Franco-Ontarians protest Ford government's cuts to services for French-speakers
OTTAWA -- Streets across Ontario were lined in green and white on Saturday as Franco-Ontarians and their supporters held dozens of rallies across the province to protest Premier Doug Ford's cuts to services for French-speakers.
Many donned the signature colours of the flag representing Ontario francophones as they rallied to denounce the government's decision to scrap plans for a standalone French-language university and eliminate the independent office of the French-language services commissioner.
The largest of the 40 or so rallies took place in Ottawa, where a crowd gathered at the Human Rights Monument, chanting "We are! We will be!" in French.
A number of federal and provincial politicians from both Ontario and Quebec were present in the nation's capital, including federal Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.
As Joly delivered a speech to the crowd, she praised the protesters for "defending a vision of our country."
"Our message is clear to governments who act to reduce rights: Go read your history books!" Joly yelled, as McKenna stood behind her waving a huge Franco-Ontarian flag.
The Ford government's moves sparked widespread anger within French-speaking communities in Ontario and Quebec, and have been publicly denounced by the Quebec legislature.
Ontario legislator Amanda Simard, who represents a largely French-speaking riding, severed ties with the Progressive Conservative party this week, saying she was not satisfied by the government's "partial backtracking" on the cuts.
The province announced late last week it would create a commissioner position within the office of the provincial ombudsman, establish a Ministry of Francophone Affairs and hire a senior policy adviser on francophone affairs in the premier's office.
On Saturday, members of Quebec's governing Coalition Avenir Quebec and the opposition Liberals both made the trip to Ottawa to join the crowds.
Liberal interim leader Pierre Arcand drew loud applause when he reminded protesters that the green and white flag is currently flying over the Quebec legislature in support of Simard and Ontario's French-speakers.
Lawyer Ronald Caza, who led the fight to save Ottawa's francophone Montfort Hospital in the 1990s, reminded the crowd that the francophone community has a history of winning important linguistic battles.
At the end of his speech, he switched to English to deliver a message directly to Ford on behalf of the francophone community.
"You must know, we fought for our primary schools and high schools in Ontario, and we won," he said. "Mr. Ford, we fought for our francophone colleges in Ontario, and we won.
"Mr. Ford, we are fighting for our francophone university, and we will win!" he said as the crowd erupted into cheers.
Ford has said the cuts were necessary to lower the province's deficit, although he did not say how much would be saved.