Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee stands during question period in Whitehorse on Nov. 27. The News has learned that McPhee, who now supports plans for a 250-student French-language school located next to F.H. Collins, opposed it in 2016. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon education minister originally opposed French school plans, email shows

‘F.H. Collins School Council has serious concerns about having another high school placed next door’

McPhee Letter by Yukon News on Scribd

Pierre Chauvin | Special to the News

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee opposed plans for a 250-student French-language school located next to F.H. Collins in 2016, an email obtained by the News says.

In June 2016 McPhee and Janet Clarke, both co-chairs of the F.H. Collins school council wrote to then-education minister Doug Graham to express their concerns about the school’s location and size.

“Suffice it to say that F.H. Collins School Council has serious concerns about having another high school placed next door,” the email reads.

The email cites information McPhee and Clarke said they received from Marc Champagne, executive director of the francophone school board (CSFY). Their main issues with the school: the impact of construction on students and staff, the influx of people and traffic in Riverdale and locating the school next to F.H. Collins to use some of its facilities.

“Mr. Champagne also advised us that the plan is to build a school for 250 students despite the fact that there are currently only 42 students in grade 7-12 at École Emilie Tremblay and no grade 12 students at all this year.”

Enrollment reports posted on the Department of Education’s website contradict that claim. There were two students enrolled in Grade 12 at EET for 2015-2016.

This comes after McPhee had to defend in the legislature the government’s decision to build a 150-student French high school as opposed to one for 200 which was recommended by a 2016 functional plan.

In an interview, McPhee said the school council tasked her and Clarke to relay concerns to the education minister at the time and that the concerns expressed in that 2016 email didn’t influence her decision on the school this year.

“I need to be very clear, the number of 150 students was arrived at in many many meetings and consultations,” she told the News on March 22.

“We worked very closely with the CSFY and with the school communities as well with the Department of Highways and Public Work and the Department of Education to determine the appropriate number for the school.”

She reiterated the figure of 150 came from an experienced, independent consultant the department contracts every year to do enrollment projections. Those projections, McPhee said, estimate that by 2024 the French high school will have 86 students.

Last year CSFY president Jean-Sébastien Blais told the News the new high school would be able to house 150 to 200 students to accommodate growth of students over the coming decades, pointing out that enrollment at EET grew from 112 students in 2005 to 240 in 2017.

The francophone school board declined to make anyone available for an interview. In a statement, the board said it was happy the government supported the new high school construction and that the school could be expanded if necessary.

But for the Opposition, McPhee’s emails raise some doubts about her decision.

“It seems the minister didn’t agree with the functional plan and the budget and went out and sought another opinion which turned out this 150-student capacity,” said Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent.

The functional plan, he said, shows that the school will be full shortly after being open.

“Perhaps the minister, given her strong feeling when she was the co-chair of the school council should have handed this file off to one of her colleagues so that there wouldn’t be any appearance of bad faith.”

A cabinet spokesperson address Kent’s claims directly, and reiterated that the number came from enrollment projections.

“It will meet the needs of the community and the budget for this project,” cabinet spokesperson Sunny Patch wrote to the News.

Patch didn’t say whether the consultant’s report would be made public.

The News obtained the email through an Access to Information request that asked to see complaints the Department of Education received about the francophone high school.

The department only released that email and what seems to be an accidental reply-all by another member of the school council pointing out minor typos.

The department withheld all other records citing cabinet confidentiality. One additional record was withheld because it will be released in the next three months.

Contact the Yukon News at editor@yukon-news.com

ATIPP_FrenchHS by Yukon News on Scribd

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