By: Nicolas Belliveau
The news in November 2018 that Doug Ford and his provincial government were ceasing the project to build a French-language university in Toronto and eliminating the position of the provincial commissioner for French language affairs was met with backlash.
However, situations like these aren’t novel. French education and culture have been the target of marginalization for hundreds of years. Ford adds to this long list of discriminatory acts, as his decision to cut services and protections to Franco-Ontarians has underlying anti-francophone sentiment and is a violation of minority language rights in Canada.
But why should we care about this? After all, with just over 620,000 people, the French-speaking community in Ontario makes up just 4.5 per cent of its total population.
Growing up French-Canadian in Ontario, practicing and maintaining the language my ancestors tirelessly fought to preserve has proven difficult. Additionally, the limited number of French secondary schools meant that I had to enroll at an English secondary school — adding to the challenge of keeping my mother tongue.
However, Francophones are still Canada’s largest minority with Ontario home to the most populous French-speaking community outside of Quebec. But most importantly, the French language is a right that is protected by the Constitution and language laws.
This didn’t come easily. Throughout all of Canada’s history, francophones have fought for the right to French education and with Ford’s new agenda, the battle appears to be ongoing.
Merely a century ago, the provincial government passed and enforced Regulation 17 throughout Ontario, which restricted the teachings in French beyond grade 2 and limited French teachings to one hour per day in primary schools. After 15 years of enforcement and prohibiting a whole generation from learning French, the law was finally repealed in 1927.
By ending the project for the development of a French university, Ford is reopening a door into the past that most French-Canadians thought was over. The ideology that once disregarded Franco-Ontarians’ identity and equality is now resurfacing, under the new disguise of Ford’s policies.
And what is Ford’s reasoning behind these radical changes? Although Ford has yet to comment on the matter, government officials have cited the province’s $15 billion deficit as being the motivation for these cost-cutting actions.
However, the cost for the French Language Services Commissioner and the university tally up to a total of just $15 million per year. And as of now, Ford’s government has yet to meet the targeted amount of savings, leaving experts to question whether a thorough program review was carried out.
When looking at these realities, it is hard to believe the government’s narrative of the provincial deficit being the sole incentive for premier Ford’s changes, and not worry about an anti-francophone sentiment underlying Ford’s fiscal agenda.
What’s more unsettling is that Ford’s new policy changes cuts into Canada’s Constitution and the protections and rights of French-Canadians.
The functions of a language commissioner prove to be essential in promoting and protecting a language. Not only do they monitor the government for any infringements upon minority language rights, the French language commissioner acts as a liaison between the provincial government and Franco-Ontarians.
By getting rid of the French Language Services Commissioner, Ford is destabilizing the rights and protections of minority francophones and undermining the institutions that promote one of the ‘supposed’ official languages of this country.
I acknowledge that Ontario is already home to three bilingual universities and that the francophone minorities account for just 4.5 per cent of Ontario’s population. Additionally, I acknowledged that the Ford government has created the position of senior policy adviser on francophone affairs following the elimination of the French Language Services Commissioner.
The realities of the mistreatment of francophones throughout history along with the benefits of the French services and protections that Ford is eliminating would make it illogical for one to not consider this as anti-francophone sentiment. To be idle while the government carelessly partakes in these divisive political tactics is a disservice to our ancestors and to all minorities.
[spacer height="20px"]Back in September, a Silhouette contributor signed up to write a story about a piece of information that was stuffed into an old board of governors meeting agenda. While the contributor was working on the story, the agenda curiously vanished from the McMaster website. The agenda has since returned, being scrapped initially as a byproduct of the Brighter World redesign.
However, the university must maintain a higher standard of information transparency and when it restricts public access to meeting materials, even temporarily, be held accountable to properly notify the public.
After the agenda disappeared from the website, the university did not even feign interest in letting students know. No McMaster Daily News announcement was trotted out. In both failing to make meeting agendas available and communicate about their lack of accessibility, the university made an implicit assumption: the removal of meeting materials was an unnoticeable and insignificant byproduct of the website redevelopment. This assumption is misguided.
It may be true that most students do zealously read through board of governors agendas. However, The Silhouette needs these documents. Our job, in large part, is to hold the university accountable, and we cannot do that when we do not know what is on the university’s agenda. Our role is diminished when it takes us a month to receive a single document.
The university also assumed that the scrapping of these agendas was not important enough to warrant a public announcement. This assumption does a disservice to the university, delegitimizing the discussions held in board of governors meetings in the first place.
Moreover, while not an arm of the university, the McMaster Students Union should not escape scrutiny either. The meeting schedule for this year’s Student Representative Assembly has yet to be updated on the MSU website. How can the MSU expect students to attend SRA meetings when this information is not accessible?
Even amid the Brighter World campaign, the university has virtually no excuse for not making its meeting materials publicly available. If doing so would have presented a logistical challenge, the university should have at least publicized its technical limitations and not destroyed any semblance of transparency.
It took me almost a month to access an agenda. How can the university convince students it is fostering a “Brighter World” when it obscures the most illuminating information about its own plans?
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