Ford was right to put brakes on French university
Dr. Charles S. Shaver says it was too costly, unnecessary
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.