The decision of Ontario’s conservative government to pull the plug on the process of creating a standalone French university in Sudbury, 400 km north of Toronto, came as a surprise to both the francophone organisations that had been working with the government for three years and Sudbury member of the provincial parliament, Jamie West.
“Following careful review, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) has determined that the proposal from the Université de Sudbury (UdS), including the request for funding to create a standalone French-language university, does not reflect current demand and enrolment trends, especially given the already expanding capacity of postsecondary institutions to offer French-language programs in the Greater Sudbury area and across Ontario.
“As a result, the Ministry will not provide funding to the university,” the MCU said in a terse three paragraph statement.
In time-honoured fashion for announcing news that governments would like to be overlooked, noted West, a member of the official opposition New Democratic Party, the government announced the decision late on Friday before a long weekend.
“I think this shows that the government was a little embarrassed, making the announcement at 4.30pm on the Friday before Canada Day, which was Saturday [1 July]. And making it very late in the day hoping that the media wouldn’t pick up on it because it wouldn’t have time to react before the six o’clock news. And, then, Canada Day would dominate the headlines for the weekend and people would forget about it.”
Although francophone groups have advocated for a French language university in the province’s north for decades, the most recent push began in mid-2021 after the province allowed the bilingual Laurentian University (LU) in Sudbury to become the first publicly funded entity in Canada to enter creditor protection after declaring insolvency. The government of Doug Ford had refused a request for a CAD$100 million (US$0.75 million) emergency loan by the regional university that had an accumulated debt of CAD$322 million.
One of the fallouts of Laurentian’s financial crisis was its decision to pull out of the six-decade old federation with three other small universities and UdS, which had been founded by the Jesuits in 1913 as Collège du Sacré-Cœur. Following its bankruptcy, LU, which held UdS’ charter and had operated as a bilingual university, cut dozens of French programs.
Among the 24 French undergraduate programs cut were bio-medicine and, surprisingly given that Sudbury is the centre of nickel mining in Canada, mining, as well as four French masters programs. As University World News reported at the time, LU also cut the majority of its Indigenous Studies programs, the third leg of what LU called its “tri-cultural mandate.”