The creation of a stand-alone ministry of francophone affairs drew mixed reactions from political pundits and opposition parties Monday after Premier Kathleen Wynne details of a mini shuffle in her cabinet.
The premier announced the Office of Francophone Affairs Ontario will now be a full-fledged ministry.
It was one of the details announced at a press conference, including Glen Murray's departure from his post as environment minister to pursue a position with the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank.
Marie-France Lalonde was already responsible for francophone affairs and will now become the minister of the file, the premier said. The Ottawa-Orléans MPP also continues as Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Her new ministry will not have a supplementary budget at this time, Lalonde said.
"The creation of an autonomous department gives even greater weight to the fact that the Ontario government recognizes that the francophone population, its culture and its language, are a dynamic part of life in Ontario," Lalonde said.
Tactic to court francophone voters
Peter Graefe, a political scientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, said he views the announcement as a way for the Liberals to retain their electorate with less than a year left until the provincial election, while Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown, too, is trying to court francophone voters.
"There is no greater capacity to broaden the range of services or projects simply because it is a ministry," Graefe said.
Brown called the new ministry a "distraction tactic" and said he expected more concrete action for the Franco-Ontarian community.
The NDP were also critical of Monday's announcement. The party's spokesperson for francophone affairs, France Gélinas, said the announcement should have included details on additional funding.
"[That means] more administration, not more resources to do things on the ground. I do not think we're going in the right direction," Gélinas said.
She acknowledged, however, that a standalone ministry is a "small victory for francophones in Ontario," but added time will tell if it really advances francophone issues, pointing to examples such as the Franco-Ontarian university and the reform to the French Language Services Act.
Francophone organizations applaud new ministry
The association canadienne-française de l'Ontario, in the Windsor-Essex-Chatham-Kent region, welcomed the news Monday morning. The association's president, Elizabeth Brito, said southwestern Ontario is still fighting for services it deems essential for francophones.
"We have a history of fighting to be able to educate ourselves in French," Brito said. "But at the health and the legal level, it is equally important. There are still gaps. We need health professionals and lawyers who speak French to help francophones in their daily lives."
Other organizations, including the réseau de développement économique et d'employabilité (RDÉE) and l'assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario (AFO), also applauded the creation of the new ministry.
Lalonde said Monday the French university project in the Toronto region will still go ahead, but didn't confirm where there would be a building or online courses.
An announcement is expected in the coming weeks, she said.