Despite significant public outcry, major funding cuts are officially coming to Assiniboine Community College’s English language classes.
The college recently finalized a three-year contract with the federal government, which has the budget for English Language Training dropping to $196,000 in 2017-18 from the current level of $730,000. It will be decreased to $185,000 in 2018-19 and $176,000 in 2019-20.
"There will be less access for newcomers to Canada to English language training, so that’s undoubtedly going to have an impact on the labour market," said ACC president Mark Frison.
"Our hope is that as we roll out those programs for the coming year, as we track the wait lists and continue to share them with our funding partners, that it’ll influence how they see the demand for future years."
Hundreds of local immigrants were holding out hope that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada would reverse the proposed cut to the program. In an effort to get their message across, an entire ACC ESL class came to The Brandon Sun at the beginning of March. They were eager to share their stories and express their concerns.
One of those students was Nataliya Kulyaba who came to Brandon from Ukraine in 2014. She is working toward her Canadian Language Benchmark Level 8 so she can apply for ACC’s Practical Nursing program. In Ukraine, she worked as a nurse for 11 years.
"I don’t know why they decide to cut down the higher level because it’s really important — not only for us, but also important for the community," she said.
The funding cuts will result in the cancellation of Friday and Saturday classes, as well as evenings — in addition to downsizing instructor positions. The majority of the funding goes to salaries, wages and benefits for instructors, while a portion goes to classroom supplies, professional development, utilities, etc. Students do not pay tuition fees for this program.
Kulyaba said this will only delay students’ goals, and some "will just give up and stop" because they have to work during the day when classes will be offered.
Newcomers need to complete a certain amount of Canadian Language Benchmark levels in order to attain Canadian citizenship, better paying employment and post-secondary education. Level 6 is needed to become a security guard, work in retail or as a bus driver. Level 7 is required to become a child-care educator, while Level 8 is needed in order to compete for most professional jobs. ACC offers only the higher-level English classes, levels 5-8.
Kulyaba also pointed out that the ESL classes help them in many other areas of their lives. They learn about Canada in these classes, about banking, preparing for job interviews, writing resumes, filling out tax returns, etc.
"We got a lot of information about our life here," Kulyaba said.
The IRCC claims the higher-level English classes are "under-utilized" in Brandon, but that is contrary to what local organizations are seeing on the ground. The number of student registrations in the ESL program is now at ACC is 503. Back in 2012-13, the number of registrants was 309.
The college will only be able to take 100 students next year — one-fifth of the current number of students.
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire called the situation "a disaster."
"It’s a sad irony that you’re going to allow a lot of immigrants and refugees into our country, but you’re not willing to fund ESL that they’re required, to get that all-important job so they can support their family and become self-sufficient," Maguire said. "Cost control is one thing, completely gutting the program as they have here virtually in Brandon is unacceptable."
Maguire said he is still waiting on a response from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen, who he says he called three weeks ago to set up a meeting. He hopes the decision can be changed, if not for next year, at least the following year.
"We’re still going to be trying to impress upon the government the need for this and … the lunacy of the decision," he said. "We’re definitely in favour of these immigrants being in our communities … but you have to be able to give them the language training that they need."
A request for an interview with an IRCC representative was denied, and a statement was not provided by press time.
» Twitter: @jillianaustin