The Université de l’Ontario français will exist, someday, somehow.
The Ontario government had cancelled its financial support for the project in 2018, after the Progressive Conservative election win in a round of cuts to francophone public services across the province.
But on September 7, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Ross Romano and federal Minister of Tourism, Official Languages, and La Francophonie Mélanie Joly signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) to work toward the establishment of the university, which was initially to be in Toronto.
The MOU establishes a due diligence process before any funding is granted to the university’s governance council. Funding negotiations will begin once that process is complete.
The provincial and federal governments will follow existing practices on intergovernmental co-operation in educational projects. The federal contribution will not exceed 50 per cent of the costs incurred by Ontario.
The federal government will provide 100 per cent of the costs for the first four years of the project but wants to be reimbursed for the provincial share of the costs. It is seeking assurance from Ontario that it will reimburse the federal government of its share of the expenses if the province cannot provide its share of the funding.
The previous cancellation of the French-language university project was one of the reasons that Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Amanda Simard left the Progressive Conservative Caucus in November 2018 and currently sits as an independent in the legislature.
The MPP praised the efforts of the francophone community in the riding and across Ontario during the recent months to keep plans for the new university alive.
“A very big thank you to the federal government and Minister Joly for intervening in this matter who actually resurrected the project so that we could reach this key stage – while others had completely abandoned us,” said Simard in a statement.
However, in an interview on September 13, Simard speculated that the provincial government agreed to the MOU in order to help the federal Conservatives in the current election campaign and that only the federal government was really interested in moving the plan forward.
Even though the MOU means the university is again likely to become a reality, Simard is not indicating any plans to return to the PC caucus.
“I’ve lost confidence in the governing party. The trust is no longer there,” she said.
As for the possibility of joining the Liberal caucus at Queen’s Park, Simard is not sure that is a possibility either. The Liberals, who currently have just six MPP’s in the legislature, are selecting their new party leader on March 7. Depending on the outcome of that contest, Simard will evaluate if she will consider joining the Liberals.
“The leader has a big influence on the party,” she noted.
Simard does not think being an independent MPP puts her at a disadvantage and is confident she can provide support to her constituents.
“I’m able to make up my own mind about different issues,” she explained.
However, Simard said being an independent MPP is harder work because she does not have access to the research material that members of party caucuses have. Between her constituency office in Hawkesbury and office in Toronto, she has one full-time, and two part-time staffers.