DSU representatives attend legislature, defend ESL programs

Reps debate BC’s controversial elimination of ESL programs

By Angela Espinoza, News Editor

On May 28, representatives from the DSU, Douglas College staff, and EASL students attended the legislature for question period in Victoria to discuss BC’s recent issues with ESL programs. Vancouver Community College is the most recent BC school to eliminate its ESL program (as of December 2014), one of the largest in Canada, which happened on May 30.

“As representatives for students who will be directly affected by these cuts to funding, we felt we needed to show as much support as we could,” said Greg Teuling, member-at-large for the DSU. “[Douglas College relations and outreach coordinator] Tracy Ho received an invitation from Jane Shin, MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed, for the DSU to attend question period at the legislature as her guests. Tracy Ho, [internal relations coordinator] Lorna Howat, [women’s liaison] Anni Thiele, [college relations coordinator] Ruab Waraich, and myself all volunteered to attend accompanied by one of the speakers from the earlier [representative] meeting.”

In 2012, Citizenship and Immigration Canada decided to dismiss the Canada-BC Immigration Agreement as of 2014, meaning that ESL programs in post-secondary institutions would no longer continue. Douglas College offers an EASL program in place of ESL, as EASL programs are not dependent on government funding., and can thus continue despite the ruling.

“Ideally I would hope that the provincial government steps up and funds these ESL programs, if the federal government isn’t willing to,” says Teuling. “Canada prides itself on being a country that is open and accepting to new citizens, and without the ESL programs that legacy will be in jeopardy. The amount of funding these programs require is a drop in the bucket for the provincial budget and the effect these programs have on people’s lives is immeasurable.”

However, Teuling states that he and his fellow reps had to wait until after legislature to get discussion on the topic of ESL programs going. “There was little to no productive conversation during question period,” says Teuling. “Afterwards, as our group met with MLAs in a board room, we were able to engage in great conversations and share stories about how the ESL program helps empower people in our society.

“They shared our frustration that without these programs, many new Canadian citizens will have difficulty being included in Canadian culture, have trouble accessing job opportunities, and many may not even be aware of their rights, as was evident in the migrant worker problem recently discovered in Victoria.”

Likely recent Canadian immigrants will be hit the hardest by these program cuts. EASL programs are one of the few alternatives, greatly affecting potential students’ decisions on which post-secondary institutions they’ll attend.

“To be able to represent our students at Douglas College in the legislature was an amazing honour,” says Teuling. “We were also joined by a group of ESL students from Camosun College in Victoria along with the Camosun College Student Society and some of the teachers from their ESL program as well. After a rather heated question period we had an opportunity to meet many MLAs that form the opposition. They heard and shared our concerns, [but] it was disappointing that the current government did not send anyone to speak with us,”

“The battle for long-term commitments for the funding of ESL programs is long from over. We need to keep discussing how important these programs are and I strongly encourage every student to keep up the momentum. Write your local MLAs, share your stories, share your concerns.”