PRINCE ALBERT — The société canadienne-française de Prince Albert (French-Canadian Society of Prince Albert, or SCFPA) was pleased on budget day, March 22 that there was finally an announcement for a new francophone community school in Prince Albert.
Josee Bourgoin Interim President of the SCFPA explained that it may have been due to pressure as they have been working on the file for many years. Bourgoin explained that there is currently legal pressure against the government from the French-Canadian Society.
“So, I think they were motivated from that to actually put in an announcement for Prince Albert at least. So, in that perspective, I'm glad that some of our efforts have not gone to waste and that we are actually being heard, even though we've been crying and yelling at the top of our lungs for them to listen,”
She said that despite the announcement she is disappointed by a lack of commitment.
“When they say that they're committing … $ 4.4 million for five new projects and of those five new projects, yes, they're talking to new schools for the French community. You know, I mean, it's a meagre amount for the infrastructure we're looking for. So, what that means and when we read between the lines, is that it?”
School infrastructure also continues to be a key priority with $147.3 million allocated to capital projects for safe and inclusive learning environments and to address enrolment growth. This includes funding for five new school capital projects including a new K-12 Francophone school to replace École Valois in Prince Albert and a new Francophone elementary school in Saskatoon.
Since signing an MOU with the CEF in March 2019, which stipulates three new francophone schools to be built by 2023, including one for Prince Albert, the Ministry of Education has only moved ahead with one in Regina in March 2020. With the other two schools announced this year that obligation has been met.
The government is also planning another study, which would be at least the fourth.
“And there were all those studies that we've done in the past since 2019 have been requested by the government. So, it's not as if they don't have the information. So even they had funded part of it in one of the studies and so forth. So, it's just, it's to see their true will of creating that school.
The lack of spaces for the French society itself is also a big concern for Bourgoin. The local Fransaskois community and its partners, which includes seniors’ groups, the École Valois Parents Council and staff, Métis community members, francophone school board representatives and the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (CEF) had been working on a viable, realistic and financially solid business plan for the purchase and renovation of Rivier Academy. The former Rivier Academy was recently sold to another independent school project in Prince Albert.
“But the other thing that I am mostly concerned about is that for the French-Canadian society, that is pretty well, you know, kind of almost jumped off the roof to commit suicide as far as their community involvement or visibility, I feel that there's never any mention in any of the media or even when I do interviews about or the importance of acquiring our community spaces within the school, it is never, ever discussed.
“So our priority is definitely to have the consideration of reintegrating the community spaces within the school for multiple reasons. One is to give us a better, better gathering area for our members and to increase the vitality and membership of the association, because the association is there as the Speaker or the voice for not only adult members but for the school, for the teachers, for the parents, for the students.”
The community spaces are important because it creates a link for members either current or possible.
“I'm concerned about not having any voice at all when it comes to requiring our community spaces, because originally, as you may know, the French Canadian society allowed gathering $1.4 million to invest in the original school, which the government is not honouring at all.
She explained that those investments seem to be lost money.
“We're still hoping to get some of our voices heard as far as the importance of re-establishing those community spaces,”
The business case and cost analysis for the conversion of Rivier Academy to a citizen-based community school centre were submitted in February 2020 to former Minister of Education Gord Wyant at his request. In March 2019, the Government of Saskatchewan and its Fransaskois school board signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction of a francophone school in Prince Albert.
She explained that they have been trying since 2013 to increase enrollment at Valois and they opted to leave the spaces at Valois and have since moved four times.
“Which makes it difficult for the community to really know where we're supposed to be gathering all our investment in the school public facilities, meaning like the, the stage, the community spaces, the sound speakers for the whole theatre and everything that we've invested in over there while there's been lost,”
She explained that have lost their original investment and all subsequent investments they have done to create cultural spaces.
“So since then, obviously there's been some ups and downs and struggles to maintain some connection with the French community in the region,” she said.
In the past decade, the school itself has also deteriorated according to Bourgoin.
“The infrastructure itself is very debilitated like the roofs are leaking, the walls have deficiencies. And I think the worst part of it all is the lack of equitable services in our French school compared to other English schools. And that's where I think that this new litigation that we're bringing against the government is in regards to having equitable and comparable services for our French students,”
She explained that a possible new location for the new Francophone school is still under discussion with the city.
“We've been in discussion with the mayor and the city itself. We were looking at a land or a piece of land for we need about five or six acres if I recall. And we were looking in the southwest area of the city, and I think we found out about four or five months ago that that land is being sold to the First Nations University,” she said.
They are trying to solidify the agreement with the provincial government before they go ahead.
“So maybe this is where this budget will help us kind of corner at least a nice little spot somewhere where we can build our school,” she said.
The Regina Francophone School announced in the 2020 budget is just getting shovels in the ground this spring so she expects a long road ahead.
“I don't believe the government will be building all those schools at the same time, you know, So I don't know how it's going to turn out, but at least they've kind of put the word out that they're doing this. So, the commitment to getting it done by fall of 2025 I think is not really confirmed,” she said.
She said that some French-Canadian Societies have had to disassociate themselves from community spaces in a school setting, especially smaller communities.
“But for the reality of Prince Albert and how things are managed in this part of the province, I think it's especially important for us to regain those community spaces and in all and all, as a partner with the SCEF, we're still working really hard to make sure that that will be part of the plan,” she said.
Another aspect is that French schools are federally funded and the current government has an acrimonious relationship with the Federal government.
“It can only be brought forward if the province brings the plan to the federal government to get the funding. And we understand that the animosity between the provincial government and the federal government right now is not necessarily encouraging because they still have to be friends and start talking before this can happen. So when we're looking at that, that relationship, I think it's a little bit concerning,” she said.