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'I don't consider it work'

Don't be surprised if, come September, you see Denis Hubert-Dutrisac cruising Greater Sudbury's streets on his Harley Classic Series or reeling in the big one on one of the city's many lakes.
Collège Boréal president Denis Hubert-Dutrisac, seen here speaking at an event held at the college Dec. 4, announced recently he's retiring next September. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
Don't be surprised if, come September, you see Denis Hubert-Dutrisac cruising Greater Sudbury's streets on his Harley Classic Series or reeling in the big one on one of the city's many lakes.

The president of Collège Boréal, who recently announced his retirement, said he hasn't had much time to do these things since January 2006, when he took on the top job at the college.

“I want to go fishing, for God's sakes,” Hubert-Dutrisac said, adding that he currently has no plans to leave Greater Sudbury.

“I love fishing, and I think I maybe went twice, that's it. I have a boat that I've almost not put in the water. I work seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

But it won't be all fun and games. Hubert-Dutrisac has more than a few serious projects in mind.

This includes putting more time into Trisac Incorporated, a consulting company started by his late wife, Francine Chartrand-Dutrisac, who passed away in 2011.

He'd also like to finish a book on his family's history he's been chipping away at for many years. “That's one of my passions. I've always loved history.”

Hubert-Dutrisac said he also hasn't ruled out taking on another job.

“I don't know yet,” he said. “I honestly have no plans. I've had all kinds of calls from all kinds of levels.”

As for his decision to leave the college, Hubert-Dutrisac said he always likes to leave jobs on a high note.

“I've always had the beautiful opportunity to retire when things were going well,” he said. “I've never wished to retire when things were not going well. I'm on a high right now. Now's the time to go.”

Hubert-Dutrisac said he started his career as a city planner and later a city manager in Vanier and Ottawa, Ont. and Gatineau, Que.

It wasn't until the mid-1990s that he was recruited as the vice-president of finance and administration and vice-president of innovation and market development at La Cité collégiale, then a brand-new Francophone college in Ottawa.

“When I got a call initially from the president over in Ottawa in the college, I said 'I don't know that much about colleges,'” he said. “She said 'If you can manage a city, you're the guy I want.'”

Working in the college system was a revelation for Hubert-Dutrisac.

“It was very, very enjoyable,” he said. “So yes, I guess my fit there was perfect.”

After helping to build La Cité collégiale from the ground up, he worked for a short period as the director of sectoral liaison for the Association of Community Colleges of Canada before coming to Boréal.

He said one of the first things the college's board asked him to do was sort out Boréal's finances, which at the time, were not good.

“In 2007 or 2008, I had to lay off over 50 employees,” Hubert-Dutrisac said.

“When you're an incoming president, you don't become popular doing things like that. I had no choice, because there were some cuts in grants ... Within a year and a half, all of the sites came into line and became profitable.”

He also began to adjust the college's program mix. Hubert-Dutrisac said he didn't understand why Boréal didn't have more trades and technology programs.

These have been boosted from two up to 20, he said. The number of programs Boréal offers overall has also gone up from 50 in 2006 to 78 this year.

“What a beautiful potential I saw when I came here to Sudbury,” Hubert-Dutrisac said.

“I said 'Oh my god, look at all the mining and the industry. These guys will need some tradespeople, some technologists, some technicians ... So we started developing programs in electrician and millwright and so forth.”

The college's board asked him to oversee a major expansion of the college, including additions to its Greater Sudbury campus, the construction of a Timmins campus, as well as more campuses in Southern Ontario.

Hubert-Dutrisac has made all of these projects a reality. The total size of the college's campuses has expanded from 375,000 to 664,000 square feet, for a total property value of $149 million.

“I'm happy to say Timmins was built in 2008 and 2009, on budget and on time,” he said.

“Then we almost doubled the size here in Sudbury. Then I moved on to the south. So basically the three major parts of the mandate were achieved in less than seven years. I was happy with that.”

There have been frustrations, however. Hubert-Dutrisac said he dislikes having to justify Boréal's existence to detractors.

“I never expected that I had to put so much energy in convincing all kinds of people of the reality of Boréal and why Boréal should continue to exist,” he said. “I find that sad.”

Boréal, which, like La Cité collégiale, was founded in 1995, is not anti-English, Hubert-Dutrisac said.

“There comes a time when institutions and groups are strong enough, they can start walking on their own.”

Hubert-Dutrisac said he has a few ideas of where Boréal, and the province's college system in general, should go over the next few years.

He said learning should be more flexible, so that it's more oriented to students' and employers' needs.

“If, for example, Company X needs learning during a certain period of the year, I have to see how I can accommodate you. That, I think, is the future. I think we need to break out of our traditional September-April systems.”

Hubert-Dutrisac said he's also unhappy about the competition between post-secondary institutions, who are fighting for students and provincial funding dollars.

For example, he thinks course material should be shared freely between institutions. After all, this material was ultimately funded by the province's taxpayers, Hubert-Dustrisac said.  “There's still too much non-sharing of pedagogical resources.”

This competition is also inconvenient for students, he said.

Hubert-Dustrisac said his dream is for students to be able to register with a provincial post-secondary network, and be able to take courses at whatever college they wish, with it all counting towards a diploma.

He'd also like to see it become easier for college students to be able to transfer to university seamlessly, and vice-versa.

Hubert-Dustrisac said he's truly enjoyed his time at the college.

“For the last seven years at Boréal, I do not think that I've yet started to work,” he said. “I've been having pleasure and fun all my life, basically, doing this. I don't consider it work.”

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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