Backlash against the federal government’s plan to drastically cut funding for English classes continues to escalate.
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire said his office has received dozens of letters and calls from students and concerned citizens about this "inexcusable action."
"They are upset and deeply concerned about what the Liberal cuts will mean for those who rely on this training," Maguire said.
On Friday morning, Maguire brought the issue to question period: "Without language training, many of our immigrants and refugees won’t be able to go to school, get a job, or integrate into our community, so … will the Liberal government reverse this disastrous decision and reinstate this much needed funding?"
Serge Cormier, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship responded briefly, by saying the department intends to co-operate with companies and various organizations to try to "improve the situation."
Maguire said he has asked for a one-on-one meeting with the Minister Ahmed Hussen, however as of Friday afternoon, he said he was still waiting to hear from the minister’s office.
"The Liberals need to rearrange their priorities if they think cutting language services is good public policy," Maguire said.
As The Brandon Sun reported Friday, classes offered through United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 will be significantly impacted. For the past 13 years, UFCW has been offering these classes to the foreign workers at Maple Leaf Foods, plus their family members.
Annually, 200 people go through the English classes, and since it began, 1,500 people have graduated from the program.
The union is encouraging members to contact the federal immigration minister in hopes this decision will be reversed.
The cuts will be felt at Assiniboine Community College’s English programs as well. Last week, 16 students came to The Brandon Sun office to make sure their voices were heard.
Newcomers need to complete a certain amount of Canadian Language Benchmark levels in order to obtain Canadian citizenship, better paying employment and post-secondary education.
The ESL Program at ACC is projected to be slashed from $730,000 to $190,000. The cuts are expected to be effective March 31 and will result in an approximate 85 per cent reduction in class offerings. 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.
As the impact of these cuts continues to mount in Brandon, Mayor Rick Chrest said it is becoming a greater concern at Brandon City Hall. He plans to reach out to the federal immigration department.
"We haven’t had a role in the process so far … but certainly I’m prepared to initiate some discussion," he said.
Chrest highlighted Brandon’s vibrant, multicultural community in his State of the City address on Thursday. Over time, Brandon’s ability to welcome newcomers has improved significantly.
"Probably the most basic of considerations for people … is language," Chrest said, in addition to housing, employment and education.
"The ability to communicate in a new country is a big one. If that is going to be curtailed, then we would be concerned about that. We’ll want to speak to representatives of the federal government or the department, to see if there are some measures that can be taken to find a way to continue."
Chrest is hopeful the federal government has a "game plan" to be able to continue this important function in some fashion.
"I’d like to give the federal government the benefit of the doubt that they may have some other alternative in mind," he said. "It feels a little counterintuitive to me that they’re so welcoming to new immigrants to Canada and at the same time cutting off services … that’s why I feel that there may be other programs available."
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