Francophones Need Political Support

By Heckman, Gerald | Winnipeg Free Press, November 21, 2018 | Go to article overview

Francophones Need Political Support


Heckman, Gerald, Winnipeg Free Press


For members of French-speaking minority communities across Canada, the picture could not have been more ominous. Standing behind a podium emblazoned with the words “For the People,” Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli promoted his government’s mini-budget that would, among other measures, abolish the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner and cancel the establishment of the Université de l’Ontario français, Ontario’s first stand-alone French-language university and a project 40 years in the making, scheduled to open its doors in 2020.

These decisions sent shock waves through Ontario’s 600,000-strong francophone community — the largest outside of Quebec — and francophone communities in other Canadian provinces and territories.

Premier Doug Ford’s government claimed that the elimination of the commissioner’s office was a cost-saving measure. When pressed, however, it was unable to quantify these savings, prompting many to charge that its decision was ideologically motivated. The Ford government has argued that the rights of francophones will still be protected; the truth of the matter is that franco-Ontarians have lost the independent officer of Ontario’s legislative assembly solely dedicated to proactively advancing and ensuring respect for their legal right to quality French-language government services.

The Ford government’s claim that it is treating all Ontarians equally because it has also cancelled expansion projects at English-speaking universities is similarly unconvincing. The elimination of the Université de l’Ontario français will detrimentally affect the francophone community’s ability to withstand the forces of assimilation. The impact of this measure on franco-Ontarians is decidedly unequal.

All of this has occurred on the heels of a divisive election in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province, which elected to office three MLAs of the People’s Alliance Party who campaigned for the elimination of New Brunswick’s Office of the Official Language Commissioner and of the province’s French-language health network.

These MLAs could hold the balance of power in a minority government to be headed by Progressive Conservative Blaine Higgs, the first unilingual anglophone premier in New Brunswick in 30 years.

Closer to home, Manitoba’s francophone community was dismayed by the Pallister government’s 2017 decision to reassign and not replace the assistant deputy minister responsible for the Bureau de l’éducation française, charged with representing French-language stakeholders’ concerns to the government. …

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