(Toronto) Ontario voters head to the polls on June 2 to choose their next government. The press strolled through Greater Toronto to take the pulse of our neighbors in Canada’s most populous province.
Posted at 12 noon
November 15, 2018 marked Ontario’s Francophones. Six months after her election, Doug Ford’s progressive conservative government announced the end of the Université de l’Ontario français (UOF) project and the dissolution of the Office of the Commissioner for French Language Services. Four years later, the university has established itself in downtown Toronto, but the French-speaking watchdog is still not independent.
This “Black Thursday” had the effect of an electric shock. The Ford administration made a quick turnaround. It creates a post of Commissioner for French Language Services within the Office of the Ombudsman and restores the Ministry of French-language Affairs.
But Franco-Ontarians want their university. Thousands of them take to the streets and MP Amanda Simard slams the door of the Progressive Conservative Party. She would later join the Liberals.
“It was a time when that government became fully aware of the demands of French Ontario,” notes UOF rector Pierre Ouellette.
Mr. Ouellette welcomes us to his campus in one of the most beautiful areas of downtown Toronto, just steps from Lake Ontario. The university is surrounded by skyscrapers that can be seen through the large windows that let in a lot of light. The small facility covers 60,000 square feet.2 of a new building. The classrooms are modern. The library is completely digital.
It saw the light of day last September thanks to an agreement between the federal government and Ontario, providing the company with $126 million in funding over an eight-year period. The first year was quite difficult: 90 students enrolled, almost 70% of whom were from abroad. This is half the target set by his government.
“We must always remind people that we have launched a new university, with new staff, with new programs in COVID mode with people who in many cases did not know each other and had never met,” underlines Mr Ouellette.
The UOF has a capacity of 2000 students. The rector hopes to gradually increase their numbers towards the end of the agreement in order to obtain sustainable financing.
The creation of this first francophone university in Ontario gave rise to hopes of a francophone university network like that of the Université du Québec. The Progressive Conservatives granted autonomy to the Université de Hearst, in the north of the province, which also offers programs exclusively in French.
“Doug Ford’s government has done more for Francophones than the Liberal government has done in 15 years,” Francophone Secretary Caroline Mulroney defended during the mid-campaign debate in French.
She responded to attacks by Liberal candidate Amanda Simard, who accused the progressive Conservative government of “sending the message that French is not important in Ontario” and of “betraying the French-Ontarians”.
Sudbury in sight
The Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) is now calling for a third university “for and by French speakers” in Sudbury to replace the programs abolished by Laurentian University in 2021. This bilingual institution had eliminated 48% of its programs in French when it was on the brink of bankruptcy.
With no study programs in their language nearby, French-speaking students often go into exile in the south of the province or assimilate into the English-speaking majority.
Young people trained in French in their hometown do an internship in their hometown and have the opportunity to be offered work in their region. Unfortunately, we are losing young people who have been educated in English.
Carol Jolin, President of the Assembly of the La Francophonie of Ontario
This situation is all the more worrying as the francophone community faces severe labor shortages, especially in education and health care.
New Democrats, Liberals and Greens all promise a francophone university in Sudbury. The progressive conservatives await the recommendation of the independent commission responsible for evaluating the quality of post-secondary education before making a decision.
“We got to know each other”
“Since the famous Black Thursday in French Ontario, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge,” said Stéphanie Chouinard, a professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada. “The government has changed tack and has nevertheless made significant progress. †
One of these advances is the modernization of the French Language Services Act led by Secretary Mulroney. This legislation was first passed in 1986. The new version promotes an active offer and makes it possible to offer new service points outside the 27 designated regions.
“In an election, it’s not what you’ve done that counts, but what you’re going to do for the next four years,” says Carol Jolin. The president of the AFO says he had a much more attentive ear from the Ford administration after the 2018 austerity measures. “We got to know each other and work together,” he admits.
However, the Progressive Conservatives have no intention of restoring the French-speaking watchdog’s independence. All the other major parties promise to take the Commissioner for French Language Services out of the Ombudsman’s office to give him a “bite”.
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- Number of Francophones in Ontario
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- Rides in Ontario where francophones are the majority
Assembly of the Francophonie of Ontario