An organization representing Quebec anglophones says linguistic minorities across the country stand to lose from Ontario’s recent moves to cut funding to institutions serving francophones.
The head of the Quebec Community Groups Network, which represents more than 50 anglophone groups across the province, said the Ontario moves are “a step backwards” after years of gains.
Geoffrey Chambers, the network president, said the trend for linguistic minorities in Canada “had been to establish new and better services — just last year a francophone advisory council was put in place in Alberta, and we got our secretariat (in Quebec). The trend line had been good for quite a long time.”
Ontario was held up as a model for other minority linguistic groups in Canada with its French Language Services Act, an office of francophone affairs and a French language services commissioner to ensure rights are respected — a position Chambers would like to see in Quebec.
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But last week Ontario announced it was scrapping the office of the French language services commissioner and cancelling a French-language university planned to open in Toronto in 2020. Meanwhile in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province, language tensions have been fuelled by election results that left the balance of power with a party that questions bilingualism.
“Now (the trend) seems to have reversed a bit, and that’s worrying,” Chambers said.
In Quebec, lawmakers like to describe the province’s anglophones as among the best-treated minorities on the continent, but Chambers said the notion his community receives special treatment misinterprets the history of its hospitals and universities.
“Two hundred years of community building and contributing to the infrastructure of the province is now treated as if they’re doing us a favour,” he said.
The shift across the border comes as Quebec’s English community digs in for a fight with Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government over plans to abolish school boards, including English ones that are among the few remaining institutions the community controls.
Quebec English School Boards Association’s executive director Russell Copeman said the challenge will be to change Legault’s mind ahead of his 2020 deadline to eliminate the boards. Copeman said Legault’s recent support for Ontario’s francophone community could be a good sign.
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“I think we’ve seen from Premier Legault some indication that he’s concerned with the decisions of the government of Ontario,” said Copeman.
“If Mr. Legault is interested in defending the rights of Franco-Ontarians, a certain logic and coherence would indicate he’s also concerned with maintaining the linguistic rights of the English-speaking community in Quebec.”
Copeman said his organization believes English school boards are protected under Sect. 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which deals with minority language educational rights.
Copeman added that P.E.I., Nova Scotia and the Yukon all eliminated school boards, but maintained their minority French language ones to comply with the Charter.