Ford was right to put brakes on French uni­ver­sity

Dr. Charles S. Shaver says it was too costly, un­nec­es­sary

Ottawa Citizen - - OPINION -

Was Premier Doug Ford wrong to can­cel a pos­si­ble ex­clu­sively French uni­ver­sity in Toronto?

For­mer Premier Kath­leen Wynne had an­nounced a plan to es­tab­lish this uni­ver­sity in cen­tral and south­west­ern On­tario with a “startup cost” of $83.5 mil­lion. This would be funded over 10 years, with the fed­eral govern­ment con­tribut­ing half.

The re­ac­tion to Ford’s de­ci­sion in­cluded at least 40 demon­stra­tions across the prov­ince. MPP Amanda Si­mard quit his cau­cus — the only fran­co­phone among the 76 PCs elected last June. Justin Trudeau met over this is­sue with Jag­meet Singh, El­iz­a­beth May, An­drew Scheer and Bloc Québé­cois leader Mario Beaulieu.

But be­fore crit­i­ciz­ing Ford, we must con­sider whether such an in­sti­tu­tion is re­ally af­ford­able, nec­es­sary and whether there may be un­fore­seen con­se­quences to build­ing it.

Ford has made many un­pop­u­lar cuts. For ex­am­ple, satel­lite uni­ver­sity cam­puses were can­celled for Bramp­ton, Mil­ton and Markham. Fund­ing was cut to the On­tario Col­lege of Mid­wives, the On­tario Arts Coun­cil, and its In­dige­nous Cul­ture Fund.

Yet de­spite these cuts, on Dec. 13 Moody’s down­graded the On­tario credit rat­ing from Aa3 to Aa2. On­tario has a debt of $347 bil­lion and a deficit of $14.5 bil­lion.

There is no point ask­ing the fed­eral govern­ment to cover half of the cost of a uni­ver­sity. Its deficit this year is $18.1 bil­lion. By 2013-24, the to­tal debt might be $765 bil­lion. There is only one tax­payer, and in “good times” we should be pay­ing down debt. Ford was right to elim­i­nate what was not ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary in his at­tempt to re­duce spend­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Post, in 2015 there were 6,340 stu­dents in Grade 12 French school boards. They have a choice of 397 French un­der­grad­u­ate pro­grams, in­clud­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa, Lau­ren­tian, Hearst’s three cam­puses, and Glen­don Col­lege of York Uni­ver­sity.

Of the 600,000+ Franco-On­tar­i­ans, most

Pro­grams have difficulty at­tract­ing enough Franco-On­tario stu­dents.

live in East­ern or North­east­ern On­tario. There is al­ready a $300 an­nual travel grant to cover those study­ing more than 80 km from home.

As it is, pro­grams have difficulty at­tract­ing enough Franco-On­tario stu­dents. Only 48 per cent of the fran­co­phone stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa come from On­tario; 33 per cent are from Que­bec, five per cent from other prov­inces, and 14 per cent are in­ter­na­tional. The ques­tion is whether we re­ally need an­other French uni­ver­sity, es­pe­cially in the GTA, with high liv­ing costs and few French stu­dents in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity?

Que­bec Premier François Le­gault ex­pressed “disappoint­ment” at Ford’s de­ci­sion. Yet he over­looked one prob­lem for his own prov­ince: Such a uni­ver­sity would likely at­tract a num­ber of stu­dents from Que­bec. A few might even come be­cause of a lower age for le­gal use of cannabis in On­tario. Mean­while, how­ever, while liv­ing in On­tario, they would lack full med­i­cal cov­er­age thanks to Que­bec’s re­fusal to sign the Re­cip­ro­cal Med­i­cal Billing Agree­ment. Que­bec stu­dents al­ready pay ex­tra non-re­fund­able fees when vis­it­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa Health Ser­vices.

While at a new uni­ver­sity, many stu­dents might re­quire treat­ment for anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, trau­matic in­juries, auto ac­ci­dents, acute ap­pen­dici­tis, preg­nancy, etc. They would be too far from the bor­der to seek ur­gent care from a Que­bec physi­cian.

Le­gault should stop crit­i­ciz­ing Ford on this is­sue un­til he is will­ing to sign the re­cip­ro­cal agree­ment. Were he to do so, Ford might in fu­ture be more re­cep­tive to the wishes of fran­co­phones and build this uni­ver­sity.

How­ever, this would re­quire re­duc­ing the deficit by find­ing new sources of rev­enue. That, in turn, would be fa­cil­i­tated if the me­dia and the Lib­eral govern­ment were to soften their op­po­si­tion to med­i­cal tourism, or to amend­ing the Canada Health Act so as to per­mit a limited amount of pri­va­ti­za­tion. But that is an­other dis­cus­sion for an­other day.

Ot­tawa physi­cian Dr. Charles S. Shaver was born in Mon­treal. He grad­u­ated from Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity and Johns Hop­kins School of Medicine, and re­turned to Canada in 1970. He is Chair of the Sec­tion on Gen­eral In­ter­nal Medicine of the On­tario Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion. The views here are his own.

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