The list of names has now reached about 11,000 on a petition against the Ontario government’s plans to halt a French-language public university project.

The petition was started by Ottawa resident Clayre Bertrand.

Locally, Pierre Daignault, Vice President of the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario (ACFO) de Prescott-Russell said they are working with the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) on efforts to reverse the government’s decision and to ensure adequate public services are provided to francophone residents of the province.

Daignault had worried that on January 15, the funding that the previous provincial Liberal government had provided for the proposed university would end.

But a few days ago, the federal government stepped in, announcing that it would provide $1.9 million to a team working on the school project. Federal Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie Melanie Joly is quoted as saying that she was concerned about the impact of the Ontario government withdrawing funds for the French-language university, saying that the project was greatly supported across the country. Despite the federal funding announcement, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the university project will not go ahead.

The start-up of the new university was being coordinated through Ryerson University in Toronto. The francophone campus itself was to be located on the downtown Toronto waterfront and serve francophone students from the central and southwestern regions of the province.

“It’s a question of having place, it’s a question of principle,” Daignault said about the need for a French-only university.

He said Québec has three English-language public universities and has a population of 800,000 anglophones and Ontario has 600,000 francophones. He added that even French-language universities in Québec are also offering English-language programs.

A French-language university could end up having positive effects for francophone communities across the province because graduates could live and work in those places, according to Daignault and in addition, the system could also grow to multiple campuses, like the Université du Québec (UQ) network.

With Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Amanda Simard no longer in the governing Progressive Conservative caucus due to her departure in protest of cancelling the university and the government’s changes to other francophone services, Daignault said it could be a challenge to ensure the government gets the message from the local francophone community.

However, he hopes that Premier Doug Ford’s recently-appointed senior policy advisor on francophone affairs, Marilissa Gosselin, can explain the francophone community’s point of view successfully to the Premier.