-Barrette said in the legislature that the government would not consent to an immediate debate on the motion, presented by Parti Québécois MNA Pascal Bérubé.
Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon called the subject “an issue of fairness” when addressing reporters in Quebec City.
“The funding right now is going to more places in English, in a situation where on the island of Montreal, there is already more (spaces for students) in English than in French,” St-Pierre Plamondon said.
But the administration at Dawson says that the PQ referring to the project as an “expansion” is what’s not fair.
“When the PQ says we want more students, what we’re saying is ‘no, we want the number of students we have today, not more.'” Gauvin said.
The institution’s devis, a government-set figure of how many students each CÉGEP can teach at once, has been set since the late 1990’s at 7,075. While the Ministry of Higher Education allows schools to exceed that figure by up to 10 per cent, Dawson has been asked to welcome even more than that for a decade.
According to figures provided to Global News by administrators, Dawson has taught more students than their ministry-defined surge capacity of 7,782 in each academic year since 2011. The closest the school came to being below that regulatory ceiling was in 2013, when 7,894 students attended Dawson. In 2015, over 8,000 students attended the school.
Thus, the new building is not an attempt to welcome even more students, Gauvin says, it’s an attempt to catch up to the number they already have.
“The project aims to give Dawson the space it is entitled to based on ministerial norms,” she said.
Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education, Danielle McCann, did not respond to an interview request, and the PQ motion is not binding upon the government.
Liberal Party leader and leader of the opposition, Dominque Anglade, meanwhile, suggested the National Assembly’s third-largest opposition party was making a mountain out of a molehill.
“The PQ probably wants to pick up a fight with the English community, I don’t think we need to do this,” she said.
— With files from the Canadian Press