August 4, 2023
Premier Ford says there is not enough interest or need to justify a French university in Sudbury
Readers of this column know how proud I am to be a born and bred Northerner. I grew up in Gogama, where French was the mother tongue in almost every home. People spoke French in churches, schools, and businesses. In the minds of my siblings and friends, our whole world was French-speaking. For us, French was the norm.
You may be interested to know that my entire elementary education was delivered in the French language. However, if we wanted a francophone secondary school education, we had to room and board with families in Timmins from Sunday night to Friday, then back to Gogama for the weekend. When I first got to Timmins, the only English word I knew was ketchup (LOL). It was there that I had the opportunity of learning English. Many francophones will tell you that English is everywhere and easily accessible, but French is a different story. From a young age, we learn that although Ontario has 2 official languages, accessing francophone education is not so easy.
I feel incredibly fortunate that, as an MPP, I can communicate effectively with constituents in both official languages. And I know from personal experience that this province has regions where French is the predominant or at least a prominent language. Residents are proud of their Francophone heritage as one of the two founders who settled in this land. This is why the right to learn and communicate in French is included in the Canadian constitution.
Canadians have historically accepted diversity and continue to do so. A Neilsen survey asked Canadians about laws that protect and promote French and English bilingualism. The results showed that more than 80 percent of Canadians support the concept that promotes equal status for each language. Further, the study revealed that 87 percent of Ontarians and 92 percent of Quebec citizens support the aims of the Official Languages Act. (CBC News Sept. 1, 2016.) The Official Languages Act supports the development of English and French linguistic minority communities. At the time, Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, said, “Canada’s gradual acceptance of linguistic duality has made us more open, more inclusive, and readier to welcome others in our society.”
There are 23 publicly assisted universities in Ontario, of which 2 are Francophone. One is located in Northern Ontario in Hearst and another in the world-famous Francophone Mecca of Toronto. But families want to have the option of having their children attend universities that are not hundreds of miles away from home. After all, our youth are just finding their way in life and still need support from home. I speak with experience on this.
The Ontario Francophone community has been calling on the Ontario government to support a provincially funded French university for many years. The federal government understands the value of this initiative, stepping up to the plate in 2022 with $1.9 million to help make the dream of establishing a Francophone university run independently by and for the Francophone community.
But the Ford government has an entirely different perspective on the matter. It doesn’t support the plan for a new Francophone university in Sudbury. They announced their decision not to support a French university just before the Canada Day long weekend - when people were distracted, preparing to celebrate the holiday. Forgive my cynicism for not believing that the timing was a coincidence. It was to avoid any fallout as the Legislature rose for the summer break.
Some might be surprised to learn that “In 1912, the provincial government, under the leadership of Conservative Premier James Whitney, passed Regulation 17, which made teaching in French in Ontario illegal. It wasn’t rescinded until 1927. This law had horrific impacts on the Francophone population in Ontario, leading to entire generations unable to write or read in their first language.” (TimminsToday.com, July 21, 2023)
Consider the damage that Regulation 17 did over the many years by depriving Ontarians of Francophone heritage of their right to speak and learn in their mother tongue. Consider the thousands of young minds not allowed to grow and flourish in their ancestors’ language for generations; a loss that can never be regained.
So after the Conservatives in 1912 used legislation to deny Francophones the right to speak and learn in French, Premier Ford came along and said, there just isn’t enough demand, so why bother? Is it any wonder why the demand might be somewhat diminished today when you consider the generations of Francophones were denied their rights?
But, as I said, that was then; this is now. Ontarians have grown and evolved over these many decades. We are far more enlightened today. So why pull the plug on establishing a Francophone university in Sudbury when the trend for years has been growing in favour of linguistic duality for Ontario? So how can Premier Doug Ford justify slamming the door in the face of the Francophone community when asked to support a dedicated French university? When asked this question, Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities (MCU) Jill Dunlop explained that the request for a French university in Sudbury “does not reflect the current demand and enrolment trends, especially given the already existing capacity of postsecondary institutions to offer French-language programs in the Greater Sudbury area and across Ontario.”
In other words, the government says there is insufficient interest or need to justify funding a dedicated Francophone university. This is despite the fact that the Canadian constitution guarantees French education.
Unbelievably, as if to add insult to injury, after the Minister told Francophones there would be no university in Sudbury, the ministry issued a statement saying, “The ministry is committed to putting students first. This includes maximizing student choice, supporting access to French-language postsecondary education, and preparing them to succeed in rewarding careers. We will continue to work with all of our Francophone education institutes to help deliver high-quality postsecondary education for northern and Francophone communities.”
Talk about your mixed messages.
Much has been lost, but there is always hope for tomorrow. The Ontario Francophone community has been tireless in pressing for a university in Sudbury that is run by and for Francophones. There is too much at stake just to walk away now. Our parents and grandparents have been relentless in their fight, and we owe it to our children to continue until we have a third publicly funded Francophone university in Ontario.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at my new address, firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député