There seems to be a disconnect between what the federal government has told us regarding higher-level English classes in Brandon, and the reality on the ground.
In an emailed statement made to the Sun earlier this month, Lisa Filipps, a spokeswoman for the federal immigration department, claimed that there have been fewer recent newcomer arrivals accessing settlement services in Brandon over the last few years, which has resulted in “under-utilized capacity in higher level language classes, while pressures for basic settlement services and lower level language classes have increased.”
“In these situations,” she stated, “the department must make decisions to ensure federal funding is being used where it is needed the most.”
She also told us that the IRCC settlement program’s priority is to assist newcomers early in their arrival in Canada.
First of all, let’s see if this passes the logic test.
Maple Leaf Foods — in concert with the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program — has been the driving force behind much of Brandon’s newcomer growth. Thousands of men, women and children have arrived in this city thanks to the hog plant’s need for skilled labour. And many of these newcomers have gone on to other jobs within our community, and in our province.
While those who leave the company are replaced through the program, the number of newcomers now entering our workforce is a trickle compared to the early years of the plant’s operation, when Maple Leaf filled its original working shifts, and then when it ramped up a second shift in 2008.
In early 2011, the Sun reported that the hog plant employed more than 2,300 people in Brandon alone — many of them newcomers to our community.
Those who would have applied for permanent residence to Canada, or to become Canadian citizens, would have been able to access ESL training at a few locations in Brandon, including Westman Immigrant Services, which offers English training in levels 1-4. It’s worth noting that a Level 4 is necessary to become a Canadian citizen.
Those who wish to move on up in their education and attend university or college in this country need to complete higher level ESL training. To our minds, it only makes sense that that large number of foreign workers who came to work at Maple Leaf a few years ago are now accessing higher ESL training courses in greater numbers.
And the statistics from Assiniboine Community College, which offers only the higher-level English classes (1-8), seem to bear out that assumption. Updated figures from the college show the number of student registrations in the ESL program is now 503. That number has grown from 442 in 2015-16. Back in 2012-13, the number of registrants was 309.
We also note that Level 1-7 English courses offered through the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832 — the union that represents Maple Leaf workers — remain popular and necessary. 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 program is funded through the union, Maple Leaf and the federal government.
Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832, told us that the majority of their members currently enrolled in their English classes are at Canadian Language Benchmark Level 4 or higher.
The need is definitely there. So what is the Canadian government playing at by giving us an explanation that is clearly false?
Since the Sun broke the news last month that ACC’s funding for ESL classes would be drastically cut back, we have been denied a phone interview with anyone from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, without explanation. Our reporters have been stalled by government officials, or emailed unsatisfactory explanations that don’t jive with the reality on the ground.
And there are several unanswered questions that need to be addressed. If lower level ESL training needs more resources in Brandon, how much extra funding can organizations such as Westman Immigrant Services expect — if any? Where are the numbers to show that the federal government’s statement of “under-utilized capacity” is, in fact, the truth?
We have been told that regional IRCC staff will meet with Brandon service providers this spring, in order to assess their service delivery and “review the need for higher level language classes.” If there is a demonstrated need for “available funds” at that time, Filipps says the IRCC will consider addressing these pressures.
Typical government logic. Make an uninformed, blanket decision, and then stall and prevaricate while trying to fix the damage.