Dawson College Expansion Ban: What do People Have to Say?
(Photo taken by: Jacqueline Lisbona)
Dawson College has been eagerly anticipating the expansion of its medical technology department for years. This expansion would include a clinic to help serve the Montreal community, and it would help train future medical students.
In 2020, the Quebec government promised Dawson College to fund this $100 million dollar expansion plan. However, during a press conference on January 31st, Premier Legault did an about face and quashed all upcoming expansion plans, explaining that the CAQ has “too many projects and [that] there is a limited capacity to build new infrastructure”. He further added that if they had to choose a priority, it’d be “better to expand French colleges before adding capacity to Dawson".
During interviews with Legault and members of his team, questions regarding Bill 96 inevitably arose. For background, on May 13, 2021, the government of Quebec labelled Bill 96 as an act “representing French as the official and common language of Quebec”. This has been the catalyst to many heated discussions over the presence of francophone students in an ‘anglophone’ school.
Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, is puzzled by this decision. He suggested that it is Legault’s personal views on the province’s language laws that affected this decision regarding the cancellation of the Dawson expansion and that the Parti Quebecois’s ultimate goal with Bill 96 is to prevent non-anglophone CEGEP students from attending English-language colleges.
This bill already affects non-anglophone students, who are prohibited from attending English primary or secondary schools. Legault has stated publicly that he believes that this law should expand to the junior college system as well, triggering a flood of reactions from students.
Joseph Benzazon, a second year Health Science student at the College, explained that while he understands the rationale behind the government’s desire to preserve the French language, “to penalise an important academic institution based on the fact that it is an English school is pretty unfair”. Benzazon added that Dawson’s student population attracts both anglophone and francophone students, and that French classes are taught at the College. French is very much alive at the institution, with French conversations happening all around you.
Kim Dubuc, a second-year graphic design student at Dawson, shared her opinion: “I see why the Quebec government is doing what it’s doing,” she said. “I understand that they want to preserve the French language in Quebec but I completely disagree with the expansion ban. I think the issue is deeper than we think it is and we just have to find a happy balance”.
Jeffrey Gandell, an English Professor at Dawson, had quite a bit to say about this decision: “I think that it is quite obviously a blind political move by the CAQ [...] they are letting an English school’s infrastructure deteriorate because they aren’t giving them money to expand and invest in their facilities. This political choice is doing a big disservice to the sustainability of the province's healthcare system”.
The expansion project would help the students training to be nurses, as well as those in the ultrasound, physiotherapy, radiation, oncology, and diagnostic imaging departments. Currently, these programs are working in many different spaces at Dawson as well as rented spaces off campus due to the lack of space.
This expansion would help with another major issue in the school: overcrowding. Students are already scrambling for seating in class. Additionally, an inability to physically distance in class during COVID adds to the likelihood of the virus spreading, which causes unneeded stress among students and professors.
Megan Wise, a first-year commerce student, agreed that “it is really difficult to get anywhere around the school because the staircase is so crowded”. She also said that her classes have “way too many people in them and sometimes there’s not enough desks for everyone which should not be happening”.
Dawson’s Director General Diane Gauvin informed Dawson employees, in a letter that the Ministry recognized, that Dawson “suffers from a space deficit of 11,200 m2 or the equivalent of more than 10 typical office floors”. She also said that she is “extremely disappointed by the decision” and she will remain “committed to finding solutions to better serve students and the community”.
Despite backlash from Montrealers, Legault continues to defend the decision.