Quebec's minority-language groups 'outraged' over Ontario's plan to scrap French university
There is concern in Quebec for minority language rights after the Ontario government cancelled plans to build the province’s first francophone university.
The announcement was buried at the bottom of an economic update Doug Ford’s Ontario budget Thursday -- the office of the French-language commissioner was abolished. So, too, was the plan to build the new French university in Toronto by 2020.
It's a question of money, the government said.
“The deficit is real; our debt is real,” said Ontario Finance Minister Vid Fedeli.
The previous Liberal government promised Ontario's 600,000-strong francophone community the university.
The province has French community colleges and a bilingual university, but no university francophones can call their own.
Reactions in Quebec were swift.
“Everybody was excited about having a francophone university in Toronto,” said Quebec MNA Kathleen Weil, the Liberal opposition critic for Canadian relations.
“The Quebec Liberal Party is very, very preoccupied with what clearly is a setback and there's nothing to be gained, in our opinion, by reducing, if you will, the offering to francophones in the rest of Canada,” she said.
Premier Francois Legault already indicated he wants to have a discussion with Premier Doug Ford on the issue when they meet next Monday.
The move is not good for linguistic minorities across Canada, including Quebec, said Geoffrey Chambers, head of the Quebec anglophone rights group Quebec Community Groups Network.
“We're very discouraged, disappointed and actually, somewhat outraged,” he said. “Any time our brothers and sisters are put in a weaker situation, it's bad for the overall climate of linguistic peace and growth of structures that makes linguistic peace more possible and achievable.”
Twenty years ago, the Ontario government announced it would close the province's only French-speaking hospital in Ottawa, but backed down in the face of opposition by the francophone minority.
For the PQ, there's a sense of deja-vu.
“Canada moves in a direction that is not good for francophones,” said interim PQ leader Pascal Berube. “I wish that the francophones in Ontario could have the same support that the anglophones of Quebec have right now. We have three universities in Quebec. We have hospitals. We have services. We have great relationships with anglophones in Quebec.”
The Ontario government, though, said its decision wouldn't have that much of an effect on Franco-Ontarians.
“There are ten post-secondary institutions and 300 French programs that are available to them in Ontario,” said Fedeli.