The Trudeau Liberal Party — the same party that has fashioned itself as a champion of immigrants and refugees in Canada — has decided to snap back funding for high-level English-as-second-language programming in Brandon.
For any immigrant attempting to move beyond the menial jobs in Brandon’s labour market, this is incredibly bad news.
As you can read in today’s Brandon Sun, the ESL Program Funding for Canadian Language Benchmarks level 5-8, which is on offer at Assiniboine Community College, has been slashed from $730,000 to $190,000. The cuts apparently become effective as of March 31, meaning that the current ESL course schedule underway at ACC —one that was supposed to continue on into April — will be cut short.
As a result of this scaling back, seven of eight ESL instructors at ACC — full-time and part-time — will lose their jobs.
According to a presentation presented to members of the ACC board of governors yesterday, the original 2016-17 ESL programming had a student capacity of about 600 students, though the total anticipated registrants for this particular school year was expected to hit about 500. The current number of registered students for the ACC ESL program stands at 456, and had been increasing annually.
ACC offers something called English for specific purposes, meaning students were learning how to interact socially with other English speakers, rather than merely being taught academic English. This would set them up well for jobs in health and business, as well as other professional careers.
By scaling back funding, ACC will only be able to offer five classes in the benchmark level 5-8, instead of the 42 currently offered. This will eliminate any evening or Saturday classes — the most popular among working newcomers — and reduce student numbers to as low as 40 or possibly 80-100 per year, taught by a single instructor.
While organizations like Westman Immigrant Services provide Canadian Language Benchmarks levels 1-4, this level of English language ability only allows newcomers to take on entry level jobs such as office cleaners or dishwashers. A CLB of level 6, at least, is required to work in a retail position, or as a security guard or bus driver, according to the ACC presentation.
A child care educator and health care aide position needs a CLB level 7 or higher, and a CLB level 8 can compete for most professional jobs.
Without a fully functioning ACC ESL program, many newcomers will be out of luck when it comes to finding English language training in Brandon, should they wish to do more than wash floors or dishes. Without the highest level of ESL training, newcomers are essentially barred from higher education at BU or ACC to further their careers.
Word is, these cuts to higher level ESL funding are happening across the country. It’s believed the federal government intends to funnel this cash into levels 1-4, specifically to help newcomers who are seeking to become Canadian citizens. They are equipping them with what they need to get Canadian citizenship — and nothing more.
In 2014, the provincial government issued its Manitoba Immigration Facts statistical report, in which it was noted that nearly 7,000 newcomers had settled in Brandon since 2000. And many more have found their way to our community since.
That’s a large slice of our population. Certainly, many of these have been here for several years, and are already settled. But this kind of short-sighted cut by the federal government — especially by a Liberal government that road to power on a message of tolerance and improved resources and reforms to Canada’s immigration system — is inexcusable.
If the feds are intent upon bringing in waves of new immigrants, and drastically increasing the number of refugees seeking asylum into Canada, they must be prepared to support these newcomers every step of the way. As Canadians, they should have the right to do more than this country’s menial work.
And it does Brandon’s business community little good to have a large minority of people in the community who find themselves immobile, and unable to better their situations.
This will be a costly mistake, if left unchallenged.