Working together with the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), Bishop’s University (BU) has organized a week-long forum gathering nearly 60 English speaking students and over two dozen guest speakers set to start this Sunday night. During the forum, the youths will be learning about the type of society they live in and how to get involved within it.
BU principal, Michael Goldbloom, who will also speak during the event, is very excited for the forum to begin.
“We are very pleased at the degree of interest,” he said. “This is the first out of three forums that are planned, and we didn’t have the opportunity to do much publicity. Still, we were aiming for 45 students, and 60 was our absolute maximum. I think we have around 52 students attending.”
Goldbloom explained that the forum is completely free for its participants, with Bishop’s covering transportation costs and housing for participants. Though registration is now full, the forum was open to any self-identifying English speaking Quebecer between 18 and 24 years of age. According to the Principal, there are students coming in from many other schools across the province such as McGill and Concordia Universities as well as Dawson and Champlain Colleges.
“The goal is to help the young English speakers of Quebec gain a better understanding of how Quebec society works,” Goldbloom continued. “It is a week of immersion.”
The BU principal shared the hope that the forum will give participating youth a better appreciation of how Quebec institutions work, thus giving them a better love of the province and encouraging them to contribute to their society.
“We hope to give them some history and show them some of the challenges that the English community has faced,” continued Goldbloom. “We want to allow the creation of connections between young people, get them to demonstrate interest in Quebec society, whether in social justice or the environment. It’s a very rich program.”
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, president of QCGN, expressed that the group’s main focus in working on the forum was to foster more Anglophone representation in positions of power in the province. They hope that the forum will inspire English-speaking youths to aim high and get involved.
“It’s part of our Canadian values,” said Martin-Laforge. “We take pride in our bilingualism. We want to empower the English minority here in Quebec and contribute to the community.”
She added that even though recent census data indicates an influx of English speakers in the province, that this reality is not reflected in the English-speaking community.
“English schools are closing. The recent mergers of the healthcare system make it difficult to receive English services,” she said. “There are also few local English-speaking resources. We want representation, and to influence advocacy. We want to engage young people in English communities to take up leadership roles.”
The forum will take place from August 13 to 19 and will feature a wide array of speakers. Some of these, such as Professor Jamie Crooks, will be drawn from within the University community. Others, such as former premier Jean Charest and NDP leader Tom Mulcair, are coming from further afield. Other noteworthy speakers include Rachel Hunting, Exectuive Director of the Townshippers Association; Compton-Stanstead MP, Marie-Claude Bibeau; Quebec Solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau Dubois; and Senator Joan Fraser.
“I’m going to try to be involved as I can,” Goldbloom said. “Teachers are asking to attend as well, just to hear the panelists. We have an incredibly interesting line-up. They are all exceptional speakers, and I’m very grateful they agreed to participate.”
The Principal explained that there will be discussions about citizenship, politics, media and the English language. He added that the main topic will be “gaining understanding of different paths that have brought these speakers to be involved in community engagement.”
“They will provide thoughts on different avenues that some students might not have thought were possible for them,” Goldbloom said.
“We want to ensure that the students feel that they have a place to contribute, and know how to get there,” commented Martin-Laforge.
The forum also encourages participants to mobilize to create change within Quebec society. Goldbloom and Martin-Laforge both mentioned that a mock parliament would be organized, where students would present and debate on certain themes.
“They’re all divided into teams already,” said Goldbloom. “They each have topics to work on in which they showed interest. There’s a group on aboriginal issues, linguistic issues, environmental, and lots of others.”
“On the final day, they will present their arguments,” added Martin-Laforge. “And sell the committee on the changes they would like to see.”
“I think that the way change is affected is through teamwork, it’s a wonderful opportunity,” added Goldbloom. “Who knows what will come of this forum? I wish I had this. It would have saved me a lot of time trying to figure everything out.”