Sudbury coalition intends to take back French programming from Laurentian University

A coalition to establish a French language university in Sudbury — for and by francophones — is preparing to repatriate French programming from Laurentian University. The challenge comes even as Laurentian continues to portray itself as the biggest bilingual university in northeastern Ontario with a bright future.

Coalition has written of its intentions to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities

Laurentian severed ties with its federated partners including the University of Sudbury on April 12, in a move that saw many French culture and language courses cancelled. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

A coalition to establish a French language university in Sudbury, for and by francophones, is preparing to repatriate French programming from Laurentian University.

The challenge comes even as Laurentian continues to portray itself as the biggest bilingual university in northeastern Ontario with a bright future — despite recent cuts to English and French programming during an ongoing financial crisis. 

Both the president of Laurentian and members of the northern Ontario coalition for a French university made their cases to the Standing Committee on Official Languages, June 3.

President Robert Haché says French programming at Laurentian is extremely important, and after cuts, the institution continues to offer 28 consolidated undergraduate programs and five graduate programs in French. 

Laurentian University President Robert Haché was questioned about whether Laurentian intends to continue offering French programming at the Standing Committee on Official Languages. He says it does. (Parliament of Canada)

"Our francophone students continue to have a variety of French language courses to choose from in their programs," Haché told the committee.

"I want to underscore that enrolment in our French language programs has been increasing over time. This matters greatly, contrary to the general trend in northern Ontario's declining population base."

He said strong French language program enrolment is a sign that French and francophone students and their communities remain engaged in what la Larentienne has to offer.

"We look forward to serving francophone communities in the north, across Ontario, Canada and beyond for many years to come."

However, there will be a challenge to Laurentian's ability to offer French language programs in the future. It comes from the Coalition nord-ontarienne pour une université francophone, formed after Laurentian cut ties with its federated partner, the University of Sudbury.

University of Sudbury had been a founding school of Laurentian and had an agreement to oversee the delivery of French language and culture programs, as well as Indigenous programs, to Laurentian students.

That federation was unilaterally terminated by Laurentian in April and Haché announced the intention of Laurentian to deliver French programs using its own faculty and resources to save money during restructuring.

The programs offered by the University of Sudbury were cancelled.

Denis Constantineau is the spokesperson for a coalition working to create an autonomous French university in Sudbury. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Denis Constantineau, spokesperson for the coalition to create a French university in Sudbury, told the committee the community has lost faith in Laurentian.

"By cutting those programs, Laurentian University is depriving the community of its leaders," said Constantineau.

"It is removing sources of essential knowledge from the community. It is also obliging many young francophones and francophiles to study elsewhere in Ontario, with all the costs that engenders that. [It] is amplifying the regional exodus of young people to cities, something that is already too big a problem in many of our communities."

The president of the board of regents for the University of Sudbury says the coalition is gearing up for a constitutional fight.

Pierre Riopel says there was no consultation or consideration of the impact of cutting the French programming.

"In light of these events, the University of Sudbury is now devoting all its efforts to a new future," said Riopel.

"We have retained legal counsel, including constitutional lawyer Ronald Caza, and passed two resolutions on March 11, one of which was to transform the University of Sudbury into the Sudbury French Language University." 

Riopel is also asking for Queen's Park to set up an implementation committee to examine how to structure the university and its offerings.

He mentioned that, just that morning, he had finalized a letter to the Minister of Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano.

He told the committee that time is of the essence.

"What we're asking is programs to be immediately repatriated from Laurentian University to Sudbury. Time flies. This is a very ambitious effort."


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