'CEGEPs are not the cause of anglicization in Quebec': College federation on French-language bill

Quebec's colleges are throwing their weight behind the Legault government, supporting its decision to allow young French-speaking Quebecers the freedom to choose to attend a French-speaking or English-speaking college as they please.

They just have a few changes they'd like to see, including changing the proposed cap on English-language college admissions from 10 years to three.

Overall, the Fédération des CEGEPs said Tuesday, it believes that measures based on coercion are not likely to "nurture ambition and a feeling of belonging around the common language."

The federation presented its brief to provincial legislators as part of the consultation conducted around Bill 96, which proposes a vast reform of Bill 101, otherwise known as the Charter of the French language.

Controlling access to English-language CEGEPs is one of the main issues that has attracted the attention of various experts who have come to testify on Bill 96, which is sponsored by Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.

Many have said they believe that attending CEGEP in English promotes the anglicization of young people and determines the trajectory of their future university and professional careers.

They would have liked the government instead to curb English's appeal to young people by extending Law 101, which is currently reserved for primary and secondary school, to the college level.

That would mean that only children born to parents who studied in English would have access to the English school.

Instead of prohibiting this access, the government has instead chosen to cap the proportion of English-language college admissions, within the total provincewide admissions, at the 2019 level, which is 17 per cent.

That regulation is proposed to last for a decade. The federation counter-proposed that three years would be more suitable.

"CEGEPs are not the cause of anglicization in Quebec," the colleges' federation wrote in its brief.

In response to the minister's questions, the president of the group, Bernard Tremblay, said he was "deeply convinced that at 16, 17, 18, 19, what is most important is to generate a feeling of belonging, an interest in Quebec culture."

He continued that "that doesn't just come with being a student in a French-speaking CEGEP, it comes with deeper measures, it comes with access to culture."

He therefore suggested that the government see CEGEPs as privileged places for the dissemination of French-speaking Quebec culture.

According to Tremblay, even simply asking young people to study in French "will not generate less interest for Netflix and for Facebook."

The federation is also opposed to the provisions of the bill which would obligate CEGEP students to take a standardized test meant to assess their knowledge of French.

The federation of CEGEPs, which includes 48 public colleges, recommends setting up a working group on this issue with the Ministry of Higher Education.

Parti Québécois member Pascal Bérubé, who is fiercely against the government's position on access to English-speaking CEGEPs, argued that it was not up to the state "which finances you, to subsidize Quebec assimilation."

Worried about the current trend, he added that "since 1995, the share of college students who attend English CEGEPs and their private subsidized counterparts has gone from 14.9 per cent to 19 per cent, an increase of a quarter."

MONTREAL MAYOR ASKS FOR FLEXIBILITY

The City of Montreal, epicenter of linguistic issues in Quebec, made its presentation late Wednesday afternoon, demanding certain relaxations in Bill 96.

The city's mayor, Valérie Plante, said she agrees that the common language of Montreal is French.

But she finds there's too much ridigity, she said, to a deadline imposed on municipalities to begin addressing newcomers only in French, in writing or orally, by a maximum of six months after their arrival in Quebec.

Plante said she worries about what would happen if that person called for help on the city's 3-1-1 line shortly after that six-month period. 

The minister reminded Plante of the importance for the government of putting an end to institutional bilingualism.

Plante responded that Montreal has hired 5,000 people in recent years and that only 180 of those positions required knowledge of English.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 5, 2021, with files from CTV News.

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