GUEST COLUMN: Ford’s attack on French-language services should concern us all

Jordan Hurtubise, 16, of St. Francois Xavier secondary school, waves the banner proudly during a special ceremony held to honour Sarnia’s deep francophone roots and the 40th anniversary of the Franco-Ontarian flag on Sept. 22, 2016. Glenn Ogilvie

Christopher Ralph

I understand it’s commonly accepted by most Canadians that politicians lie. Usually, we shrug and move on – as is the Canadian way.

However, there are rare moments when those broken promises truly affect a vulnerable population, which can set a community back decades. Such broken promises merit intervention, and retraction. At the very least, they merit justification.

Premier Doug Ford has broken promises he made to our community during his campaign. This is not unique among premiers, and I don’t want this column to be viewed as partisan by singling out Ford in exclusivity.

However, his decision to attack Franco-Ontarians by removing protections guaranteed under the French Language Services Act, hamper the ability of the government to deliver services to French speakers by downgrading the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, and cancelling a proposed French-language university in Toronto, have rightly outraged Francophones and linguistic minorities across Canada.

Sarnians should be outraged as well and stand with their Francophone and Francophile neighbours in demanding these services be restored.

The creation of the Act received unanimous consent – from Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP – in the legislative assembly. Creating a province for everyone is non-partisan, and is both sensible and just.

French-language services are cheap and do not affect our (colossal) budget deficit in any meaningful way. Likewise, they are replicated across the country.

Most provinces, including neighbouring Québec, have both a language commissioner in their minority language and several full universities. In Québec, both McGill and Concordia are fully English, and independent.

For Sarnians, this issue is especially poignant. Like many municipalities across the country, Sarnia was founded by French-Canadian voltigeurs and their families on land granted by the Crown for their service in the War of 1812.

Plaques dedicated to the French fact in Sarnia, as well as its founding, stand in Point Edward and along Sarnia’s waterfront today. There are French schools, and every day, hundreds of Sarnians live, work and play in their mother tongue; alongside their English-speaking counterparts.

Bilingualism is part of what it means to be Canadian. It is part of Sarnia’s history, and part of Ontario’s identity. Sarnians, including the new members of city council, should stand with the hundreds of mayors, premiers, members of Parliament and the prime minister in demanding Franco-Ontarians receive the same protections as everyone else.

Mahatama Ghandi once remarked “the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” We should aspire to equality and greatness together, not division and Francophobia.

Ottawa-area resident Christopher Ralph grew up in Sarnia, holds degrees in Law and Political Science, and donated the Franco-Ontarian flag that flies in Seaway Park.