CURRENT SITUATION

Evolution of the Issue

For many years: Chronic operational and capital underfunding.
December 2019: 1st wave (4.7%) of budget cuts announced by the Government of Alberta, translating into 6.9% for the University of Alberta.
March 2020: 2nd wave (8.6%) of budget cuts, translating into 10.7% for the University of Alberta. Prohibition to use reserve funds, threatening 44% of courses offered at Campus Saint-Jean.
May 2020: Launch of the Save Saint-Jean campaign.
June 2020: Confirmation that the contiguous plan submitted by Campus Saint-Jean (19% courses cut) is accepted by the University of Alberta, but $1M still needs to be found by March 31, 2021.
July 2020: Announcement of $98M for post-secondary infrastructure projects under Alberta’s Recovery Plan, but no investment for Campus Saint-Jean.
July 2020: Launch of the University of Alberta’s restructuring initiative, U of A For Tomorrow. Proposals to relocate Campus Saint-Jean to the North Campus and the disappearance of Campus Saint-Jean.
August 2020: Legal action initiated by the ACFA against the Province of Alberta and the University of Alberta.
September-November 2020: Consultations for the University of Alberta’s restructuring initiative, U of A For Tomorrow.
December 2020: Campus Saint-Jean retains its autonomy in the restructuring scenario selected by the University of Alberta. Departures of professors from Campus Saint-Jean.
February 2021: 3rd wave (6.7%) of budget cuts, with disproportionate cuts for the University of Alberta (11%). Announcement of $191M for post-secondary infrastructure projects in the Government of Alberta’s budget, but still no investment announced for Campus Saint-Jean.
April 2021: ACFA’s appearance before the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Government of Canada’s 2021 budget: Announcement of $121.3M over three years for high-quality post-secondary minority-language education.
May 2021: Government of Quebec’s Bill 96, which includes measures for French post-secondary education.

Chronic Operational and Capital Underfunding

Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) has faced chronic operational and capital underfunding for years.

In terms of operational underfunding, CSJ receives provincial grants for only 70% of its full-time students. In fact, CSJ receives funding from the Campus Alberta Grant for an established quota of 528 FLE (Full Load Equivalent) students, while it welcomes 750 FLE students annually. In addition, federal funding that CSJ receives under the Official Languages in Education Program (OLEP) has not changed since at least 2009. Thus, in real dollars, this funding is progressively reduced.

Therefore, there is a significant shortfall to meet the demand for its programs and to accommodate the unprecedented growth of its student population (40% since 2014), even though admission averages were increased twice.

As for capital underfunding, the most recent construction at CSJ will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary. CSJ is in dire need of renovations to maintain its infrastructure. However, for many years, the Government of Alberta has repeatedly declined to respond to CSJ’s needs in capital funding and refused to match any federal funds for CSJ’s infrastructure projects.

Recently, the University of Alberta conducted a study in 2015 that raised the need to update CSJ’s science laboratories. These laboratories dated back to the 1950s and required $19M of renovations. Although the project went ahead, it was scaled back for $3.1M of renovations as the University of Alberta was unable to secure the necessary funding from the Government of Alberta. These renovations are far from the Science Pavilion project proposed in 2007-2008 at a cost of approximately $40M, which was abandoned due to the inability to secure funding from the Government of Alberta.

Prior to these renovations, the last update of CSJ’s facilities was almost 20 years ago with a renovation of the old residence building, and the construction of new residences, a cultural and community space, and offices. To this day, there is, among other things, an urgent need to improve the facilities’ electrical system.

Two Announcements of Provincial Budget Cuts

In addition to Campus Saint-Jean’s (CSJ) extremely precarious and pre-existing financial situation, the Government of Alberta announced budget cuts in 2019. Operational grants to post-secondary institutions were cut by 4.7% in December 2019, and on top of which came a further 8.6% cut for 2020-2021. However, for the University of Alberta alone, these cuts represented 6.9% in 2019 and 10.7% in 2020.The Government of Alberta also prohibited post-secondary institutions from using their reserve funds, denying CSJ the opportunity to absorb its $1.5M shortfall for 2020-2021.

In Spring 2020, the ACFA learned that CSJ’s $1.5M shortfall represented the cost of 44% of the courses planned for 2020-2021 (180 out of 409 courses).

Such drastic budget cuts would have significant impacts on students and the overall community, including:

  • Entire program cuts;
  • Increased class sizes;
  • Increasingly limited course and program choices (students may have to take more courses in English at the University of Alberta’s Main Campus to complete their programs);
  • Completing programs on an extended period of time.

« Save Saint-Jean »: Community Mobilization

On May 13, 2020, the ACFA, in collaboration with Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta and Canadian Parents for French, launched a call to action to mobilize the community in order to save Campus Saint-Jean, the only French post-secondary institution in Alberta. Albertans were invited to (1) write to the Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, and the Minister of Advanced Education, Demetrios Nicolaides, (2) spread the word on social media, and (3) attend a virtual townhall meeting in English or French to provide an overview of CSJ’s current situation and gather the community’s wishes.

A Contiguous Plan Approved, but Still $ 1M to Find

In April 2020, Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) submitted a plan and a balanced budget to the University of Alberta. Initially, to achieve a balanced budget, CSJ was considering cutting 180 courses out of a possible 409, which involved program cuts. CSJ proposed a contiguous plan that would allow all programs to be maintained. However, this plan involved cutting 77 courses from its regular programming and required finding $1M to balance its budget by March 2021. The ACFA received confirmation that this proposal was moving forward for September 2020.

In the ACFA’s view, this proposal still goes against the Minister of Advanced Education’s directives, who had indicated that the budgetary measures should be limited to the administration of post-secondary institutions and should not affect students. It also goes against the 1976 Agreement in which the Province and the University of Alberta committed to operate, maintain, improve and develop the CSJ.

In meetings with the University of Alberta, the ACFA sought to understand from where funds would come to cover the $1M shortfall in CSJ’s budget. This was unclear. To begin, CSJ would not be able to use its reserve funds. The ACFA also requested clarification on the allocation of the Campus Alberta Grant, given that the portion of this provincial grant received by CSJ does not correspond to the current number of full-time students (FLE). Despite the explanations received, nothing suggested that there would be an adjustment to the provincial funding allocated to CSJ. From what the ACFA understands, the University of Alberta would provide financial flexibility to CSJ during the year thanks to its internal cash flow, but the University expected the federal government to fill this shortfall by March 31, 2021.

Investments in Infrastructure, but Nothing for Campus Saint-Jean

In the Summer of 2020, as part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan, the Government of Alberta announced $98M in funding to improve infrastructures at several post-secondary institutions across the province. However, no funding was announced for Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) despite the federal government’s commitment to fund half of an $8M infrastructure project on the condition that the province provides matching funds. CSJ’s exclusion from the investment announcement adds to a long history of refusals by the Government of Alberta to fund new infrastructure projects at CSJ.

U of A for Tomorrow: Surprising Proposals

During meetings between the ACFA and the University of Alberta, the University’s new President, Bill Flanagan, discussed the restructuring to come at the University of Alberta. He also suggested moving Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) to the University’s Main Campus due to the costs of maintaining the existing facilities. The ACFA understood that one of the goals of the U of A for Tomorrow restructuring initiative is to reduce operational costs by decreasing the number of faculties and the University’s real estate. Bill Flanagan invited the ACFA to take part in the initiative’s consultation process. The ACFA promised to respond to the invitation by submitting a memorandum, which it did on July 29, 2020.

In this memorandum, the ACFA shared a proposal for a renewed CSJ within the initiative while reiterating CSJ’s fundamental role to the vitality of Alberta’s Francophone and the University obligations under the 1976 Agreement. The ACFA also shared its concern about a reference to examples of universities with only five faculties made during a town hall meeting.

For the ACFA, CSJ’s integration into the Main Campus would seriously hinder its ability to create an immersive French experience for students. Additionally, the 1976 Agreement is clear on two levels: first, the Province and the University acknowledged that CSJ’s programming must be maintained in facilities separate from the University of Alberta’s Main Campus so that it be operated in the French environment required for its success; second, the Province committed to providing the necessary funds so the University can continue operating, maintaining, improving and expanding CSJ’s programming, buildings, equipment, and supplies on CSJ’s current site.

The ACFA proposed to work with the University of Alberta and the Government of Alberta, in consultation with Alberta’s francophone community, to develop a federated governance model for CSJ. A federated governance model would, among other things, provide CSJ with greater administrative and academic autonomy. It would also allow CSJ to pursue its mandate of delivering quality French-language post-secondary education in an immersive French environment while maintaining mutually beneficial relations with the University and stability for students and staff.

However, on July 30, 2020, it was with dismay that the ACFA learned from Radio-Canada that six of the nine scenarios currently being considered by the University of Alberta proposed the disappearance of CSJ.

Legal action against the Government of Alberta and the University of Alberta

During a press conference on August 17, 2020, the ACFA announced that it was initiating legal action against the Government of Alberta and the University of Alberta regarding Campus Saint-Jean’s (CSJ) funding.

Three main arguments form the basis of this legal action, as set out in the Statement of Claim filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta:

  1. Breach of the 1976 Agreement: The 1976 Agreement recognizes the importance of CSJ in meeting tremendous demand for French-speaking teachers and bilingual workforce in Western Canada (Preamble, clause. 3.1). The agreement provides for the University of Alberta’s obligation to make best efforts to operate, maintain, improve, and expand CSJ (clause 3.2). It also imposes obligations on the Government of Alberta with respect to CSJ’s funding, including the obligation to provide necessary funds to the University of Alberta to operate, maintain, improve, and expand CSJ (clause 3.6), and the obligation not to reduce its grants when it receives federal funding in francophone education for CSJ (clause 3.7).
  2. Breach of Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Access to French-language post-secondary education in Alberta is necessary to train French-speaking teachers and staff for the province’s French-language minority school boards (and to address the shortage of these professionals), and, therefore, implement Section 23 of the Charter. The University and the Government of Alberta, therefore, have an obligation to provide adequate funding to train professionals needed to implement the Charter in Alberta.
  3. Breach of the principle of the protection of minority rights: In exercising their discretion to grant funds to CSJ, the Government of Alberta and the University of Alberta have failed to provide adequate funding to CSJ in a manner consistent with the underlying constitutional principle of the protection of minority rights.

Several stakeholders from community organizations, including the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, Canadian Parents for French, Edmonton’s French Quarter, Francophonie jeunesse de l’Alberta, and Association des universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean, took part in the press conference to reiterate CSJ’s uniqueness, role, and importance. The ACFA also launched a fundraising campaign to support these legal proceedings.

U of A for Tomorrow: the status of Campus Saint-Jean uncertain

On September 21, 2020, the University of Alberta’s Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG) released an interim report outlining three scenarios. This release was followed by town hall meetings, organized by the University of Alberta, to discuss the three scenarios.

The ACFA sent a letter to the University of Alberta’s President Bill Flanagan and Board of Governors Chair Kate Chisholm to share its position on the three recommended scenarios and seek clarification on Campus Saint-Jean’s (CSJ) status within these scenarios.

Among other things, the ACFA noted that the interim report does not indicate whether the University was still considering relocating CSJ’s facilities to the Main Campus to save on costs. The ACFA also shared its disappointment regarding that no scenario had considered a federated governance model and reiterated its proposal for a federated governance model.

On November 13, 2020, the ARWG revised its recommendations and proposed three new governance models following the consultations. CSJ retains its autonomy in all models, but recommendations still suggest exploring the possibility of shared or centralized services. The recommendations still do not consider a federated model for CSJ and are silent on CSJ’s location.

Campus Saint-Jean remains autonomous, but challenges persists

On December 11, 2020, the University of Alberta’s Board of Governors approved a governance model that groups its faculties under three colleges. Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) remained autonomous as a stand-alone faculty and was, therefore, excluded from this college structure. While this decision preserved the achievements of Alberta’s Francophonie, CSJ still faces challenges that threaten its programs and its existence.

Although the CSJ will have authority over its programs, it remains uncertain whether this will also include graduate studies and research. The ACFA also has yet to receive clarification as to whether the University of Alberta will maintain CSJ’s facilities at its current site, which is provided for in the 1976 Agreement. Additionally, CSJ continues to suffer from chronic operational and capital underfunding. Several faculty members have also departed from CSJ due to the Government of Alberta’s budgetary restrictions on post-secondary education and the uncertainty about the institution’s future.

The Government of Alberta’s 2021 Budget: More Cuts

On February 25, 2021, the Government of Alberta tabled a budget that calls for 6.7% budget cuts to post-secondary education for the year 2021-2022; a third budget cut since late 2019. These new budget cuts disproportionately affect the University of Alberta, which is forced to cut 11% of its budget. The Alberta budget also announced $191M for infrastructure projects at the post-secondary level, but Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) is once again left out. The Government of Alberta still refuses to accept the federal government’s offer to fund half of the $8M renovation project for CSJ.

As a result, CSJ will enter the 2021-2022 year under new budget cuts that may further weaken the institution’s operations and programming, as it has still not made up for its $1 million shortfall from last year.

Pressure mounts for action on French-language post-secondary education outside Quebec

In February 2021, news outlets reported that Laurentian University, a bilingual post-secondary institution in Ontario, was also facing significant challenges. The university filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2021 and began a restructuring process that raised concerns about its French-language programming. On April 12, 2021, the university eliminated 69 programs, including 28 French-language programs, and laid off nearly 200 faculty members.

On April 13, 2021, the ACFA appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages of the House of Commons as part of its study on government measures to protect and promote French in Quebec and in Canada. The ACFA presented five proposals for the federal government to save Saint-Jean:

1) Increase funding for the Official Languages in Education Program (OLEP) at CSJ and index it according to inflation and population growth;

2) Provide a complementary contribution to CSJ under the OLEP;

3) Establish a Western Canada French Post-Secondary Education Fund to address specific needs related to the growth of the Francophone community;

4) Use its spending power to protect linguistic minorities according to the constitutional principle, and thus protect French in the country;

5) Eliminate the conditional matching clauses or, at the very least, provide more flexibility and discretion for the federal government in the next Canada-Alberta Agreement on Minority-Language Education and Second-Language Instruction.

The day after this appearance, on April 14, 2021, an emergency debate on Laurentian University’s situation was requested by members of the House of Commons. During this debate, MPs from various political parties, including members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages (e.g., Alexandre Boulerice, the Honourable Steven Blaney, Mario Beaulieu) and MP for Edmonton Strathcona (Heather McPherson), the riding where CSJ is located, raised CSJ’s precarious situation.

The Government of Canada’s 2021 Budget: A Glimmer of Hope

Days after the emergency debate on Laurentian University’s situation, the Government of Canada tabled its 2021 budget on April 19, 2021. The ACFA welcomed the $400 million in funding allocated in the budget to promote official languages. Specifically, the federal government plans to invest $121.3M over three years for high-quality minority-language post-secondary education.

However, the ACFA believes that several elements need to be clarified and raised a few questions. First, will the proposed investments enhance the Official Languages in Education Program’s base funding, which the federal government has not increased since 2009, or will it be a new formula? In addition, will the new investments require a matching from the provincial government?

Following the budget announcement, the ACFA has been meeting with MPs and federal officials to ensure that CSJ receives its fair share of the announced investments.

The Government of Quebec’s Bill 96: An Attractive Offer with Potentially Negative Implications for Campus Saint-Jean

On May 13, 2021, the Government of Quebec introduced its Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec. The bill includes several provisions that support Francophone and Acadian communities across the country. However, one measure concerning access to post-secondary education in Quebec for French-speakers from other provinces is divisive for francophone communities outside Quebec. This measure would allow French-speakers that live outside of Quebec to access the same tuition fees as Quebecers when their province does not offer a French-language program. It would save Alberta students more than $5,000 per year on their tuition fees.

However, the ACFA is concerned that the measure, as proposed, would once again worsen CSJ’s extremely precarious situation for two reasons. First, this measure could be a opportunity to relieve the Government of Alberta of its obligations to develop further the offer of French-language programs at CSJ. Second, given that Alberta’s tuition fees are much lower than those of Ontario and New Brunswick and that the variety of French-language post-secondary programs in Alberta is limited, this measure could lead to talents leaving the province. In fact, the measure provides no incentive to ensure that students return to contribute to Alberta’s Francophonie once they have completed their studies.

Therefore, the ACFA has written to Quebec’s Minister responsible for the French Language, Simon Jolin-Barette, and Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and Francophonie, Sonia LeBel, to share its concerns and offer some ideas for amendments.