As political debate in Quebec heats up over the sovereignty movement, Franco-Ontarians here in Sudbury are having their say.

In recent weeks, Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois has re-ignited the threat of an independent Quebec.

At this point, opinion in Sudbury over separatism is split. Much of that is because of uncertainty about the impact separatism would actually have on the Franco Ontarian population.

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A Sudbury expert says the debate over Quebec sovereignty could have some benefits for Franco-Ontarians. (Hilary Duff/CBC)

The co-ordinator of the Franco-Ontarian Institute at Laurentian University said Franco-Ontarians are caught in the middle when it comes to the sovereignty debate.

"We can't identify to the version of Canadian nationalism that is bilingualism, yes, but kind of marginal and a melting pot, and Quebec nationalism where they aren't even conscious we exist,” Serge Dupuis said.

Franco-Ontarians have always had a unique relationship with Quebec, he noted. Franco-Onarians in Quebec are sometimes treated more like another minority group, despite being French-speaking.

Making progress on Francophone issues

At College Boreal, the French-language college in Sudbury, the opinion about separatism also goes both ways.

"I think it's a bad move on their part. We should be uniting, not separating, work as one,” said Claude Caron, Franco Ontarian.

Arts student Laurence Moreau had this to say:

“I think it's a good idea, but not now because the government is too Conservative. We need to have a younger mind in the government, and after that I think it will be okay to separate."

Dupuis said about 22 per cent of the Franco-Ontarian population polled at the time of the 1995 Quebec Referendum were in favour of sovereignty.

Ultimately, the Franco-Ontarian population makes gains when the issue of Quebec sovereignty comes to the fore, Dupuis noted.

"It was during the Meech Lake Accord, and the negotiations for that, that ultimately led to the federal government and Ontario government to create the first French-language colleges like La Cite Collegiale and College Boreal,” he said.

Dupuis, who is also a historian looking into French speaking minorities, noted that Ontario didn't have French public high schools until the creation of the Parti Quebecois in the late 1960s.