Stand up for An­glo Que­bec – and Franco-On­tar­i­ans

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - COMMENT - THEODORE MCLAUCH­LIN Theodore McLauch­lin is a Mon­treal aca­demic.

Two weeks ago, the Doug Ford gov­ern­ment an­nounced ma­jor cuts to On­tario’s fran­co­phone in­sti­tu­tions. Queen’s Park will axe the planned Univer­sité de l’On­tario français and fold up the of­fice of the French lan­guage ser­vices com­mis­sioner.

Seven days of back­lash — from Franco-On­tar­i­ans, French- and some English-lan­guage press, and one of his own MPPs, Amanda Si­mard — pushed Ford back part way. But the cuts to the univer­sity project re­main.

In any case, the dam­age was done, the mis­trust sown.

As an an­glo­phone Que­be­cer — a mem­ber of a mi­nor­ity only slightly larger in ab­so­lute terms than fran­co­phone On­tario — I do not find it hard to un­der­stand why the threats to French-lan­guage in­sti­tu­tions pro­voked such dis­may in fran­co­phone On­tario.

English-speak­ing Que­be­cers may not al­ways have the eas­i­est re­la­tion­ship with our prov­ince, but the com­mu­nity owes much of its con­tin­u­ing vi­tal­ity to the English-lan­guage in­sti­tu­tions that the Que­bec gov­ern­ment sup­ports. English-lan­guage schools, hos­pi­tals and uni­ver­si­ties are a ma­jor as­set for us. They re­move the worry about search­ing for the right words to ex­plain our own or our child’s med­i­cal symp­toms and pro­vide a choice about the lan­guage of ed­u­ca­tion. Well beyond that, they con­firm that we be­long, that we have our place here as Que­be­cers who speak English.

It is not and should not be any dif­fer­ent for Franco-On­tar­i­ans.

As with any other pub­lic ser­vice, it is worth ask­ing whether the pro­grams in Ford’s crosshairs were good ways of meet­ing the goal of pro­vid­ing French-lan­guage ser­vices and ac­cess to French­language ed­u­ca­tion. But in­stead it seems that the goal it­self is at is­sue.

Queen’s Park can­celled the univer­sity with no rein­vest­ment for French-lan­guage ser­vices else­where. Fur­ther, in its ini­tial fold­ing of the com­mis­sioner’s of­fice — since par­tially re­versed — On­tario showed it was will­ing to weaken a com­mit­ment to a whole com­mu­nity, not just to in­di­vid­u­als who might be pro­tected by an om­buds­man. The an­nounce­ment evoked the at­tempted clo­sure of the Mont­fort Hos­pi­tal in Ot­tawa by the last Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, sug­gest­ing this is a peren­nial fight.

In sum, the moves leave an over­rid­ing sense that for the cur­rent On­tario gov­ern­ment, French is a frill.

Does the same go for English in Que­bec? I can only as­sume, based on how these things usu­ally go, that a threat to English-lan­guage in­sti­tu­tions in Que­bec would in­cur the sym­pa­thy and sol­i­dar­ity of the rest of the coun­try. Many an­glo­phone politi­cians and pun­dits out­side Que­bec have al­ways cared a great deal about us An­glo Que­be­cers. They have been quick to rise to our de­fence.

But how a colum­nist or a com­men­ta­tor re­acts to the Ford cuts says a lot about why they care.

Some­times the sup­port given to An­glo Que­be­cers comes not from re­spect for the rights of of­fi­cial lan­guage mi­nori­ties, but from a ma­jori­tar­ian na­tion­al­ism. In other words, some care about us not be­cause we’re a lin­guis­tic mi­nor­ity, but be­cause we’re a specif­i­cally English-speak­ing one.

An­glo Que­be­cers do not need and should not seek this kind of sup­port. Play­ing into an English first, English-only na­tion­al­ism will not help any­one. It is a recipe for more con­flict, more de­fen­sive re­ac­tion and a deeper English-French di­vide, in a coun­try that does not need any of it. But from On­tario to New Brunswick’s new gov­ern­ment, we have to worry that this agenda is on the rise.

We An­glo Que­be­cers, mem­bers of an odd group — part of that Canada-wide ma­jor­ity, part of a mi­nor­ity here — should know the dan­gers of this game. We should re­nounce the part that oth­ers would have us play in it.

Any sym­pa­thy you have for us, ex­tend to fran­co­phones out­side Que­bec too.

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