Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province was suspending plans to expand existing French community college and bilingual university programs into a French-language university. The government claims the cut will help it reduce a $15-billion deficit. Wikimedia Commons

#LaResistance target Ford government decision on French university

  • November 29, 2018

French Catholic school boards across Ontario are joining protests over the decision to stop plans for a French-language university in southern Ontario.

“I have to have a choice for the students who are in my system right now,” said Jean Lemay, chair of the Franco-Ontarian Association of Catholic School Boards.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province was suspending plans to expand existing French community college and bilingual university programs into a French-language university. The government claims the cut will help it reduce a $15-billion deficit.

The Assembly of Francophone Ontarians launched the #LaResistance hashtag on Twitter and has called for protests across the province.

Ontario Francophones are right to be outraged at the decision to halt the university planning process, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast told The Catholic Register in an email. 

“The way the decision was announced sent a signal that the services Franco-Ontarians could rightfully demand or count on were being downgraded,” Prendergast wrote.

Existing bilingual programs at the University of Ottawa, the University of Sudbury and Saint Paul University are “linguistically incomplete,” forcing students to take some courses in English to complete their degrees, said Prendergast.

“There is a great risk of assimilation to the dominant English-language culture if they cannot pursue higher studies beyond the secondary level,” he said. 

The move punishes Ontario’s most successful school system by devaluing its high school diplomas, Lemay said.

“These students who study in French from early ages right through high school must have a choice in the university they want to choose from,” he said. “We are really stifled by the fact that the Ontario government told us, ‘No, you can’t have that.’ ”

The provincial government has not yet said how much money the decision will save, but Francophone Affairs Minister Caroline Mulroney was quoted saying she would “continue to be a tireless advocate for the university, by and for francophones, so that when we are in a position to proceed with the build, we will be ready to go.”

During the spring election campaign Ford promised to continue the planning process for the French-language university begun by the previous Liberal government. Mulroney had repeated the promise in several meetings with francophone organizations.

With 75 per cent of Ontario’s 105,000 French language students, Ontario’s eight French Catholic boards boast a 93-per-cent graduation rate and the highest scores among Ontario’s four public education systems on standardized tests. 

Lemay sees a direct parallel between the French-language university decision and the 1912-13 Regulation 17, which tried to undermine Catholic education rights by banning French-language instruction in Ontario schools. 

“It is the same approach that they’ve used to do this. They are stopping us from getting a proper education at the university level. I think they’re attacking our culture. They’re really attacking our culture right now, specifically the French Catholic.”

An attack on French-language rights should worry all Catholics who value their education rights, Lemay said. Treating French as an unaffordable frill is just a small step away from arguments for banning Catholic education in favour of a single, secular system, he said.

According to Statistics Canada there were 622,415 francophones in Ontario at the last census in 2016. 

Franco-Ontarian Conservative MPP Amanda Simard has publicly criticized her own government’s decision to stop the university planning process and cut the province’s French-language services commissioner.

Over three days The Catholic Register asked spokespeople for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, the Office for Francophone Affairs and the Premier’s Office for comment. There was no reply at press time.

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