Ontario is home to more than 744,000 Francophones, making this province home to the largest Francophone community in North America outside of Quebec. In 2015, Franco-Ontarians celebrated 400 years of Francophone presence in the province. While recognition of official language minority rights has advanced in recent years, an increasingly diverse Franco-Ontarian community needs a provincial partner that prioritizes Francophone affairs and commits to concrete results for the Franco-Ontarian community.
There are long-standing challenges faced by Francophones that require immediate attention and provincial support, including access to health care, education, and justice. We envision an Ontario where Franco-Ontarians can access government services in French wherever they need them and that are equal in quality to the services provided to the Anglophone majority. Achieving this vision is critical to the health and well-being of Francophones across the province. Being a strong partner and advocate for the Franco-Ontarian community is central to the identity of a strong Ontario Liberal Party.
Modernize the French Language Services Act. In our first year, the Minister of Francophone affairs will start a province-wide consultation with Franco-Ontarians to update the French Languages Services Act and ensure that Franco-Ontarians can access government services in French across the province. It is critical that as the Act is modernized and French-language services are expanded, we build capacity and address shortages across sectors, including health care. The Act must reflect the realities and needs of Francophones in the 21st century.
Immediately re-establish the French Language Services Commissioner as an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly. Under Doug Ford, the French Language Services Commissioner, which was initially cut entirely by his government, is no longer an independent officer of the legislature, like the integrity commissioner or the auditor general. Further, the role of the commissioner has been diminished. Franco-Ontarians need an effective, independent Francophone voice in the provincial civil service. As we work together toward a more equitable Ontario, it is critical the Commissioner can investigate complaints as desired, advise government freely, and advocate for improvements in the delivery of French language services.
Expand access to health care services in French. French-language healthcare services are not consistently offered in the designated areas and more generally, more Franco-Ontarians need improved access to health care in French. Based on what the new health care system looks like in 2022, we are committed to increasing access to priority care in French, with a particular focus on mental health, home care, and primary care. This commitment will include the development of a Francophone Seniors Strategy, support and funding for expansion of innovative models of service delivery, including telehealth service expansion, and for accelerated health care training to address the lack of human resources in the field of French language health care services.
Defend and uphold Ontario’s French-language education system. K-12 education is widely regarded as the heart of the francophonie in Ontario. Across the province, French-language schools serve as cultural and community hubs and contribute to the protection and growth of French language and culture. There are 12 French-language school boards in Ontario with 470 French-language schools and almost 110,000 students. We will continue to support Francophone students and their families, and work with Ontario’s Francophone community to develop strategies around recruitment and retention of Francophone teachers. It is critical for the future of French language and culture that French-langauge education remains strong.
Commit to funding Ontario’s first French Language University. The provincial and federal governments have signed a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) that formally commits both levels of government to establish the university. Half of the funding for the estimated $126 million project will come from the federal government and the other half from the Government of Ontario. The Province will begin paying for its portion of the agreement in 2023, after the next provincial election. Under no circumstances will our government abandon its commitment to the Francophone community.
Grow the Francophone community in Ontario. Both government and community must work together to attract Francophone immigrants to our province help carry on a French-language tradition in Ontario that dates back over 400 years. We will work collaboratively with the federal government, municipalities, and the Francophone community to attract and retain Francophone immigrants in Ontario. Growing the Francophone community will be a priority for the Ministry of Francophone Affairs and the Office of the Premier. Among other measures, we are committed to enhancing settlement services that would help new immigrants settle in Ontario (and lowering the cost of the French certification test), promoting the benefits of Francophone immigration to employers and Franco-Ontarian communities, and developing a marketing plan to promote French Ontario internationally.
Triple the Francophone Community Grant Program (FCGP). The program was recently expanded for 2019-20 to target both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations but funding needs to increase to match the increased demand. We will triple the funding for this program, from $1 to $3 million per year, to continue to build the capacity of Francophone organizations across Ontario.
Improve front-line services in French and enhance access to justice in French. The Government of Ontario needs to provide timely and seamless access to justice in French. Progress is being made but we must implement the 2012 Access to Justice in French Report (the product of an important recommendation made by the then-independent French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario) and the subsequent 2015 Enhancing Access to Justice in French report faster and more broadly across Ontario. The current government’s pilot in Sudbury, built on the success of a previous pilot in Ottawa, is a good start, but in 2022 we will have to expand pilots to other Designated Areas with plans to move beyond the pilot stage.
Increase French child care options across the province. Our plan to move towards universal care includes investments in new Francophone licenced child care spaces to meet the growing needs of Franco-Ontarian families. Beyond child care spaces, we know that it is challenging to recruit and retain educators in the sector, especially in rural or remote areas and in programs tailored to the unique needs of Francophone children. We will dedicate specific funding to recruitment in these areas and work with partners (e.g., the College of Early Childhood Educators, Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario, postsecondary institutions and school boards) to address staffing needs, enhance recruitment, and expand interest in early childhood education careers.
Put Franco-Ontarian concerns at the centre of our Party and our government. We will create a position of Francophone Affairs Advisor to the Party Leader and, when in government, to the Premier to be filled by a Franco-Ontarian. The role of this advisor will be to ensure that the Party Leader is fully briefed on all pressing issues and opportunities for progress within Ontario’s Francophone community and, in government, will act as a liaison between the Office of the Premier and the office of the Minister of Francophone Affairs. As Premier, I commit to ensuring Francophones are represented in our government’s cabinet, as Ministers, when we form government in 2022.
In the immediate term, are committed to establishing a network of French volunteers within the party, and promoting the political engagement of Francophone candidates, so we can ensure Francophone issues are central to the Ontario Liberal Party ahead of the next election.