The Importance of Ontario Investing in a French University

By André Marchildon

Late last year the Ontario Conservative government announced that it would be cancelling the Ontario French university that was expected to open in 2020. The Ford government indicated that this decision was required as part of a series of budget cuts to balance the provincial budget. As a Franco-Manitoban, I understand the importance of a school system that offers a French education that spans from kindergarten to university.

The initial cost to get the Ontario French university operational was around $80 million. While seemingly a high number, most of this funding would have been required to establish the campus in Toronto. The operational cost would subsequently have been much lower. For a province the size of Ontario, the initial cost of the French university would have been small relative to the entire provincial budget, which exceeds $140 billion. Furthermore, the federal government has already agreed to help financially support the Ontario French university.

Recently, Ford and other Conservative MPPs have suggested another reason why the cancellation of the Ontario French university was justified. Ford has indicated that there are hundreds of French courses offered at existing Ontario universities that are not full and thus, Ontario students did not require a standalone French university. However, the Ontario French university was not intended to offer the odd French course in certain topics. Rather, it was intended to provide entire degrees in fields such as business, technology and health sciences.

The real importance of the Ontario French university becomes evident when one understands the prevalence of French in Ontario. There are over 620 000 francophones that call Ontario home with 78 000 students currently enrolled in French elementary and high schools. If Ontario students want to pursue their French university education in Canada they need to either attend the University of Ottawa, which is bilingual, or an out of province French university, usually in Quebec. While a bilingual university is great, it does not foster the same sense of linguistic community as a university dedicated to a minority language.

In Manitoba meanwhile, where I was born and raised, there is a French university in the heart of Winnipeg, the University of St. Boniface. This university, founded in 1818, is in fact the oldest university in western Canada. The presence of this French university has been a cornerstone of the thriving francophone community in Manitoba. Students are able to complete their entire education in French without having to leave their home province. The students that graduate from this university remain in the province and contribute to the burgeoning Franco-Manitoban community.

Ford and the rest of his government cancelled the Ontario French university in the name of financial necessity to balance the provincial budget. Unfortunately, they failed to realize that this short term investment in a French university would have an immense and lasting impact in supporting, growing and enriching the Franco-Ontarian community. When times are tight financially it is not only a question of reducing costs, but also of finding the best return for your investments. An investment in an Ontario French university would bring immense benefits to the Franco-Ontarian community, just as the investment in the University of St. Boniface continues to pay dividends two hundred years later for the Franco-Manitoban community.