English classes 'underutilized' in Brandon, federal government says

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English classes 'underutilized' in Brandon, federal government says

Officials with the federal government will meet with groups in Brandon this spring to review the need for higher-level language services in the Wheat City. 

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) confirmed the meeting in a statement to CBC News in response to a story about language funding being cut to the United Food and Commercial Workers union in Manitoba. 

The union told CBC News that it would have to scale back or cut higher-level language programming because of federal funding cuts. The union offers Canadian Benchmark System levels one through seven for workers at Brandon's Maple Leaf Foods plant and their families.

The program is funded by the federal government, the union and Maple Leaf.

In its statement, which was issued a day after CBC's story on the UFCW union's funding was published, IRCC disputed that funding was being cut significantly and said that the union is retaining 97 per cent of the funding it received in the last fiscal year. 

Negotiations with the union are still ongoing, the statement said. 

"This very minor decrease in funding is due to the fact that higher-level language funded classroom spaces provided by [UFCW] are underutilized, meaning that there have been empty seats in language classes," the statement read. "Over the last few years, fewer recent arrivals have been accessing settlement services in Brandon."

IRCC said, however, that the need for lower-level classes has increased. 

Union disputes claim 

UFCW Local 832 president Jeff Traeger disputed the empty-classroom claim.

"Our registration numbers have been consistent for the past few years and we have had very similar attendance for both our higher and lower level classes," Traeger said through a statement provided by the union's spokesperson. 

The union said enrolment in its language programs has been steady at about 200 people for the past several years and has had more inquiries about language programming after learning Assiniboine Community College's funding was being scaled back as well. 

IRCC said, while negotiations with the union are still ongoing, funds have been reinvested in Brandon and across Manitoba into lower level language programming. 

Federal officials to meet with providers 

Both UFCW and ACC said they would no longer be able to offer classes higher than level four. The federal government didn't respond when asked if remaining funding had to be dedicated to lower-level classes. 

"Regional IRCC staff will meet with Brandon service providers this spring to assess their service delivery and review the need for higher level language classes," IRCC's statement said. "Should there be demonstrated need and gaps identified at that time and available funds, IRCC will work with service providers to address pressures."

There is no word on when the meeting will take place.