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Surprise, disappointment over provincial government decision on French-language university in the north

There continues to be a lot of surprise and disappointment over the Ontario government's decision to not fund Université de Sudbury (U of S) as the province's next stand-alone French-language university.

"I think we're surprised actually, concerned and surprised by what we've learned late this afternoon,” said Serge Miville, president of U of S, speaking with CTV News on Friday.

“Surprised because the province has had the business plan for well over six months at this point and all of the feedback that we've received so far has been highly positive, very constructive, our discussions on almost a weekly basis have been ongoing and encouraging."

Miville said there seems to be a huge difference in the dialogue on when the project began and the actual decision that was reached on Friday.

A statement to the media, from the press secretary of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, outlining the decision not to fund U of S stated the current demand and enrolment trends, especially given what she said was the already existing capacity of post-secondary institutions to offer French-language programs in Greater Sudbury and across Ontario.

"The Ministry considered a number of factors to reach this decision, and it is one that we have not made lightly. This includes the independent Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board's organization review," the statement read.

"Hearst is well over 600 kilometres away from Sudbury and Toronto is well over 400 kilometres and we certainly don't want to send our youth more and more to Toronto, we want to keep our talent up north and attract new talent," said Miville.

“Obvioiusly we're going to have to analyze this decision and determine what the next steps are. I feel like it's an ongoing dialogue, its hard news to hit us today but we're not giving up. We're resolved at going forward because our market study, the analysis we made of the labour market and the needs seemed very clear there was a need for this."

Greater Sudbury Mayor Paul Lefebvre, a Francophone himself, released a statement late Friday night. In it he writes:

"Today’s news that the Université de Sudbury will not be receiving funding from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities is disappointing for many residents in Greater Sudbury. I encourage the province, our post-secondary institutions, and the Francophone community to work together to ensure high-quality programs are offered to all students."

The province also said in its statement that student trends were shifting towards science, technology and trades. Miville said that doesn't mean they weren't planning to offer something or can't offer something similar in French.

"We're really trying to do a partnership-based establishment that gives students the programming they need to succeed in today's market, a really dynamic market. A 21st-century economy that's booming up north,” said Miville.

“I think there is still a need and we're not going to let this discourage us in the future."

Sudbury MPP Jamie West also expressed his disappoint with decision to CTV News.

"Yeah it's very frustrating news, all bad news comes out on Friday afternoon, especially on the eve of Canada Day,” said West.

“I think the Ford government is hoping people won't pay attention but this has been their track record for the last five years, they haven't been friendly to the Francophone community and frankly I don't think they understand how it important it is to learn in French. Traditionally bilingual means if there are 20 people in a room and one person speaks English then everyone speaks English.”

West said the people of Sudbury have been very clear, the Francophone community wants a university that is by, for and with the Francophone people.

"Doug Ford is not listening to this, I've had conversations with the minister and I've been told that we're okay because there is one in Toronto and one in Hearst. Those are four hours away, those aren't going to service the people of northern Ontario and around the community of Sudbury so very disappointing news," West added.

He said the French community has a history of having to fight for the ability to learn in French and it shows how 'out-of-touch' decision-makers are.

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas told CTV News on Saturday that she was shocked at the decision and did not see it coming – Greater Sudbury has 8,000 kids that come out of French schools every single year.

"The body of evidence that shows that we have enough people to support a French university and then we get this announcement 4:30 on a Friday night before the long weekend," said Gélinas.

“That tells me they’re ashamed of what they’re doing."

The Nickel Belt MPP said her team will regroup next week to figure out the next steps for U of S – "But I'm not giving up. I don’t give up easy. We won't stop fighting."

"It's embarrassing to have the Ford government sneak this out on the Friday before Canada Day and to hope it will get lost in the papers,” said West.

“The people of Greater Sudbury will not forget and the Francophone community will not forget this."

“I did not see this coming at all – I talked to Jill Dunlop up to the last day that we were at Queens Park. It seemed that they understood how important (this) is,” Gélinas added.

"Education is a provincial responsibility and this government isn’t taking their responsibility towards the Francophone young people in northern Ontario."

CTV News did offer the Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop the chance for an interview, which was declined.

We've also reached out to other area politicians and members of the committee who had been working to help establish the school, whom have not yet responded.

The decision comes a little over a year after the federal government pledged $2 million to help get the school off the ground.

With files from CTV News Northern Ontario video journalist Amanda Hicks

There isn’t enough demand to justify turning the University of Sudbury into a standalone French-language university, the province announced Friday afternoon. (File photo/Jaime McKee/CTV News Northern Ontario) Top Stories


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