Ontario Francophone services debate sees return of 'anti-French, anti-minority' groups

The controversy over Francophone services in Ontario is re-igniting a debate over bilingualism that's been dormant for a decade or more.
Bilingualism historian Matthew Hayday says the controversy over French language services in Ontario has wide-ranging implications and is far from a provincial "tiff." (CBC)

The controversy over Francophone services in Ontario is re-igniting a debate over bilingualism that's been dormant for a decade or more.

"This has become a national issue," University of Guelph historian Matthew Hayday says of the furor over the scrapping of a French-only university and changes to the French language commissioner.

"This is not just a minor tiff in the province of Ontario."

Hayday studies the history of language politics in Canada and is the author of So They Want Us to Learn French: Promoting and Opposing Bilingualism in English-Speaking Canada.

These largely administrative changes by the Ontario government come amidst what Hayday calls a "perfect storm" that includes the rise of anti-bilingualism politicians in New Brunswick, media commentators dismissing Francophone communities outside Quebec and the global shift toward anti-minority populist politics.

Hayday says he's also seeing the return of anti-bilingualism groups, using some of the same arguments from the 1980s and 1990s, chief among them that French services are too expensive for taxpayers. 

Protests by Franco Ontarians are being planned outside of the offices of 40 MPPs across the province this Saturday. (Colin Côté-Paulette/Radio-Canada)

"This is an argument that's been used for a long time. That somehow the economic costs of bilingualism outweigh the benefits," says Hayday. 

"You know if you dig slightly below the surface, you can see anti-French, anti-minority sentiments underpinning them."

One of the groups Hayday mentions is Canadians for Language Fairness.

But spokesperson Jean-Serge Brisson says they are not prejudiced against any particular linguistic group, just concerned about how "the push for bilingualism has gone further than serving the public."

He says Franco-Ontarians have been "suckered by their emotions" in choosing to protest the Ontario government's recent moves.

"It's a tempest in a teapot. It has nothing to do with culture, it has everything to do with a government wanting to be efficient," says Brisson. 

"There are things that are more important than culture. Like a job."

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca