Ontario government’s gratuitous attack on Francophone minority rights condemned
Condemnation of the Ford government’s decision to scrap the building of a French language university and to eliminate the Office of the French Language Commissioner in Ontario, announced as a “cost saving” measure in November, has been swift and widespread throughout the province and Canada. This cynical attack on Francophone Ontarians is an assault on the very nature of a society that Canadians want to have.
On December 1, a Day of Action was held across Ontario with participation in more than 40 communities. The protest was organized by the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, a province-wide organization that defends the rights and interests of the more than 600,000 Ontarians whose mother tongue is French. The organizers estimate that close to 15,000 people from all walks of life, including large numbers of students and youth, took part in the actions in Ontario. Protests were also held in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Quebec and elsewhere.
In Ottawa, for example, several thousand people rallied outside Ottawa City Hall to demand the Ontario government respect Francophone minority rights and rescind these decisions. The Ottawa Sunquoted Jean-Francois Lacelle of Gatineau as saying, “If we can’t respect the rights of Franco-Ontarians or Francophone Canadians, then how can people believe that we’re going to respect the rights of any kind of minority in Canada. It’s not that we are just protesting for us Francophones. It’s about learning to respect all Canadian minorities and learning to give them the respect for their culture.” The organized fight to save the Monfort Hospital from closure by the Mike Harris government in the 1990s was frequently cited at the Ottawa action – reflecting the determination to defeat the Ford government’s unilateral anti-social cuts.
And it is not only Francophones speaking out. The Quebec Community Groups Network, a not-for-profit organization that unites 59 English-language community organizations across Quebec, immediately condemned the Ontario government decision. “We stand in solidarity with Ontario’s French-speaking community and demand the Ford Government reconsider these blind cuts that will cause severe setbacks for Ontario’s French language minority community,” said their spokesperson.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the Ontario College and University Faculty Association (OCUFA) also issued strong condemnations of the Ford government’s attacks. Delegates attending the 85th Canadian Association of University Teachers Council meeting unanimously adopted a motion condemning the cancellation of plans for the Université de l’Ontario français, without even consulting Franco-Ontarians. In a letter to the Premier, CAUT executive director, David Robinson wrote, “We ask you and your government to hold, with respect to the linguistic rights of minorities, consultations with all the relevant stakeholders, and most importantly, with the Francophone community of Ontario, before making a final decision on the future of a French university in Ontario.”
The OCUFA noted that the French language university was conceived as an autonomous institution that would be created by and for Francophones, to serve central and southwestern Ontario, home to the fastest growing population of Francophones in the province. In a statement, OCUFA noted: “It is deeply concerning that this government would cancel the promised French-language university without first consulting Francophone students, parents, and faculty. The decision marks a distinct lack of respect for Ontario’s minority French-speaking population, and Francophones are justified in their frustration . . . Faculty across Ontario are alarmed that the government continues to make decisions of this magnitude behind closed doors in secret. The cancelled French-language university is further evidence that the Doug Ford government is not interested in listening to Ontarians, but is instead committed to pursuing an uninformed and unaccountable ideological agenda.”
Hawkesbury municipal council unanimously passed a resolution on November 26 denouncing the Ford government decision and stating that the town of Hawkesbury firmly defends the rights of French-speaking Ontario residents and wants to play an active role in defending those rights. The media reports that Canadian Parents for French, a Canada-wide network, condemned the Ford government’s decision and French Catholic school boards across Ontario have also joined the protests over the decision to cancel a French-language university in southern Ontario. Ontario has eight French Catholic school boards with about 75,000 students. Ford’s move, they say, punishes Ontario’s most successful school system (93 per cent graduation rates and the highest scores of any Ontario public school board on standardized tests) by devaluing its high school diplomas. Existing bilingual programs, such as those at the University of Ottawa, University of Sudbury and Saint Paul University are “linguistically incomplete” they add, forcing students to take some courses in English to complete their degrees.
The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario has also come out in opposition to the Ford government cuts. Nour Alideeb, chairperson of CFS-Ontario said, “Creating this French-language university was necessary to improve the quality of education for the 600,000 Francophones living across this province.” Ford’s government, she said, has essentially wasted decades of funding and consultations that had been building towards this project.
Fred Hahn, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario, speaking for his union said, “These services and protections are how French language rights are realized in our province. This decision by Ford’s government is outrageous to not only the over 600,000 Franco-Ontarians who deserve the respect of our government, but to all Ontarians and Canadians who value language diversity.”
As well, one of the only two Francophone MPPs in the current Ontario Conservative government caucus, Amanda Simard, representing the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell riding, resigned from the government caucus and is now sitting as an independent in the legislature. She said that she was repeatedly ignored and shut out in her attempts to represent her constituency where many Francophones reside and to dissuade the government from pursuing this attack on Francophone minority rights in Ontario.
In the wake of the resistance, Premier Ford tried to undermine the opposition. While continuing to insist that the French language university is not going to be built, the Premier floated a proposal to replace the Office of French Language Commissioner in Ontario with a French language services commissioner, attached to the ombudsman’s office and to hire a senior policy adviser responsible for Francophone affairs in the Premier’s office. But this too has been denounced as unacceptable as it would downgrade the position of the French Language Commissioner from one that advocates for French language rights and services in the province to a lesser role of receiving complaints within the Ombudsman’s Office.
Bill 57, the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, introduced on November 15, under Schedule 20, calls for the elimination of the French Language Services Commissioner and “related matters.” On December 3, appearing before the government’s Standing Committee on Economic Affairs, which is discussing Bill 57, Commissioner Francois Boileau noted:
Without an independent commissioner that can launch proactive investigations and studies, the community may suffer from further indifference to their challenges and encroachment of their rights. Eliminating the independent Office of the French Language Services Commissioner will save tax payers maybe less than $300,000. But what we are losing, what the Franco-Ontarians and the general public are losing, is the voice of an expert and cost-effective advisor.
This is an important issue for all Canadians. For Ontario Premier Ford and the financial oligarchs at home and abroad (even the Washington Post is carrying op eds hailing Ford for daring to do away with “the sacred cow of Francophone rights” in the name of austerity) society exists to further the interests of the financial oligarchs who increasingly dominate political life in our country and get to define what rights are recognized in Canada, which is not what Canadians want. Canadians want their rights and the rights of all respected and defended by government.
December 1 Day of Action
Sault Ste. Marie
St. Boniface, Manitoba
TML Weekly, December 8, 2018 – No. 43 (With files from CBC, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Sun, http://www.ola.org, Office of the French Language Commissioner. Photos: TML, AEFO.)