EDITORIAL: Ottawa trashes ESL, defies logic

Removing funding for new immigrants to learn English a short-sighted decision

For our economy to grow, for employers to find employees and for the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish, Canada needs immigrants. Simply put, native-born Canadians aren’t producing enough kids.

A key element for immigrants to be successful in this country is proficiency in English (at least in B.C.). For many years, that English as a second language training has been provided by public community colleges in B.C. – they have the class space, the instructors and established curriculum.

The federal government, more specifically Citizenship and Immigration Canada, has decided to dissolve the entire domestic ESL system in British Columbia.

Last year, 9,000 immigrants and new Canadians received domestic ESL training, often for free or at a subsidized rate, through $17 million in “flow-through” money from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, which allocated it to schools like Camosun College here in Victoria.

But in three and a half months, funding for domestic ESL will end, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada will pick up the ball and organize and run domestic ESL programs itself.

The problem is, nobody in B.C. knows how or where this will happen. Even the Minister of Advanced Education, who assures this newspaper that domestic ESL will continue, admits it’s unclear how it will be delivered.

Perhaps retooling domestic ESL makes sense in Ottawa. Why continue indefinitely with a system saddled with classrooms and experience when it can be built from scratch?

Not that Citizenship and Immigration Canada has told anybody its plan, if it has a plan. The clock is ticking, but the federal ministry says “no final decisions have yet been made” for delivering ESL, and that the change is about offering consistent services for immigrants across Canada.

Perhaps the feds will come to their senses before April and find some face-saving way to funnel domestic ESL cash to B.C. In the meantime, schools like Camosun are planning for a future absent of teaching English to new people to our nation.