One of the big stories to come out of the Parti Québécois policy convention — aside from Jean-François Lisée's soaring approval rating — was the party's controversial new policy on English-language CEGEPs.  

The measure, adopted by party delegates on Sunday, would make funding for English institutions such as Dawson, Vanier and John Abbott proportional to the size of Quebec's English-speaking population.

In an interview with Daybreak host Mike Finnerty, Lisée tried to explain the policy, which has been criticized by anglophone community groups and many francophones who choose to attend English institutions to improve their fluency in the language.

Here's the relevant section of the interview, edited for clarity.


Mike Finnerty: The debate around English-language CEGEPs seemed to take up a lot of the oxygen heading into the convention. What exactly is the problem with English CEGEPs?

Jean-François Lisée: "Francophones speaking English too well" are words that will never come out of my mouth. Never, ever.

In fact, you're right to say Anglo CEGEPs are successful, and that means that the French CEGEPs are not successful enough. If you want a great mastery of English, the only option is to go to English CEGEP, and that means that French CEGEPs are failing.

I fought to keep the right of choice of young adults to English or French CEGEP. The problem we have is that, if the trend holds, a great number of francophones will go to English CEGEPs and that means that the French CEGEPs are not doing a sufficient job of teaching English.

So, we're going to fix this problem and make the majority system give a real, efficient teaching of English that could include one session in an English CEGEP.

MF: But the resolution says that funding for English CEGEPs needs to "gradually align" with the demographic anglophone community. Doesn't that mean, under your government, Dawson, John Abbott, Vanier and others would gradually be downsized?

JFL: That would be the end result.

MF: Well, that's a painful process for the anglophone community.

JFL: As you say, the Anglo CEGEPs have been very successful in growing the needs of the Anglo community because they have such a good offer to non-Anglos. So we want French CEGEPs to give a better offer — and then we'll see what the students decide.

MF: I just don't understand, something that is so successful, and is so well-loved, why would you then go after it and try to shrink it, so that it's no longer the success that it is?

JFL: Listen, if the trend holds, we could have a situation where the proportion of francophone students who go to English CEGEPs grows and grows and grows, much much beyond even their capacity, and that's not a healthy situation. The main thrust of your higher education is supposed to meet the needs of the majority, and it doesn't now.

MF: But the percentage of students of French students enrolling in English CEGEPs rose five per cent to 10 per cent between 1993 and 2015. That's not a crisis, is it?

JFL: Well, it's going in the wrong direction for francophone CEGEPs.

MF: But is it going in the wrong direction for francophones? And for Quebec?

JFL: Listen, if francophones believe that their majority network doesn't do the job, let's fix the majority network. You see?

MF: Yes, I do see what you are saying, but it is really some breathtaking "nanny-knows-best," isn't it? I mean, these are 17 and 18 year olds. You're telling them that you know better what's their future path than they do.

JFL: They will keep their choice.

MF: Not if they didn't go to elementary and secondary school in French.

JFL: That's another issue.

MF: That's the allophones get the bite on that one.

JFL: We're keeping freedom of choice. And we're going to give them better choices. That's the reverse of the nanny state.

MF: But not for the allophones.

JFL: The other item that we want to do is that these francophones living in Rivière-du-Loup, for instance, that don't go to Dawson, we'll say listen, if you want to have one full session in Dawson or Bishop to make sure your English is good, we'll do that.

On the other hand, it's been said by the Advisory Council on English education that the grasp of French for many of the Anglo students coming out of English CEGEPs is not good enough for them to thrive in the Anglo market, so in order to do that they will have to learn more French and spend a session in a francophone CEGEP.

That, we feel, is a great thing to do to have each other know each other better.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak