‘La lutte’ con­tin­ues...

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

This may not be­come an­other SOS Mont­fort, but fran­co­phones are jus­ti­fi­ably an­gry and wor­ried about the On­tario gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sions that weaken their rights. Franco-On­tar­i­ans, who mo­bi­lized when the Mont­fort Hos­pi­tal was threat­ened with clo­sure in 1997, are once again mount­ing a cam­paign against a Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment that has again shown dis­re­spect for the ap­prox­i­mately 600,000 French-speak­ing res­i­dents of the prov­ince.

The elim­i­na­tion of the in­de­pen­dent French Lan­guage Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner and the can­cel­la­tion of a pro­posed French-lan­guage uni­ver­sity will save rel­a­tively lit­tle money con­sid­er­ing that the gov­ern­ment is awash in a $15 bil­lion deficit.

There is a po­lit­i­cal price to be paid but ob­vi­ously Doug Ford re­al­izes that fran­co­phones are not large enough of a vot­ing block to do the Tories much harm when the next elec­tion rolls around.

The many Con­ser­va­tives in Eastern On­tario, who blindly sup­port Ford Na­tion, may dis­miss any crit­i­cism of the Tories as the whin­ing of a few mal­con­tents.

But one Con­ser­va­tive MPP, Amanda Si­mard, has joined the cho­rus of ob­jec­tions to the aus­ter­ity mea­sures.

Orig­i­nally, the Glen­garry-Prescott-Rus­sell MPP had said, “I un­der­stand that our Franco-On­tar­ian com­mu­nity is con­cerned by the de­ci­sion re­gard­ing the Com­mis­sioner’s Of­fice. I would like to clar­ify that these func­tions will re­main in­de­pen­dent un­der the gov­er­nance of the Om­buds­man. I will do ev­ery­thing I can to en­sure that you are heard and rep­re­sented.”

But last week, she took a tougher stance, say­ing she would ask the gov­ern­ment to re­verse the de­ci­sions.

These try­ing times for the newly-elected MPP Amanda Si­mard, who hap­pened to be named par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary for fran­co­phone af­fairs af­ter she ended the Lib­er­als’ reign in Glen­garry-Prescot­tRus­sell. Can you say “Bap­tème de feu?” Lo­cal Tories were jus­ti­fi­ably de­lighted that in the June 7 On­tario elec­tion, Ms. Si­mard ended the Con­ser­va­tives’ drought in Glen gar­ryPrescott-Rus­sell, which in­cludes North Glen garry, and which has been rep­re­sented by a Lib­eral since the rid­ing was formed in 1995.

Now, only a few months later, Ms. Si­mard, the only fran­co­phone in the Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus, had the un­en­vi­able task of try­ing to ex­plain to her con­stituents why aus­ter­ity is more im­por­tant than mi­nor­ity lan­guage rights.

With the French Lan­guage Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner be­ing in­te­grated into the Om­bus­man’s Of­fice, the prov­ince has clearly sig­nalled that fran­co­phone rights are not a pri­or­ity. Mean­while, as pro­test­ers de­cry the “tyranny of the ma­jor­ity,” and say “Non” to Doug Ford and as­sim­i­la­tion, the fair-minded among us ought to be wor­ried by this se­ri­ous slight.

The mea­sures se­ri­ously erode pro­tec­tion of rights and the preser­va­tion of franco-On­tar­ian cul­ture, stresses L’Assem­blée de la fran­co­phonie de l’On­tario, which is launch­ing a “re­sis­tance” move­ment with protests that are sched­uled to be held De­cem­ber 1 across the prov­ince.

Terming the de­ci­sions a “ma­jor set­back,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­calls that the Pre­mier had promised to ad­vance the French-lan­guage uni­ver­sity file dur­ing his run fror the lead­er­ship and again dur­ing the his wildly suc­cess­ful elec­tion cam­paign. Af­ter the Tories ousted the Lib­er­als, the com­mit­ment to­wards the post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tion was re­it­er­ated, notes AFO pres­i­dent Carol Jolin.

The lobby group has “le­git­i­mate con­cerns” about the en­force­ment of the Loi sur les ser­vices en français.

Nat­u­rally, the moves will con­cern a large por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion in Glen­garry. Although it is widely known as be­ing The Celtic Heart­land of On­tario, many lo­cals speak the langue de Molière. At last count, some 3,860 peo­ple in North Glen­garry had French as their mother tongue, while English is the first lan­guage of 5,555 peo­ple in the town­ship. In South Glen­garry, there are 3,650 fran­co­phones and 8,420 an­glo­phones.

The ma­jor source of heat for the Con­ser­va­tives has come from north of the 417 -- fran­co­phones ac­count for 73 per cent of Prescott County’s pop­u­la­tion and about 62 per cent of Rus­sell’s res­i­dents.

The cries of con­dem­na­tion have emanated from many sec­tors, in­clud­ing politi­cians and or­ga­ni­za­tions from out­side On­tario.

Among those de­nounc­ing the de­ci­sion is the Québec Com­mu­nity Groups Net­work, an an­glo­phone lobby group, which says it once re­garded On­tario “as a model for how an of­fi­cial lan­guage mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity should be treated.”

QCGN Pres­i­dent Ge­of­frey Cham­bers said On­tario has pro­vided an ef­fec­tive ex­am­ple for the rest of Canada: a French Lan­guage Ser­vices Act, which is in­tended to pro­tect the rights of Franco-On­tar­i­ans; an Of­fice of Fran­co­phone Af­fairs that en­sures Franco-On­tar­i­ans re­ceive gov­ern­ment ser­vices in French so they can par­tic­i­pate in the so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal life of the prov­ince; as well as a French Lan­guage Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner to en­sure those rights are re­spected.

“One of those im­por­tant pil­lars that pro­tected the rights and in­ter­ests of Franco-On­tar­i­ans has been abol­ished by the Ford Gov­ern­ment,” Mr. Cham­bers said. “This is a set­back for the de­vel­op­ment and vi­tal­ity of Franco-On­tar­i­ans and for all mi­nor­ity lan­guage com­mu­ni­ties across Canada.”

Fis­cal re­straint

No­body can ar­gue against the mer­its of “fis­cal re­straint.” Tax­pay­ers will save about $12 mil­lion from the uni­ver­sity can­cel­la­tion and about $3 mil­lion an­nu­ally by shut­ting the com­mis­sioner’s bu­reau.

Yet stud­ies have con­cluded that bilin­gual­ism is an im­por­tant eco­nomic as­set.

There are many real and imag­ined con­se­quences of the On­tario con­ser­va­tive stance. The is­sue could have a po­lar­iz­ing ef­fect. Some cyn­ics sus­pect that the money-sav­ing ra­tio­nale ad­vanced by the right wing pop­ulists is merely cam­ou­flage for a dis­dain con­ser­va­tives have for any­one who does not think like them. That may be a facile and harsh as­sess­ment. But it is clear that, not sur­pris­ingly, Doug Ford and his Toron­to­cen­tric al­lies ap­par­ently have lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion for his­tory, and the im­por­tance of re­spect­ing Canada’s two of­fi­cial lan­guages.

Back in 1997, the bat­tle to save the Mont­fort had just be­gun. Pre­par­ing for a long court case, the SOS team mem­bers combed through pa­pers writ­ten at the time of Con­fed­er­a­tion to find com­mit­ments the na­tion’s founders had made to mi­nori­ties. Even­tu­ally, the hos­pi­tal ad­vo­cates found suf­fi­cient proof to bol­ster their sub­mis­sion that clos­ing the hos­pi­tal would vi­o­late the Cana­dian Con­sti­tu­tion.

SOS scored a vic­tory in 1999 in the On­tario Su­pe­rior Court; in De­cem­ber 2001, the Court of Ap­peal up­held that rul­ing. Five years later, the gov­ern­ment yielded; the Con­ser­va­tives blinked and an­nounced Mont­fort would re­main open.

At the time, the vic­tory was hailed as a mon­u­men­tal win for mi­nori­ties.

Way back in 1913, when op­po­si­tion arose against the de­tested Rè­gle­ment 17, which banned French-lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion, the ral­ly­ing cry was “L’avenir est à ceux qui lut­tent,” or “The fu­ture be­longs to those who fight.”

His­tory is re­peat­ing it­self as On­tario fran­co­phones pre­pare for an­other court bat­tle. The rea­son is dif­fer­ent; the cause is the same.

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