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 After 15 years of enforcement and prohibiting a whole generation from learning French, the law was finally repealed in 1927.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.
On Jan. 25, The Silhouette sat down with Ontario New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath to discuss the Ford government’s recently announced changes to Ontario’s tuition framework, financial aid system and student fees.
On Jan. 17, the Ford government announced a 10 per cent reduction in the up front cost of tuition in Ontario. This came alongside a plan to tighten the eligibility requirements for the Ontario student assistance program, reduce grant money offered by OSAP and eliminate the six month grace period before loans must be paid back.
Additionally, the ministry announced that post secondary institutions will be required to allow students to opt out of paying non-tuition fees deemed “non-essential.”
According to Horwath, the 10 per cent tuition cost reduction will end up harming students.
“This decision that the government's made is deceitful first and foremost because the 10 per cent sticker price announcement really means nothing for affordability for students,” she stated.
Horwath said the proposed changes would cause students to graduate with more debt and pay higher interest fees.
The McMaster Students Union has expressed similar concerns.
“Grants are a far more effective form of student financial aid than loans. Rolling back OSAP eligibility and increasing the loan threshold will increase the debt load on many students,” said Ikram Farah, MSU president.
According to Horwath, the requirement of an opt-out for non-essential student union fees is a strategy to silence the voices of students.
“I think a lot of what the government is trying to do is weaken the student movement to silence the voices of young people,” she said.
The MSU released a statement saying that this provision might impact the advocacy abilities of student unions and provision of services and supports.
“The potential of optional fee structures for services could severely undermine the ability of students to organize and maintain robust student-oriented provisions, along with their representation to all levels of government,” stated the release.
According to Horwath, the proposed changes to tuition, fees and OSAP will impact more than just students because all Ontarians benefit from well-functioning post secondary institutions.
“It is going to affect everyone,” she stated. “It is going to affect families. It is going to affect the economy. It is going to affect the educators.”
She explained that weakening the student experience on campus, lowering the quality of education and burdening students with more financial distress mean that young people will not get the education that they need in order to participate in the workforce.
The Progressive Conservative party holds a 60 per cent majority, meaning that they have enough seats to pass legislation without the assent of other parties.
Despite this, Horwath believes it is still possible to advocate for change.
She noted that as a result of public outcry, the Ford government recently backtracked on a proposal open up the Greenbelt to developers.
According to Horwath, this demonstrates that broad resistance from Ontarians is key.
“I think this is a glimmer of hope to say that notwithstanding that it is a majority government, if you have a broad enough resistance and if you push hard enough […] then you have an opportunity to engage.”