Franco-Ontarians ponder legal challenge in face of government 'attack'
OTTAWA -- The president of the main organization representing Franco-Ontarians said Monday Premier Doug Ford is showing a "lack of respect" towards the province's French-speaking minority.
"If I look at everything that has been done since the government took power, it is starting to look like an attack on francophones," Carol Jolin, president of the Assemblee de la francophonie de l'Ontario, told a news conference Thursday.
He was reacting to news that in addition to cancelling plans for a French-language university and scrapping the office of the French language services commissioner, Ford's Progressive Conservative government has cancelled a $2.9 million grant to a French-language theatre in Ottawa.
"We started with two files, and I fear that there are others," Jolin said. The grant to La Nouvelle Scene theatre had been announced in May by the previous Liberal government.
Jolin said it isn't too late to overturn the government's planned cuts, and he is seeking a meeting with the premier.
The province announced its intentions for the university and the commissioner's post last week, drawing criticism from francophones across Canada and from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Wednesday night, a member of Ford's caucus who represents a mainly French-speaking riding called the cuts "extremely disappointing."
Amanda Simard, the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell in eastern Ontario, wrote in a Facebook post that she asked Ford to reconsider the cuts but was unsuccessful.
Simard, who also acts as the parliamentary secretary to Minister for Francophone Affairs Caroline Mulroney, said she learned of the government's decision a few minutes before the official announcement.
"I read somewhere that MPP Simard 'might be upset.' False. I am 'definitely upset,"' Simard wrote.
Marie France-Lalonde, the Liberal critic for francophone affairs at Queen's Park, called Simard's stand courageous.
"What we've seen all across Ontario but also Canada ... is that this decision of this government is impulsive, it's wrong, it's an attack, and its own caucus member is saying, 'Hey, Mr. Ford, you need to rethink about this."'
The Assemblee de la francophonie de l'Ontario represents 160 community organizations and institutions in the province. Jolin says the group is determined to uphold past gains and defend members' rights.
He said he prefers a political solution but has not ruled out legal action if talks fail. On Thursday morning, he said, about 70 lawyers took part in a conference call to discuss a possible court challenge.
On Tuesday, Melanie Joly, federal minister of official languages, announced the restoration of a court challenges program that she said would help linguistic minorities defend their rights.
The program was instrumental in the late 1990s in Franco-Ontarians' successful battle against a government plan to close Ottawa's Montfort Hospital, the only francophone teaching hospital in the province.
Joly said Thursday the federal government will be at the side of Franco-Ontarians. "We are ready to allocate resources to support francophones in Ontario so they can mobilize," she said.