Question re: Yukon College programs - December 14, 2015

Mr. Silver: Thank you. Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Education. Last week, Yukoners learned that after 10 years of successfully delivering the enhanced language training, or ELT, Yukon College has been forced to discontinue the program. Now this is due in large part to the fact that the Yukon government discontinued its status as a funding partner this year.

This is the program that newly arriving Syrian refugees will be taking to advance their learning of English. Why did the Government of Yukon refuse to continue funding to the program — one that it has funded in the past?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I enjoy answering these kinds of questions because — well, it’s a difficult question to answer, because the member opposite has his facts wrong.

The enhanced language training program that the member opposite is speaking about was never funded by the Government of Yukon. It was funded by the Government of Canada. Citizenship and Immigration Canada paid a nominal figure for the enhanced language programming at Yukon College since 2006. Unfortunately, the program costs approximately $210,000 to $212,000, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada only paid $119,000. The Government of Yukon, through the community trust training fund, put up about another $46,000, but unfortunately, the program was costing the college a number of dollars each year. So the Yukon College Board made the decision to drop the program from its calendar.

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, the college has stopped funding it because they don’t have the money to do so.

We have been told that the Government of Yukon has been asked to contribute a small amount of money to keep this going and the Government of Yukon has refused. This is one of the reasons why this program is ending. With an expensive college-to-university transition process looming over the college and expectations to operate with a status quo budget for the next year, the college has lost its ability to absorb losses in third party funding programs such as the ELT, a program meant to pave pathways to employment for newcomers to Canada, including permanent residents and refugees.

Now, over the past 10 years, there have been over 100 ELT students and their impact to our economy and our culture is very significant. There is currently no employment-focused settlement program for permanent residents and refugees in the Yukon, so the question to the minister is: What, if anything, does his government plan to do to address this problem?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Once again, the member opposite is wrong. The Government of Yukon did not refuse to fund additional enhanced language training at the college. In fact, the Yukon government funds, as a base at the college, the English as a second language program. That program will continue to operate and will continue to service the new refugees and immigrants who come to this territory.

The Yukon College Board is an independent board. The Government of Yukon gives that board approximately $25 million to $30 million a year, depending on what agreements we reach, and it’s up to that board to determine what their program mix is. Mr. Speaker, if we were to tell the college on a daily basis what programs they should be running, the member opposite would be the first one screaming with indignation that we are directing the actions of an independent board.

I’ll continue to respect the College Board. I’ll continue to increase the funding annually, as we do with the college and we will continue the funding of the English as a second language program at the college because we believe — this caucus believes — that it’s a very important program.

Mr. Silver: So I guess the question still begs: Does the minister believe that the ELT is an important program as well? We’re asking this question because we’ve been asked to ask this question. The program has been operating successfully for decades. The college has contributed and, yes, the Government of Canada has contributed. Will the Government of Yukon help out? It’s a pretty small amount of money we’re talking about here and the timing couldn’t be worse. Yes, there is other programming, but this is the one that is specifically needed.

What is the government doing to ensure that this language training service is there for the people who need it?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Knowing the member opposite is such a good friend of the new people in Ottawa, I’m sure that he’s going to — on behalf of all Yukoners and on behalf of Yukon College — ask Citizenship and Immigration Canada to increase the funding for this program that has never covered the full cost of the program.

We will continue to offer the programs that we have offered at the college in the past — or we will continue to fund those programs — and we’ll continue to respect the Yukon College Board of Governors.

The range of programs offered for new Canadians and new Yukoners is fairly extensive at the college and, whereas it’s really unfortunate that the ELT program has been discontinued, in other provinces across this country that funding is usually available to multicultural organizations, municipal organizations and other organizations such as that to offer the program.

I know the Multicultural Centre of the Yukon would be perfectly able to offer the enhanced language training program and could be funded by CIC, or Citizenship and Immigration Canada, to do so.