Dawson College has “suffered a serious setback” in its expansion plans after a “hastily called” meeting with the province’s higher education minister last week, the Montreal-based institution said in an internal memo.
Diane Gauvin, the director-general of the English-language CEGEP, wrote about the meeting in a letter issued Sunday.
She said Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann “informed the college that its infrastructure project would not go forward” last Friday. Gauvin said she was “extremely disappointed” by the decision.
“The government has chosen to prioritize, in her words, ‘francophone’ students,” Gauvin wrote. “She urged Dawson to explore other options, such as leasing.”
Valérie Chamula, a spokesperson for McCann, confirmed the Higher Education Ministry met with college officials last week and asked them to work on “alternative options.” A final decision on whether the expansion will be shelved will be made in the spring, she added.
Dawson College, which is located in downtown Montreal, has plans to build a new pavilion due to a lack of available space. The expansion has been in the works for about seven years, according to the institution.
In 2020, Premier François Legault put forth a sweeping infrastructure bill to revive the province’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill aimed to fast-track several projects, including Dawson’s expansion.
The project, however, has been a source of contention within Quebec’s political sphere. The Parti Québécois has questioned why that money is being put forth to develop the college when it could be used to bolster French-language CEGEPs.
Gauvin of Dawson College, however, contends that the CEGEP has educated Quebecers “of every background” over the course of its existence.
“The college will analyze its options and determine the best course of action,” Gauvin said in the internal memo. “We will keep the Dawson community informed as the situation evolves.”
Shirin Hinojosa Violante, vice-president of services and sustainability at the Dawson Student Union, said there is a need for additional space at the college.
“We absolutely need it, to be honest,” she said of the proposed expansion.
Getting from class to class during peak hours can be difficult because there are so many students, she explained.
“Have you ever seen American football? There is someone with the ball and they need to tackle everyone else just to get to the other side,” Violante said. “That is pretty much what happens every time you try to get out of class to another one.
“If you want to get anywhere whatsoever, first thing you have to get out early because there’s no way you can rush anywhere. Once everyone gets out of class, there’s a huge, huge traffic jam.”
The Quebec Community Groups Network, an organization that advocates for English-language rights in the province, said it was “utterly dismayed” by the government’s decision to change course.
The president of the organization said the “new facility is critical in order to significantly improve the learning environment for students” at Dawson College — and called on the province to reconsider.
“Cancelling this project represents yet another example of the Legault government’s persistent and relentless attack on the vitality of Quebec’s English-speaking community,” Marlene Jennings said.
—with files from Global News’ Anne Leclair and Gloria Henriquez