Ottawa, December 14, 2018 – Following the passage of Bill 57 through the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) is pleased to announce that it has retained the services of lawyers Ronald Caza of the firm Caza Saikaley and Mark Power of the firm Juristes Power Law. Their mandate will be to examine the possibility of requesting a judicial review to overturn the provincial government’s decision to end the funding of the Université de l’Ontario français on January 15.
Moreover, the legal team will provide legal counsel regarding the new legislation which deprives the Office of French Language Services Commissioner of its independence by placing it under the supervision of the Ontario Ombudsman.
Further information about this legal strategy will be unveiled in the coming weeks and months.
“Today, the Université de l’Ontario français is celebrating its first anniversary, but unfortunately, it is also fighting for its survival. It is not too late to find a solution that would allow the institution to continue operating after January 15. The Government of Ontario must submit a funding request to the Government of Canada. This solution is beneficial for taxpayers and gives the province the opportunity to obtain 40 million dollars in federal funds,” said the president of the AFO, Carol Jolin.
This morning, the president of the AFO sent a letter to all members of the Progressive-Conservative caucus to inform them about the discussions that the organization, which represents Ontario’s Francophone population, has had with the Government of Canada.
The Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario asks that the federal and provincial governments quickly come to an agreement to jointly fund the Université de l’Ontario français. The AFO is confident that the federal government will provide the funds for the university’s first four years of operation, thus giving the province time to get its financial house in order. “This solution lets all parties achieve their objectives and the Government of Canada has indicated that it is very open to the proposal,” Mr. Jolin added.
As for mobilization efforts, actions are continuing. “La Résistance” has launched a campaign that asks members of the community to print Franco-Ontarian flags and La Résistance posters and display them in the windows of their homes and vehicles. The movement will also facilitate a campaign in which Franco-Ontarians are invited to send season’s greeting cards to their MPPs inviting them to make a new year’s resolution to preserve the Université de l’Ontario français and the independence of the French Language Services Commission.
Here is the letter
Ottawa, December 14, 2018
L’hon. Doug Ford
Le député de Etobicoke-Nord
823 Albion Road
Etobicoke (Ontario) M9V 1A3
Subject: Funding of the Université de l’Ontario français
Two weeks prior to the delivery of the Ontario’s Fall Economic Statement, the Progressive-Conservative Party of Ontario received a standing ovation from 300 leaders of Ontario’s Francophone community at the annual gala of the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO). It was only a few weeks after the motion to include the linguistic variable in the Health Card had passed. At that time, the message was clear: the battle to save Hôpital Montfort was a thing of the past; the Franco-Ontarian community extended an outstretched hand and was ready to partner with this government. For our organization, this gesture was a major development: after many years of effort, we had re-established ties with the Progressive-Conservative Party of Ontario.
Two weeks later, our community’s faith was sorely tested. In a move that has set off the biggest language crisis in the country since the Hôpital Montfort saga, the Government of Ontario broke its promise and announced that funding for the Université de l’Ontario français (UOF) would end on January 15, 2019. In addition, the government infringed upon the independence of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario by demoting the position to that of an “employee” of the Ombudsman.
Our institutions are essential to the vitality and sustainability of our community, as they are for all official language minority communities across the country. The Franco-Ontarian community realizes that it must tighten its belt, like the rest of society. But we believe it can be done without attacking our institutions.
Premier Doug Ford defends these cuts as necessary to address the province’s financial situation. For the Université de l’Ontario français (UOF), the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) has identified a solution that allows both the government and the community to achieve their respective goals. The report that led to the creation of the UOF as a legal entity includes a recommendation that the federal government provide 50% of the necessary funding for the institution’s first eight years. The AFO has discussed this question with the Government of Canada and federal political parties. The measure has precedents: the establishment of our two college institutions, La Cité and Collège Boréal, was achieved with federal support.
The Government of Canada has given us a clear response and has also stated publicly that it has set aside funds in its Action Plan for Official Languages to respond to a request for funding by the Government of Ontario to implement the UOF. The federal government is willing to invest half of the funds required to operate the institution over the next eight years.
Moreover, the Government of Canada has assured us that it is willing to remit the entirety of these funds over the course of the university’s first four years of operation. Therefore, the Government of Ontario would begin to provide its share of the funding only five years from now. Considering that the Government of Ontario’s mandate is to eliminate the province’s deficit before the next provincial elections, this measure means it could reap the benefits of a major investment of federal funds, keep the promise it made to Ontario’s Francophones and Francophiles, and gain room to manoeuvre in its efforts to reduce the province’s deficit during its current mandate.
The AFO therefore asks the Government of Ontario and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to move quickly to submit a request for funding to the Government of Canada in order to save the Université de l’Ontario français. To both the Government and the Ministry, we have provided all of the information needed to submit this request.
Regarding the French Language Services Commissioner, the Government of Ontario has produced no firm proof to justify cutting this service. All of the Commission’s employees have been transferred to the Ombudsman’s office and a non-independent position of assistant ombudsman has been created. This reorganization delivers no significant savings.
Five years ago, the PC Party voted in favor of the Commissioner’s independent status. Why has the office of Commissioner been stripped of its independence without prior consultation with the Franco-Ontarian community?
On December 1st of this year, close to 15,000 people took part in demonstrations held across the province to voice their disapproval and consternation following these cuts to our institutions. We received the support of federal political parties, including the Conservative Party of Canada, and they believe that federal support is desirable and necessary. Other voices joined with theirs, including the Government of Québec and associations representing Québec’s Anglophone population. The opposition parties at Queen’s Park support the UOF, and editorials in many daily English-language newspapers, including the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen and the Montreal Gazette, have expressed support as well. Even international media have echoed the cause of protecting French language services in Ontario.
The Franco-Ontarian community has sought solutions and has found them. Now, the ball is in your government’s court. Will you support us?
In coming days, Ontario’s Francophones and Francophiles will be sending you season’s greeting cards wishing you a happy new year. Our hope is clear: we need our French language university, Ontario’s first-ever university governed “by and for” its French-speaking community.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I wish you happy holidays and a happy new year in 2019.