Thursday, September 15, 2016

RMC Saint-​Jean Returns to University Status

CDA Institute Analyst Oksana Drozdova provides a brief history of the Royal Military College Saint- Jean and its return to a university status.

On 17 May 2016, the Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, announced that the Royal Military College Saint- Jean (RMC Saint- Jean) would once again grant university- level degrees. Previously, there was only one degree- granting military university in the country, the Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC), in Kingston, Ontario, with the addition of second university certainly being a welcome addition. However, what figured most prominently in Minister Sajjan’s announcement, in addition to the subject of military education, were his comments on Canada’s bilingual heritage.

Indeed, RMC Saint- Jean (designated Collège militaire royal de Saint- Jean from 1952 to 1995) is now poised to once again make an important academic, cultural and bilingual contribution to the professional development of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) officer corps. The principal reason for establishing the College in 1952 was the need to increase Francophone presence in the CAF, which for historical reasons had been linguistically and culturally Anglophone. The College provided an opportunity for French Canadians to undertake initial military professional and academic development in their mother tongue and in a Francophone cultural environment. In 1951, a year before CMR Saint- Jean opened its doors, Francophones in the CAF numbered 6.9 percent of the officer corps and some 15.3 percent of the Canadian Infantry Officers. These numbers were particularly telling since French Canadians represented 29 percent of the overall Canadian population at that time.

In 1951, a special committee headed by Brigadier- General Paul Bernatchez, the only high- ranking francophone officer in Ottawa at the time, was set up to study and address the under- representation of Francophones in the CAF. The results of this inquiry were published in the Bernatchez and Jetté reports, which were then presented to Brooke Claxton, then Minister of National Defence, for further decision.

At the time, specialized military education was provided by RMCC in Kingston and Canadian Services College, Royal Roads (later renamed Royal Roads Military College) in Victoria, British Columbia. Francophone students had little to no access to these institutions. First of all, the linguistic barrier was significant, as both colleges offered English- only education. Secondly, since education falls within Provincial jurisdiction, there were (and still are) differences in the Quebec education system and other Provinces. For instance, a graduate of a Quebec high school would require an additional year to qualify for admission to any one of the Colleges. These considerations were at the core of the argument of those advocating for the creation of a francophone military college, located in Quebec.

L’Université Laval in Quebec City initially came forward with a plan to establish a three- year undergraduate program in the military sciences that would also include extensive English training. However, as tradition in Quebec would have it, education was also influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, two ecclesiastics, l’Abbé Jacques Garneau et Mgr Maurice Roy, were supposed to be heavily involved in the new program. However, Minister Claxton regarded religious involvement in the affairs of military education to be undesirable and the plan was set aside.

Gradually, the idea of establishing a francophone military college mobilized public opinion and created a strong lobby that persuaded the federal government to act. The campaign was spearheaded by Léon Balcer, a Conservative member of parliament for Trois- Rivières. For the plan to move forward, however, several main points had to be considered. The new program had to be tailored to the specifics of Quebec’s education system. It also had to conform to the standards already established by the two Colleges, in Kingston and in Victoria, thereby bridging the gap between the two systems of education. Lastly, it had to be a comprehensive, self- sufficient program operating on Quebec soil and, most importantly, respond to the needs of the CAF.

On 12 June 1952, Brooke Claxton announced the establishment of a military college in Quebec. Three locations were considered: Quebec City, Trois- Rivières and Saint- Jean. The latter location had the advantage of being a landmark in Canadian military history. Situated some forty kilometres south- east of Montréal on the Richelieu River, Saint- Jean saw its first fortress erected in the 17th century. Saint- Jean was selected, courses began on 22 September 1952 and, on 13November, the Governor General of Canada, Vincent Massey, presided over the official opening ceremony of Collège militaire royal de Saint- Jean.

Initially, 125 students entered the doors of the College with the total number of Officer- Cadets rising for two years thereafter as two university- level years were added to the original pre- university year. The College injected a substantial number of bilingual officers into the CAF but, in 1966, bilingualism remained a major challenge. Such were the findings of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, findings that were echoed by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jean- Victor Allard. The discussion of bilingualism reached its summit in 1969 when Parliament passed The Official Languages Act (1969), the federal statute that made English and French the official languages of the federal service. In an attempt to increase the French language presence in the CAF officer corps, General Allard announced that the College would offer a Bachelor Degrees in physics and administration starting in the Fall of 1970. This bold move required a partnership with a university that would be willing to grant appropriate credentials to College graduates. The University of Sherbrooke became the official degree- granting partner of the College in April 1971.

This partnership gave CMR Saint- Jean a necessary boost. In 1980, the College opened its doors to the first female students of the Regular Officer Training Plan (ROTP). However, the first group of female officer cadets entered the college in 1979 under the University Training Program for former Non- Commissioned Members (UTPNCM). Six years later, in 1985, when Quebec’s National Assembly passed Bill 222, the College received its own university degree- granting charter. By the early 1990s, CMR Saint- Jean had granted approximately 1,400 university degrees.

In 1995, in an effort to cut costs, the newly elected Liberal government of Jean Chrétien introduced a new budget that hit the Department of National Defence particularly hard. At first, the government proposed some reductions in the number of military bases and research centres. However, to the surprise of many, it was decided to shut down CMR Saint- Jean and Royal Roads Military College. The closure not only affected the 600 students enrolled at CMR Saint- Jean at the time, but also threatened future Francophone representation in the CAF.

Moreover, the old issue of the one- year gap between Quebec’s École secondaire system and the Ontario university system resurfaced yet again. Clearly, if Quebec students were to apply to RMCC, they would require a preparatory (pre- university) year. The solution came from an unexpected source when the local Conseil économique du Haut- Richelieuproposed to offer university preparatory courses at CMR Saint- Jean in partnership with le Cégep de Saint- Jean- sur- Richelieu. This solution created a bridge for Quebec students and once again offered Anglophone Officer- Cadets the opportunity to improve their second language ability in a Francophone cultural environment.

This Preparatory Year program was well received. The Anglophone students, particularly those from Ontario, saw the program as a perfect way to improve their French and to receive extra preparation before being admitted to Kingston. Thus, the number of Ontario candidates in Saint- Jean more than tripled between August 2001 and May 2006 – from 41 to134. The number of francophone and Quebec students continued to decline, however, due to several reasons. Firstly, the initial closure of the College and the controversy associated with it continued to feed a negative public perception, especially in the francophone milieu. Secondly, the military college admission and selection standards were changed at about the same time, further contributing to the decline of applicants from Quebec. Finally, promotion and recruitment activities were unfocused and inconsistent, so the visibility of the Preparatory Year program remained low in Quebec.

Still, the Department of National Defence continued to promote the Preparatory Year program and to utilize its full capacity. By early 2007, it became clear that the program had fulfilled its mandate, thus opening up new possibilities for expansion. On 19 July 2007, RMC Saint- Jean reopened its doors as distinct unit of the CAF reporting to the Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy, with the new mandate to offer a two- year college- level degree in humanities or natural sciences. The College would also offer a year of university- level education equivalent to first year university courses atRMCC Kingston. Equipped with the necessary resources, facilities, half a century of experience in military and academic education and a strong desire to contribute to the bilingual character of the Canadian Armed Forces, RMC Saint- Jean was poised to become a university- level institution once again.

May 2016 marked a new era for the College when the current Liberal government announced that post- secondary studies would be reinstated at RMC Saint- Jean. In his announcement made in the House of Commons and reiterated in a subsequent Twitter message, Minister Sajjan pointed out that “returning RMC Saint- Jean to a degree- granting institution was a reflection of Canada and our bilingual heritage.” The new RMC Saint- Jean which, together with RMCC Kingston, constitute truly important national institutions, seeks to fulfill the mission that was originally granted in the 1950s: to make the Canadian Armed Forces Officer Corps bilingual in theory and practice.

The author relied heavily on two volumes on the history of CMR Saint- Jean by Jacques Castonguay: Le Collège militaire royal de Saint- Jean (Montréal: Éditions du Méridien, 1989) and Pourquoi a- t- on fermé le Collège militaire de Saint- Jean?(Montréal: Art global, 2005).
Oksana Drozdova is an Analyst with the CDAInstitute currently working towards a Master’s degree at UOttawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA). Her research interests focus on International security, Eastern European studies and issues of statehood in political theory.