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Allison Hanes: Axing the Dawson expansion is a low blow from Legault

In making the move for petty political reasons, Quebec’s premier is basically telling anglophones that they can’t trust anything he says.

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By suddenly pulling the rug out from under Dawson College’s plans for a new pavilion last week — despite previously saying he supported the project — Quebec Premier François Legault is basically telling anglophones that they can’t trust anything he says.

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It’s not that Quebec’s English-speaking community ever had a warm, fuzzy relationship with Legault, but this nevertheless comes as a low blow.

Raised in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue when divisions between the Two Solitudes ran deep, there are times he has barely disguised his contempt for anglophones. His history as a cabinet minister in a Parti Québécois government is enough to make many English speakers mistrustful of him and his claims that he’s abandoned sovereignty.

Legault’s invitation to anglophones to “free themselves ” and vote for his fledgling Coalition Avenir Québec party instead of the Liberals in 2018 seemed as self-serving as it was disingenuous.

Still, when his government was elected and he appointed himself the voice of English speakers in cabinet (with parliamentary secretary Christopher Skeete reporting to him directly), community leaders took him at his word that he wanted anglophones “ to feel that they are well represented .” It’s not like we had a choice. But we entered into this new, if somewhat awkward, relationship in good faith.

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Perhaps we should have known better.

Since then there has been one example after another of Legault saying one thing to appease anglo concerns and doing the opposite. In fact, he often goes out of his way to gaslight the community with reassurances only to undermine our interests.

Dawson is just the icing on the cake.

He was iffy on whether an anglophone secretariat would be useful, a body within government that English speakers had been lobbying for and which the previous Liberal government had finally promised. But since he set it up inside the bureaucracy, some fear he’s using funding to divide and conquer .

When Bill 40 was introduced, replacing school boards with service centres, Legault promised that anglophones would retain management and control of English education. But it’s clear from the total centralization and complete lack of autonomy in the French education system that it’s all just a smokescreen. Only an injunction is preventing the English system from suffering the same fate as the French side.

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With Bill 96, to strengthen the French language, he said English-speaking Quebecers didn’t have to worry about our rights. But clause after clause of the bill threatens to redefine who belongs to the community, treats anglophones as second class citizens, makes the French language charter paramount over the Quebec and Canadian human rights protections and pre-emptively head off any court challenges by using the constitutional override.

After saying he wouldn’t extend Bill 101 to English CEGEPs, which are very popular with francophone youth, Bill 96 seeks to cap enrolment . Legault tried to spin this as an advantage for English students, saying it will limit the competition with French-speakers for admission. But now his government is deliberately undermining one of the most popular and thriving colleges in Quebec.

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Make no mistake: Dawson is being thrown under the bus for petty political reasons. T he PQ and Québec solidaire tried to raise a stink about an English college “expanding” when French CEGEPs need resources. That’s when Legault actually stood up for Dawson, saying the school is “appreciated.”

In fact, the new pavilion isn’t intended to increase enrolment, but to address a space crunch Dawson has faced for 20 years. It was supposed to accommodate existing students, especially in the crucial fields of nursing and health sciences. Never mind that training health workers is a priority for Legault’s government and Dawson’s programs are highly regarded, the premier is more concerned about political blowback than doing the right thing.

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Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann notified Dawson late last Friday that more than $100 million promised in 2018 is being diverted to “francophone students.” Legault explained Tuesday that since English speakers comprise only half the students attending Dawson and there are too many projects for scarce funds, the new pavilion no longer makes the grade.

If we already knew anglophones and their institutions don’t matter to Legault, it now seems like he’s willing to punish French students who have the temerity to attend an English CEGEP.

Hey, why cap enrolment or apply Bill 101 when he can just   starve the English system so it starts to decline? If the government invests in the French system so it’s all shiny and new, maybe francophone students will gravitate away from English facilities on their own. Maybe.

English institutions, from our hospitals to our universities, have weathered political meddling before and emerged as “appreciated” by francophones as ever. But hanging Dawson out to dry at this juncture is still particularly odious.

ahanes@postmedia.com

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