INFRASTRUCTURE

Plans for Ontario’s first French-language university back on the table

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Ontario may soon be home to the province's first French-language university.

Ontario is reconsidering plans to construct the Canadian province’s first French-language university after shelving it late last year over budget concerns.

The provincial government is now negotiating terms with the federal government to split the cost of building the Universite de l’Ontario, which estimates say will be around CA$126 million, including the cost of operational funding.

A spokesman for Francophone Affairs Minister Caroline Mulroney said last week that both parties have been in discussion for weeks on a funding agreement for the school. 

“The Ontario government has engaged in a constructive dialogue with Minister Joly on the scope of the potential contribution of the federal government to fund the Universite de l’Ontario francais,” spokesman Matthew Conway said in a CBC News report, referring to Federal Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie Melanie Joly.

“The Government of Ontario recognises the exceptional contribution of the Franco-Ontarian community to the social, cultural and economic development of the province.

“Therefore, we are ready to do what is necessary to strengthen the vitality of Ontario’s francophone community through better services in French and increased access to quality post-secondary education,” he added in The Daily Press.

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This comes after the government said in January it would not reconsider reversing its cancellation, despite receiving federal commitment to extend funding for a team working on the project. 

The CBC News report said the Progressive Conservatives now want the federal government to inject CA$63 million into the project. When the university was first proposed in 2017 by the previous Liberal government, it was projected to cost some CA$83 million to build.

Conway said the provincial government hopes to reach an agreement before the federal election this fall. 

“The Ontario government is currently negotiating in good faith with the federal government, which is also seeking an agreement on this important project,” he added.

The decision is likely to soothe ruffled feathers among Ontario’s francophones who were upset by the decision to scrap the project last November.

The provincial Tories had nixed it to balance the books, also saying there was no need for the school when the area’s three universities and four colleges already offer some 300 French-language programmes, none of which were full. 

But the decision invited backlash from Franco-Ontarians, with hundreds coming out to protest the decision and what they said were cuts to French-language services The university was to have been Ontario’s first French-only institution and would have served some 600,000 francophones in the area.

Also in response, Tory legislator Amanda Simard left the party caucus to become an independent. 

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Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota said he was pleased the project is now back on the table.

“Canada is officially bilingual and it’s important to have education provided in the language you are most comfortable with.

“In Ontario we have a large francophone population who really deserve to have that option.”