Stand up for Anglo Quebec – and Franco-Ontarians
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.