Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages invited Dean Pierre-Yves to appear as a witness on June 8th, 2021, in the framework of a study on Federal Support for French or Bilingual Post-secondary Institutions in a Minority Situation.

9 June 2021

Professor Pierre-Yves Mocquais, Dean of Faculté Saint-Jean and Executive Officer of Campus Saint-Jean was invited by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages to appear as a witness in the framework of a study on Federal Support for French or Bilingual Post-secondary Institutions in a Minority Situation. Dean Mocquais appeared virtually on June 8th, 2021 - his brief was followed by a question/answer session.

Following his oral presentation, Dean Mocquais was invited by the Committee's chairman to submit a fuller written brief. The latter is published below:

Pierre-Yves Mocquais, PhD, OPA
Doyen, Faculté Saint-Jean et Executive Officer, Campus Saint-Jean, University of Alberta
June 8, 2021

Mr. Chairman,

Members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages.

I would like to begin by thanking the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages for inviting me to appear today and for giving me the opportunity to describe to you the situation of the University of Alberta's Campus Saint-Jean, which is widely reported in the Commissioner of Official Languages' 2020-2021 report. The issue the committee is discussing in the context of the modernization of the Official Languages Act is crucial not only for the future of an institution like Campus Saint-Jean, but for Francophone minority higher education institutions and Francophone minority communities (FMCs) in Alberta, Western Canada and Canada as a whole.

Campus Saint-Jean was founded in 1908 and since 1977 has been an integral part of the University of Alberta, of which it is a Faculty. It plays a vital and growing role in Alberta, Western Canada and Northern Canada. Campus Saint-Jean is the only French-language institution west of Winnipeg offering a wide range of programs at the college, undergraduate and graduate levels in business administration, humanities and social sciences, education, natural and physical sciences, nursing, speech-language pathology, and engineering. Campus Saint-Jean plays a fundamental role in the vitality of the Francophone minority community in Alberta and the West. In many ways, Campus Saint-Jean is the central cultural pillar around which revolve not only the ancestral French-speaking community of Alberta and the West, but also the growing community of new French-speaking immigrants and the equally growing community of young people from French immersion programs who wish to pursue their studies
in French because they embrace Canada's linguistic duality and consider it essential to their future.

According to the agreement signed in 1976 between the Province of Alberta, the University of Alberta and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, then owners of the Collège Saint-Jean (moral and legal responsibility now assumed by the ACFA), with the sponsorship of the Government of Canada who committed to provide additional funding to the CSJ, the Province of Alberta, the Government of Canada and the University of Alberta have a responsibility not only to ensure the continuity of what is now known as the Campus Saint-Jean, but also to ensure its continued development.

Since the 2000s, however, Campus Saint-Jean has been faced with increasing budgetary instability. Whether this instability is the result of a freeze on OLEP transfers in 2003 as indicated in the ACUFC submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages or in 2009 as indicated in the report of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the situation of Campus Saint-Jean remains critical.

The reasons for this critical situation, of which I have regularly informed the senior administration of the University of Alberta for the past seven years, as did my predecessor, are primarily four.

  • The first reason has to do with the enrolment quota set by the University of Alberta for Campus Saint-Jean. While this quota has increased somewhat in recent years, it still limits enrollment at present to 575 FLE (Full Load Equivalent) while enrollment at Campus Saint-Jean has increased by 40% since 2015 and now stands at 750 FLE or slightly above 1000 individual head count. CSJ could stick to its assigned quota, but students cannot go elsewhere in Alberta and the Greater West if they wish to study in French. The CSJ therefore considers that it has an obligation to accept all students who meet the necessary qualifications. However, CSJ only receives provincial funding (Campus Alberta Grant) for 575 FLEs when it has 750 FLEs and must provide services in French that the University offers centrally in English to all other faculties.

  • The second reason has to do with delays in federal-provincial agreements. Bilateral agreements between Alberta and Canada are generally signed with considerable delay (the current Alberta/Canada agreement was signed two years late). Although federal funding represents approximately 30% of the operating budget of Campus Saint-Jean, the University of Alberta's accounting regulations do not allow Campus Saint-Jean to
    hire faculty in tenure-track positions from the federal portion of its budget, only contract staff. As excellent as these contract faculty are, solid programs cannot survive without committed tenured faculty.

  • The third reason relates to changes in federal funding. Since 2003 or 2009, depending on the analysis, this funding has been shifted from support for core programs to special projects. While these have undeniable advantages, they also create growing imbalances that put the institution and its operations at risk. Thus, as part of its Action Plan, the federal government wished to support the training and retention of teachers in Francophone schools and French immersion programs. Campus Saint-Jean welcomes this. However, even though, thanks to this targeted funding, Campus Saint-Jean is expanding its teacher training programs in three regions of Alberta (Calgary, Red Deer and Grande Prairie) and must hire contract staff to do so, Campus Saint-Jean is obliged to reduce its overall course offerings and is unable to replace permanent professors who are either retiring or being hired by other universities. As a result, two retirements and three resignations in the past two years have not been replaced. The tenured faculty at Faculté Saint-Jean currently consists of 30 tenured or tenure-track faculty, 18 full-time contract faculty and 35 part-time contract faculty. Contract faculty teach over half of the courses offered at Faculté Saint-Jean. It is important to note that if we were allowed to hire tenure-track faculty from the federal portion of our budget, even if it were decreasing, the research faculty at Campus Saint-Jean could number 40-42. Given that retirements and resignations have been in the Arts and in Science, the imbalance between the different fields of study is growing, jeopardizing the ability of students to pursue studies in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and physical sciences. This limits the choices of students who must then take courses in English in other faculties of the University. This in turn has an impact on the ability of some to pursue graduate studies in law or medicine through the partnerships we have signed with the Universities of Ottawa and Moncton.

  • The fourth reason relates to the Province's matching obligation. In terms of programming, the Government of Alberta considers that it has done its part, through the Campus Alberta Grant (CAG) paid annually to the University. Notwithstanding the fact that these payments are down significantly, the major difficulty is that the Province does not match special federal funds as it considers that it has "already given" through the CAG. This is essentially using the same dollars for different purposes or projects since the CAG feeds the base operating budget of Campus Saint-Jean even though the Province should provide additional payments to match federal contribution to special projects.

As Dean of the Faculté Saint-Jean and Executive Officer of Campus Saint-Jean, but also as outgoing co-chair of the ACUFC, I absolutely agree with the recommendations of the ACUFC in its brief to the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages in which the ACUFC writes:

We propose that the government create a new program to support post-secondary institutions in a Francophone minority context that would allow it to intervene in several categories of needs related to federal jurisdiction.1

As noted above, the federal government is already directly involved in the post-secondary sector through transfer payments in areas under its jurisdiction, such as research. Moreover, the federal government is the trustee for the development of FMCs and must take positive steps in this direction. Therefore, we propose that the federal government intervene in areas such as:

  • Increasing cohorts in existing academic, career and technical training programs that support the vitality of FMCs;
  • the implementation of measures to meet the additional responsibilities of minority institutions;
  • the development of institutional capacities that enable institutions to support the federal government, particularly in research, employability support, recruitment and reception of international students, training for the economic integration of immigrants, early childhood, etc;
  • the establishment of new interprovincial collaborations between postsecondary institutions in a Francophone minority context that will increase access to French-language training;
  • continued efforts to increase the rate of French-English bilingualism in Canada.

As noted above, all of these areas fall under federal jurisdiction. The government could therefore directly fund post-secondary institutions in a minority Francophone context to maintain and develop their activities in these areas and others that may emerge. This does not mean replacing the contribution of provincial and territorial governments. In this approach, the federal government will be able to redress the investment deficit that
we have already mentioned, support the vitality of FMCs and play a leadership role with other governments.

Campus Saint-Jean also fully supports the recommendations made by the ACUFC in its brief to the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages that "the government [of Canada] propose regulations to implement Part VII of the Official Languages Act as soon as possible", that "the federal government adopt a public policy statement that supports the post-secondary sector in a Francophone minority context in its areas of jurisdiction" and that "the federal government develop a permanent support program for post-secondary institutions in a
Francophone minority context, in addition to the funds invested by the Official Languages in Education Program, which allows it to intervene in several categories of needs related to federal jurisdictions..

I would like to conclude this presentation with two points that I consider absolutely crucial. The first relates to the changing demographics of the Francophone student body marked increasingly by the influx of students from immigrant backgrounds. A growing number are recent immigrants from West Africa, the Maghreb, as well as from other francophone areas of the world, particularly Haiti. It is these students who are most affected by the current
conditions at Campus Saint-Jean, because unlike students from Alberta's ancestral Francophonie or from French immersion, these students from immigrant backgrounds cannot fall back on courses taken in English in other faculties of the University when courses at Campus Saint-Jean run out, which happens more and more frequently, especially at the graduate level, due to a lack of faculty.

The second point is to strongly recommend that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages take very seriously the recommendation in the ACUFC submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages that "it is long past time to move towards asymmetrical courses of action" (p. 10), because "despite this legal recognition, the two languages do not enjoy equal status in Canadian society and in federal institutions [...] 50 years of symmetry in the treatment of official languages has not been enough to ensure the substantive equality of English and French. (p. 10).

The underlining in this quote is part of the original document.