Provincial government reconsiders French-language university

Ontario is reconsidering plans for a proposed French-language university it cancelled late last year, negotiating with the federal government to split the costs of the multimillion-dollar project.

A spokesman for Francophone Affairs Minister Caroline Mulroney said Tuesday that the province and the federal government have been in talks for weeks to secure a potential funding agreement to build the school.

That comes after Ontario said in January that it would not reverse the cancellation despite an offer from Melanie Joly, the federal Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie, to extend funding for a team working on the project.

“The Ontario government has engaged in a constructive dialogue with Minister Joly on the scope of the potential contribution of the federal government to fund the Universite de l’Ontario francais,” said spokesman Matthew Conway.

The Progressive Conservatives are asking the federal government to contribute $63 million to the project and believe the total price tag — including operational funding — will amount to $126 million.

The initial cost for the project was estimated at $83 million when the plans were first announced by the previous Liberal government in 2017.

Ontario would like to reach an agreement before the federal election this fall, Conway said.

“The Ontario government is currently negotiating in good faith with the federal government, which is also seeking an agreement on this important project,” he added.

Controversial project

The provincial Tories scrapped the project in November as part of their effort to balance the books, a move that sparked outrage and protests amongst Franco-Ontarians. The decision prompted Tory legislator Amanda Simard to leave the party caucus and sit as an independent.

The school was to be the first French-only university in the province, which is home to 600,000 francophones, and was set to be located in southwestern Ontario.

Joly’s spokesman Jeremy Ghio said Tuesday that the federal government has been willing to negotiate with the province for months but it has taken time to get Ontario to talk.

“We are still far from a concrete proposal from the province,” he said. “There is a lot of good will. We support the project and we want to move it forward, but we will do our homework diligently and we will not be rushed by last-minute interventions.”

NDP francophone affairs critic Guy Bourgouin said the provincial government has dragged its feet on the discussions with Ottawa for months, delaying progress.

“The people and industries who were counting on it deserve better than for Doug Ford to try to make them a political pawn, playing games with their education, and their constitutional rights,” he said in a statement.

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