Why Franco Ontarians Should Have Their Own French Only University

Before I explain why Franco Ontarians should have their own French Only University, I want to digress a little. If you are someone that believes this is completely obvious, that they should, please bear with me! The reason for this digression, is that there is resistance in Ontario and among some Anglophones in general to the idea.  This is expressed in a post in La Presse by Jaqueline Pelletier:

La peur exerce une force négative remarquable. J’en ai été témoin chaque fois qu’en Ontario français, nous avons entrepris les démarches pour doter notre communauté de nouvelles institutions. Qu’il s’agisse de l’autonomie des conseils scolaires ou de TFO, des collèges communautaires, de l’hôpital Montfort, de salles de théâtre et j’en passe, chaque fois, des canons tirent sur le projet, affirmant que jamais il ne se réalisera.

If you are a Francophone reader, this resistance may lead you immediately to think “this is simply not fair, Anglophones in Quebec have 3 Universities that are English only, with a population that is not significantly higher in proportion to the Franco Ontarian population in Ontario”. And you would be perfectly correct in saying this. However, I will treat the case  made against a Francophone university in Ontario briefly – it always helps to understand these things, and in understanding it, it can cool our heads a little.

Here are the arguments that I know of against a Francophone university in Ontario:

One reason is that Francophone’s in Quebec actually benefit enormously from Anglophone universities (15 % of Concordia students list French as their mother tongue and 21.2 % of McGill students list French as their mother tongue). Let’s face it, if you are bilingual, your prospects for a successful career are much higher, especially for uni-lingual Francophones. There are very few places on earth where English is not pervasive. It is less likely that Anglophones, at least in the interim, will attend a French only university. In fact I would expect the rate of Anglophones to be initially much lower (maybe 1-3%).  However, this could very well change in the future.

The second reason is threat of Quebec separating. Quebec separatists actually do a massive disservice to Franco-Ontarians. If they can divide Francophones and Anglophones in Quebec, then chances are this same will happen in Ontario. I see Franco-Ontarians and Anglo-Quebecers in a sense as the ‘glue’ or ‘nexus’ of Canada (the case extends somewhat to New Brunswick and Manitoba). These are some of the most bilingual people in the country and in a sense the ‘Trudeau’ Canadians. Without these minorities, Let’s face it, Canada may cease to exist as we know it.

To follow on this point, there may be a drive in English Canada to enforce bilingualism outside of Quebec in the interest of reinforcing a Trudeau style Canada.

The third reason is the most odious one. Yes, there still is, especially among certain Anglophones of Ontario the remnants of the Loyalists and/or general Loyalist mentality. The Loyalists, as many probably know, represent the enemy and demise of New France and the various brutal wars of the 17th and 18th century – of which both French and English are massively to blame I will add. Thousands of loyalists actually fled from the American colonies when the American patriots revolted against England. History is something that federalists don’t talk enough about and separatists talk too much about, but many contemporary issues must be put in their historical context to a certain degree or dialog becomes replete with misunderstandings and impasses. The Meech Lake accord is a prime example of this. I am not saying that nothing gets accomplished with respect to the establishment of a harmony and solidarity between French and English Canada (especially as it relates to economic cooperation), but let’s face it, we still do exist somewhat as Hugh McClellan would put it as ‘two solitude’s’. Some would even say that we are like the ‘odd couple’. But this entire concept is dissolving, albeit slowly and in my honest opinion, it makes Canada what it is, it’s very ethos, and this is why Quebec is so important. Alot more important than many in the rest of Canada understand or are willing to admit.

Eventually, I believe that this odious dimension of our nation will give way to a much better conception of Canada. For this to happen, Francophones of Quebec will need to see themselves increasingly as within a nation of two nations and liberate their thinking from the idea of ‘nation’ in its traditional sense (as Emmanuel Kant defined a nation by language), and Anglophones of Canada will need to see their own identity in this same context by perhaps taking a look in the mirror and understanding how they are distinct from Americans and what is called the global ‘Anglosphere’ (we can also ask questions like ‘why the hell do we still have a queen?’). There are no guarantees to either of these things. and I will never convince a separatists to become more ‘Canadian’, or an Anglophone that they must embrace Francophone culture – it just can’t work that way, and I don’t think that the answers to how all of this will play out are available to us just yet.

So that concludes my digression. As I mentioned above, everything must be put in its proper context, so I will explain my context.

At the end of my last paragraph above, I mentioned what must happen for Canada as we know it to work. It is really a sort of evolution – and we are clearly not there yet. Once again, I am not completely convinced we ever will be – maybe Quebec will separate some day and the rest of Canada will continue on an unknown projection in terms of its identity. Although I think the situation would need to be considerably more desperate than it is today on a number of levels for that to happen, so I don’t believe there is an immanent danger of this.

But stating that there are ‘no answers’ doesn’t help, doesn’t get us anywhere. There are those among us that have simply given up, I will admit – the separatists in Quebec, and the separatists in Canada (those that want to ‘get rid’ of Quebec). But there are those, who still believe in a thing called Canada – you know, that nation that is defined as being founded by two cultures, two people (call me naive if you will).


So if we want to be positive, we want Canada to work out, we can start by doing the ‘little things’, you know, reinforce that glue that I spoke of. One of those things, as hard as it may seem, is to listen to both sides of the debate and employ the adage ‘put yourself in the shoes of the other’. I honestly think that the grievances of the ‘other’ that confront us regarding the issues of us finding a way live together convey in a sense what needs to be done for it to all work out, because it often (not always) contains an element of truth. But our immediate hair trigger reaction is often to resist this. If you don’t resist and choose to listen you may be helping reinforce what Canada is really supposed to be all about: tolerance. Just remember this – when someone is sticking up for their rights (and most especially if they are in the minority or a founding minority), chances are that providing them with that right they are asking for will most likely not cause a major negative change in your own life if you are in the majority, but will most likely make the lives of the minority requesting it significantly better, and in turn make everyone’s lives better. To do this, it sometimes requires checking your pride and prejudice at the door – not easy for everyone to do.

So when there is talk in the Franco Ontarian community (as their currently is) about the desire to not only have better access to post secondary education, but the need for a university of their own, you can choose to dismiss it for ( one of the four or a myriad other) reasons I mentioned at the beginning of this blog – a kind of dismissal which would not lend itself well to the Canada of Trudeau. I say Trudeau’s Canada, because I firmly believe that a precursor for bilingualism, is that the large pockets of Anglophones or Francophones in this nation need to have sufficient institutions of their own to sustain them, even before bilingualism is possible. Or more generally, the security and dignity of each founding culture is primordial to bilingualism.

Or you can embrace the idea because it speaks to your conception of Canada. If you want to talk about need, there are over 500,000 Franco-Ontarians for four ‘bilingual’ universities (I am excluding the University de Hearst here as it is insignificant). If creating a new French only university ever created a surplus of university space (which I doubt) it would be better to close the bilingual department of one of these three universities and maintain 3 bilingual universities and 1 French only university. Furthermore, as the universities’ reputation grows, it could tap into the 200,000,000 citizens of the global Francophonie and of course French Quebec. If the university was close to Toronto – the cultural nexus of Ontario, and there were a number of Quebecers, it could contribute greatly to national unity and solidarity. Perhaps Quebecers can teach Ontarians how to drink properly ;-).

To follow on what I said early as to ‘listen to the founding minorities,’ consider what Caroline Gélineault, a third year linguistics student at the university of Ottawa has to say:

«Les services offerts en français sont généralement de bonne qualité, mais beaucoup de programmes manquent encore», illustrait Caroline Gélineault, en 3e année linguistique à l’Université d’Ottawa. «Je suis venu de Toronto étudier ici. Je me suis aperçu que beaucoup de manuels scolaires sont en anglais lors de cours donnés en français, pestait Lucas Egan, un autre étudiant. C’est juste décevant.»

(read full article here: http://www.expressottawa.ca/Actualites/2013-11-30/article-3525872/Etats-generaux-du-postsecondaire%3A-la-gouvernance-comme-urgence/1)

Personally, I couldn’t agree more with her. Let’s turn the tables – you are a Quebec Anglophone and there are 4 universities that are ‘bilingual’ and don’t offer a fulfilling university experience in English because the focus is on providing services in both languages rather than pedagogy and content.

If there is concern about the financial aspect of an entirely new French only university such as the use of tax dollars – consider that the enrichment of out lives through the sharing of our founding languages and culture will naturally lead to greater prosperity,

I hope to ignite a debate about these issues. Agree or disagree by laying out your case in a respectful manner!


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