Assiniboine Community College’s English Language Program is facing drastic cuts at the hands of the federal government, which will leave seven instructors out of a job and force many immigrants learning English into limbo.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has proposed a funding cut to ACC’s ESL program from $730,000 in 2016-17 to $190,000 in 2017-18.
There will be an approximate 85 per cent reduction in class offerings, including the cancellation of Friday and Saturday classes, as well as evenings.
It will result in ACC paring down from eight teachers to one.
Student capacity will also be brought down from 600 to a maximum of 100 students, despite enrolment steadily increasing. Currently there are about 500 students enrolled in the program.
"We were quite surprised … it really did catch us off guard," ACC president Mark Frison said. "The funding has been quite healthy in the last three years, and we were more than expecting that to continue — the student numbers have grown."
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.
Westman Immigrant Services provides CLB levels 1 through 4, while ACC teaches CLB levels 5 through 8.
At Level 4, immigrants can apply for Canadian citizenship, but their job prospects remain low.
"We have all these people who are going to be stuck, and they won’t be able to communicate or continue education," said ESL instructor Lloyd Fast, who will lose his job as a result of the cuts. "They’ll be stuck in a dead-end job … How are they ever supposed to get ahead? The students are totally screwed."
In order to get a job in retail, as a security guard or a bus driver, for example, applicants need to have at least a CLB Level 6 to qualify, Fast said.
"I don’t know anybody, other than the Government of Canada, who thinks this a good idea. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot. I think it’s going to be very bad for the economy because they won’t be able to move up," Fast said.
The Brandon Sun reached out to the IRCC for comment, but did not receive a response by press time.
Representatives at ACC have been told the funding will be reallocated to CLB levels one through four to combat significant waiting lists.
"Their strategic goal is to reduce waiting lists, for newcomers that are just entering Canada and refugees who have very low levels of English Language proficiency," said Paul MacLeod, ESL program co-ordinator at ACC. "What the government wants to do is get the waiting list for those people down to 60 days, where in some jurisdictions they have waiting lists of more than two months."
However, in reducing one waiting list, they’ll be increasing another, as ACC is the only institution to deliver levels five through eight in the Westman region, Frison said.
"I’m not entirely certain whether (funding cuts) are happening across the country, but I know there have been changes in other areas of the province," Frison said.
Not being able to access higher level language training classes will make it very difficult for newcomers to meet their language and career goals, according to MacLeod.
"I’m very concerned with what’s going to happen to students who are no longer able to access classes … that’s what I’m mostly worried about," MacLeod said.
Students currently enrolled in ESL programming will finish out the term until the end of April, MacLeod said, at which point they will either continue or go on a waiting list.
MacLeod described the students currently enrolled as extremely dedicated to learning English, some working overnight shifts at their jobs and coming to class for the morning and afternoon, sacrificing sleep and family time to learn.
"I wish I had some good answers, but unfortunately I don’t," MacLeod said. "It’s going to be devastating."
» Twitter: @erindebooy
» The Brandon Sun