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OPINION: Will Francophone issues matter in 2022?

By Nick Seebruch

Published on December 6, 2018

MPP Jim McDonell speaks to a pro-Franco-Ontarian protest in front of his office as Dianne Poirier looks on on Saturday, December 1, 2018 (Nick Seebruch/ TC Media).

The largest protest that I’ve ever seen in Cornwall took place this past Saturday in front of Progressive Conservative MPP Jim McDonell’s office.

Over 400 Franco-Ontarians and their supporters made their displeasure heard after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced cuts to Francophone services in the province. Ford said he wanted to cut the office of the French Language Commissioner and he has delayed the construction of a French language university in Toronto.

Ford eventually backtracked to a point on the issue of the language commissioner, folding those responsibilities into the office of the Auditor General. This didn’t satisfy MPP Amanda Simard, who left the Conservative party to sit as an independent and it doesn’t seem to have satisfied many other Franco-Ontarians.

There were major protests across the province on Saturday, not just in Cornwall. Dianne Poirier, one of the organizers of the demonstration in Cornwall, told me that this was just the beginning, given that the Ford government has a majority in the legislature and can do what it likes for the next three and a half years, I hope so for the sake of their cause.

It is going to be difficult for them to keep this issue on the agenda until the next election especially without a strong voice of support within the government. The more I think about it, the more I think it was unnecessary for Simard to leave the Conservative Party, especially this early.

I doubt that Ford would have kicked her out of the party no matter how loudly she spoke out, and by staying in the government, she could have been a voice of continuous discontent on the way her party was handling Francophone issues. By leaving, I worry that Simard has left her riding, and her cause in a weaker position.

Jim McDonell for his part, did address the protest in front of his Cornwall office, which was a brave move, because they were not warm to him. McDonell tried to explain that the reason for these cutbacks all came down to dollars. His explanation was met with a chorus of boos from the crowd.

I don’t think that delaying one university or cutting one person’s salary will make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things for the budget, especially when you consider that the cost of the university was less than one percent of the provincial budget. So that begs the question, why would the Ford government make a move like this that would cost them so many political points with the Franco-Ontarian demographic? Does Ford think that Franco-Ontarians only vote Liberal, so they’re of no political use to him anyway? When you boil it down, I think that the Ford government calculated that by doing this so soon in their mandate, they can win points with their base, and that most Franco-Ontarians will have forgotten about it three and a half years from now.

Unless Franco-Ontarians can keep this on the provincial political agenda, which in itself will be a great feat, I doubt it will have any bearing on Doug Ford’s political fortunes even in a few months from now. How Franco-Ontarians fight against a majority Conservative government on this issue I don’t know, but what I do know is that this weekend showed that at the very least, they are politically organized.

What do you think of the Franco-Ontarian protests from this past weekend and the Ford government’s decision to cut Franco-Ontarian services? Email me a Letter to the Editor at nicholas.seebruch@tc.tc