'It's a betrayal' says Sudbury Franco-Ontarian community of cuts at Laurentian University
SUDBURY -- Sudbury's francophone community says the cuts made to programming last at Monday at Laurentian University are a betrayal for everything they fought for in the last few decades.
Many were surprised to learn several programs -- including the midwife program -- were on the list of cuts. It was the only bilingual program of its kind in Ontario.
After learning the school was going to be seeking creditor protection, it formed a coalition with several community leaders to advocate on its behalf.
"The francophones feel Laurentian University has turned its back on them," said coalition spokesperson Denis Constantineau. "For a long time, Laurentian was a pillar in the francophone community. Think of places like Prise de Parole, La Nuit sur L'Étang, Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario, they are huge institutions, cultural events that arose out of Laurentian University. So for a long time, Laurentian invested into the community -- they stopped doing that a long time ago."
Constantineau said they've turned their attention to supporting the University of Sudbury and its efforts to become francophone.
"The morning after all this happened, my son said to me 'if it were today, I couldn't study at Laurentian,'" he said. "He did an undergrad degree in histoire, the French history program, which they shut down and he did his teachers degree teaching intermediate and superior and that program's also shut down."
The executive director of a medical clinic, he said his son is one of many who would have to leave the region to get their education.
Coalition members said they're not buying the administration's promise of continued bilingualism.
"Well, explain how you cut 60 per cent of your French programming and still expect us to accept you or think of you as an ally or somebody there to serve our community," said Joanne Gervais, executive director of L'Association Canadienne-Francaise de l'Ontario.
Cuts were devastating
"I'm a graduate of Laurentian University, my brother is a graduate of Laurentian University, 90 per cent of the people that I know went through the doors of Laurentian University. So there's a really personal side to this and then there's my work side so both sides were really devastated on Monday."
She told CTV News it's hard to believe a university administration that says it wants to preserve the community when 50 to 60 per cent of the French offerings were cut.
"We had a bilingual university, how in God's name do you say you're a bilingual university without a single class or course available in French studies," she asked.
The issue of Laurentian and its French studies is also on the radar of the federal government, which says there's not much it can do because it's out of their jurisdiction.
An emergency debate was held last week, granted to Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus.
"I'm ready to work with them and have many discussions to come, but our provincial partners need to come forward with solutions and we will be there to support them through funding," said Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages Melanie Joly.
Laurentian University was also a topic inside the Quebec National Assembly. Jean-Marc Dalpé is one of the most important voices in Franco-Ontarian literature. He made headlines this week with an open letter he wrote to Laurentian president Robert Haché.
In it, he expressed outrage over the cuts and what's happened to staff and faculty. The author and playwright also renounced his honorary doctorate that he was given in 2002.
Gutted like a fish
"What the restructuring has done is it has gutted, like a fish, that Laurentian University that gave me that doctorate," said Dalpé. "They've taken all the innards out and some of the most essential innards if I may before I go on with this metaphor."
Dalpé said winning the degree had meant a lot to him, but this Laurentian was not the same school that had awarded it to him almost 20 years ago.
"There was some very chosen words that were coming out of my mouth," he laughed. "We're definitely not the only ones, though."
He says his heart goes out to those in the Indigenous community and the anglophone community who are also being impacted by the move.
After speaking with friends, he thought this was something he could do to stand with those affected by the cuts.
"Un geste de solidarité - solidarity with the students who lost, so many of them lost so much on Monday and, of course, the staff," he said.
He said the coalition has his full support and that the Franco-Ontarian people have been fighting this cause for more than 100 years.
"To see that there is a whole new generation coming up that isn't afraid to do the work, taking up the fight, it's something that warms the heart," he said.
Dalpé himself is no stranger to northern Ontario, with his work at Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario. He won the Governor General's Award on three occasions. He has high hopes for the University of Sudbury's efforts to create a francophone institution.
"Youth have to have an opportunity to study in their language, at home or close to home," he said. "When these institutions were created, they were gains because there wasn't anything before. These are schools that we invested in because they helped us get to where we are today."