Analysis

Wynne shoring up francophone support in eastern Ontario

Ontario's francophones have historically voted Liberal. But in this unpredictable election, taking the francophone vote for granted is something the Liberals cannot afford to do.

Liberals can't take support of region's French-speakers for granted this election

Although francophones have traditionally voted Liberal, Leader Kathleen Wynne is finding it necessary to try to shore up support among French-speaking voters this election. (CBC)

In the five years since she's been premier, Kathleen Wynne's French has improved dramatically.

But the Liberal leader knows it's not exactly parfait.

"I can hardly claim to be perfectly fluent in French, we all know that," she told folks Thursday at Mouvement d'implication francophone d'Orléans, a largely French-language community centre in Ottawa's eastern-most suburb.

Still, she said she tries "very hard" because she thinks being able to communicate in French is extremely important, adding that her mother sent her and her sisters to French-language classes in Grades 7 and 8 because the language wasn't taught in middle school in the 1960s.

It was a direct appeal to a community that has historically voted Liberal anyway. But in this unpredictable election, taking the francophone vote for granted is something the Liberals cannot afford to do.

That's why, with just a week left until voting day on June 7, Wynne was in eastern Ontario trying to shore up support for her incumbents there.

Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne visited a French community centre in Orléans Thursday, May 31, along with the St. Albert Cheese factory. 0:51

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Wynne started her day in Orléans, which includes a significant francophone community, has been Liberal since 2003, and where incumbent Marie-France Lalonde won by a whopping 20-point margin in 2014.

But Orléans is also something of a swing riding in that it changes with government, which is one reason why observers believe PC candidate Cameron Montgomery has a chance to take that riding.

She then moved onto Glengarry–Prescott–Russell, a largely rural and largely francophone riding just east of Ottawa that's also home to the famed St-Albert cheese factory.

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and local candidates visit with patrons of the Mouvement d'implication francophone d'Orléans, a French-language community centre in Ottawa's east end. (CBC)

Glengarry–Prescott–Russell has only voted Liberal since it was created in 1999. Now, the possibility of a Tory win there is real.

And that's why the Liberal leader was in eastern Ontario Thursday, reminding folks that it was a Liberal government that protected French as an official language in Ottawa under provincial legislation. It was a Liberal government that renovated and built 60 French-language schools, and that will launch a review to improve the French Language Services Act, Wynne said.

As for her competitors, Wynne said PC Leader Doug Ford seems to think francophones only live in Quebec, while the NDP's Andrea Horwath has ignored Franco-Ontarians in her platform.

'A tough election'

When a CBC reporter asked if she was on a "save-the-furniture" tour, Wynne laughed and said she's "travelling the province … talking to candidates from all over."

But she conceded the Liberals are in a fierce fight.

"Look, we know this is a tough election, we know this is a tough election all over the province," Wynne said. "We need to talk to as many people we can in as many corners of the province."

There are 622,000 francophones in Ontario. And if Wynne hopes to hang onto the ridings like the ones she visited Thursday, they'll all have to vote Liberal.

About the Author

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.