The provincial government’s rejection early this summer of the University of Sudbury’s proposal to create a French-language university came up often at a celebration of Franco-Ontarian Day on Laurentian University’s campus on Sept. 25.
The Franco-Ontarian flag was first raised on the Laurentian campus outside of the University of Sudbury, or Université de Sudbury, as the formerly federated university has now rebranded itself, on Sept. 25, 1975. That day is now commemorated across the province each Sept. 25 as Franco-Ontarian Day.
On June 30, the province of Ontario said the Université de Sudbury funding request to create a standalone Francophone university in Sudbury “does not reflect the current demand and enrolment trends.”
This is especially true, the statement continued, because there is already “existing capacity” in Greater Sudbury and across Ontario to offer French-language programming.
‘We’re going to keep fighting’
Joanne Gervais, executive director of Association canadienne française de l'Ontario (ACFO) du Grand Sudbury, said despite the province’s answer, the Francophone community will not be letting the matter go.
“We've been asking for a French university in Northern Ontario for 50 years now,” she said, speaking to Sudbury.com at the Franco-Ontarian Day event. “Even the creators of this flag were asking for an independent Francophone university. If Mr. Ford thinks that because they've refused us once that we're just going to let it go, it’s clear he doesn't know the community and he doesn't know our history.
“Everything we've ever gotten, we've had to fight for it, and we're going to keep fighting for the French university till we have it.”
Given that the Francophone population is a minority in Ontario, “there’s always going to be all kinds of problems, all kinds of roadblocks,” Gervais added. “We've come to terms with that. But we’re going to just keep pushing.”
Université de Sudbury president Serge Miville said in refusing funding for the Francophone university project, the province did say it would continue dialogue with the educational institution.
“So we're just working towards a new revised plan that will be truly partnership-driven to ensure that we're able to give services to students as soon as possible,” said Miville, who did not clarify what this project is, other than to confirm it still would be a Francophone university.
“We're pretty confident we have something really interesting that's in the works.”
Asked if he thinks the province will give a different answer this time, he said “the province has its reasons, I suppose. We're not getting too distracted by that, and we're working on getting something that's even better than what we've had.”
Two Franco-Ontarian flag-raisings, one campus, one morning
The Francophone student association at Laurentian, l'Association des Étudiantes et Étudiants Francophones (AEF), actually held two Franco-Ontarian flag-raisings in celebration of Franco-Ontarian Day on Laurentian’s campus in short succession Monday morning.
The first was held at the Université de Sudbury, which is located on Laurentian University’s campus. The second was held immediately afterwards a short walk away, in founder’s square on Laurentian’s campus, outside of the Parker Building.
A flag representing Indigenous peoples was also raised during the second event.
Greater Sudbury Mayor Paul Lefebvre attended both flag-raisings, as did Université de Sudbury president Serge Miville and ACFO Sudbury executive director Joanne Gervais.
Laurentian University interim president Sheila Embleton attended only the flag-raising outside of the Parker Building, saying she would have attended both, but had a scheduling conflict.
AEF president Nawfal Sbaa explained the dual flag-raisings by saying the student association wanted to hold an event at the Université de Sudbury, because that’s where Franco-Ontarian Day celebrations have traditionally been held.
The second flag-raising outside of the Parker Building, followed by a free lunch, was held there so as to be accessible to students, said Sbaa.
Following the severing of Laurentian’s relationship with the U of S during its 2021-22 insolvency, and with the Francophone university project being unsuccessful to date, no classes are currently being held at the Université de Sudbury, although its residence is open.
Laurentian’s interim president talks rebuilding relationships
During Laurentian’s insolvency, the university, which is a bilingual and tricultural institution, cut 29 French-language programs, a situation which was found to breach the French-language Services Act.
During the Franco-Ontarian Day event, Sudbury.com spoke to Laurentian interim president Sheila Embleton about what steps Laurentian is taking to improve French-language education at LU.
“We still have 34 programs in French, but we're doing a strategic planning process at the moment,” she said. “Out of that should come recommendations for additional programs in English and in French, and, you know, possibly programs that are in English only at the moment, but we need to add a French version of it and so on. So we don't really know what will be coming, but we would assume some expansion.”
The Université de Sudbury has demanded that all French-language programs currently offered at Laurentian, as well as the ones that were cut, be transferred to the U of S, a suggestion rebuffed by Laurentian’s insolvency lawyers.
While Université de Sudbury has not to date received provincial funding for its French-language university project, Embleton said she sees the need to co-operate and co-ordinate with the neighbouring educational institution.
“We can’t end up competing, because it’s just not possible financially and with a fairly small enrolment base to offer competing programs in any particular discipline,” she said. “It would have to be in co-operation. So whether that's jointly, or they have some, and we have some, whatever, I don't know.”
Asked if relationships need to be repaired with the Francophone community following actions taken during LU’s insolvency, Embleton said “there’s relationships to repair with all of the communities.
“It's a tough time for the community,” she added. “But hopefully one builds back, and at some point, it will be behind us. It will have moved further on.”
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s assistant editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.