Two weeks ago, the Doug Ford government announced major cuts to Ontario’s Francophone institutions.
Queen’s Park planned to axe the planned Université de l’Ontario français and fold up the office of the French Language Services Commissioner. Seven days of backlash — from Franco-Ontarians, French- and some English-language press, and his own MPP, Amanda Simard — pushed Ford back partway. But the cuts to the Université project remain. In any case, the damage was done, the mistrust sown.
As an Anglophone Quebecer — a member of a minority only slightly larger in absolute terms than Francophone Ontario — I do not find it hard to understand why the threats to French-language institutions provoked such dismay in Francophone Ontario.
English-speaking Quebecers may not always have the easiest relationship with our province, but the community owes much of its continuing vitality to the English-language institutions that the Quebec government supports. English-language schools, hospitals and universities are a major asset for us. They remove the worry about searching for the right words to explain our own or our child’s medical symptoms, and provide a choice about the language of education (for those of us who had a parent educated in English in Canada). Well beyond that, they confirm that we belong, that we have our place here as Quebecers who speak English.
It is not and should not be any different for Franco-Ontarians.
Now, as with any other public service, it is worth asking whether the programs in Ford’s crosshairs were good ways of meeting the goal of providing French-language services and access to French-language education. But instead it seems that the goal itself is at issue.
Queen’s Park cancelled the Université project with no reinvestment for French-language services elsewhere. Further, in its initial folding of the commissioner’s office – since partially reversed – Ontario showed it was willing to weaken a commitment to a whole community, not just to individuals who might be protected by an ombudsman. The announcement evoked the attempted closure of the Montfort Hospital in the last spell of Progressive Conservative government, suggesting this is a perennial fight. In sum, the moves came with the overriding sense that for the current government of Ontario, French is a frill.