The province and the feds recently reached an “understanding” on establishing the institution. Photo: Zachary Harden/Wikicommons
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Institution can help the province’s francophone community grow and thrive

“Quit complaining about how you’re treated here, at least you’re not an anglophone in Quebec!” 

This is a sentence that may be all too familiar to francophones outside of Quebec, but I would much rather be an anglophone in Quebec than a francophone in Ontario.

Twenty-two years ago, Franco-Ontarians had to duke it out in the courts against their own government to keep the one French hospital they had in the province alive. Meanwhile, Quebec has multiple hospitals that function primarily in English. Nowadays, the battle for the Montfort Hospital may be done but a new fight has taken its place — the push for a French-language university in Ontario.

When you look at the numbers, Quebec has three separate universities for the anglophone community (Concordia University, McGill University and Bishops University), while Ontario has only a handful of bilingual programs but no French-language university, at least until recently.

Finally, after years of work, the Université de l’Ontario français (UOF) was given approval, before being revoked last year after the election of the new provincial government. This caused quite a bit of controversy, both inside and outside Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party.

Outside, it caused an uproar among the Franco-Ontarian community, leading to protests throughout the province. On the inside, it pushed an MPP to cut ties with the party and sit as an independent instead. 

Following the controversy, a deal has been struck between the province and the federal government to jointly fund a French university that is expected to be based in southwestern Ontario and take eight years to complete, a decision that will have widespread impacts on Franco-Ontarians and French-speaking people as a whole.

As a student at the University of Ottawa, it’s hard for me to consider this new university without taking into account the fact that it will have some kind of impact on the U of O’s enrollment numbers. One could assume French-speaking people will opt for attending an exclusively French institution, rather than the bilingual U of O. In the same vein, that could hurt the size of the francophone community at our university.

But even when framing the U of O as the “francophone university” in Ontario, it’s still a debatable label. While yes, students can take most of their classes either in French or in English and can interact with the university administration in either language, that’s about where it stops. Other than a handful of language-specific clubs, it’s quite hard to get involved in student life on campus without having a strong grasp of the English language.

Even when events at the U of O are marketed as bilingual, that isn’t always a guarantee. Sometimes French programming is simply an afterthought in how an event is run, and sometimes it’s not even there at all. Can we really call ourselves bilingual if a large part of the student population cannot access such an integral part of the university experience?

This specific reason is exactly why I support the opening of a new university specifically for the francophone community of Ontario. At a time where linguistic insecurity is so prevalent within francophone communities, it is so important that people have access to spaces where they can pursue their studies in their own language, and ultimately, that’s all people want.