Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see you and all my colleagues this evening. I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague, the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance.
The reason we are gathered here this evening is a sad one. Laurentian University is an institution that makes a tremendous contribution to the region's economic development, but it is also a flagship institution for official languages because it offers courses in French to northern Ontario's francophone population as well as programs for the indigenous community, as some members have mentioned. As such, we are gathered here this evening out of a sense of solidarity, and I want to thank my colleagues for taking the time to share their perspectives, contribute to the debate and, ultimately, find solutions to this problem.
My government and I are extremely concerned about the cuts at Laurentian University. It breaks our hearts, and it breaks my heart, to hear about the professors and researchers who have lost their jobs and the students who will not be able to finish their degrees because their programs were cancelled. We have to be cognizant of their reality, we have to be there for them and we have to work with them to find solutions.
Of course, I am extremely saddened by the stories we have all heard about students, French-speaking students and English-speaking students, who have lost a lot of opportunities to continue to study in their region of northern Ontario.
The situation calls for clear direction and problem solving.
Since coming to power in 2015, our government has taken several measures to rebuild bridges with francophone communities across the country and to protect the linguistic rights of people who are fighting every day to be able to speak French.
For instance, there was the historic $2.7-billion investment to help our communities, as well as the funding to build the Place des Arts in Sudbury, which I had the opportunity to announce with my colleague, the member for Sudbury.
There are many more examples that demonstrate how proactive we have been when it comes to official languages. Ontario's French-language university, the first university by and for francophones, is one example. Let us not forget the cuts made by Radio-Canada in Windsor and at other French-language stations in Ontario. We were able to reverse those cuts and invest $175 million. Let us not forget the census issue either, or the changes made to part IV of the Official Languages Act to increase services offered in French by federal institutions. We have been extremely proactive.
In order to keep our official language communities strong and enable them to continue speaking French, both now and generations from now, we know that they need strong institutions. The very existence of these communities is at stake, along with their survival and, of course, their future prosperity. That is why we decided to go above and beyond investments, to get to the very heart of the system that protects our language rights in Canada, and to modernize the Official Languages Act.
Over 50 years ago, Canada came up with a way to protect our language rights. All members know that we have agreements with the provinces and territories regarding education. Through these agreements, we help the French and French-as-a-second-language education systems. During our time in office, we have increased the funding transferred to the provinces. In 2018, we increased funding by $60 million.
We want to go even further because we know that education does not just involve elementary and secondary school. We need to recognize that children whose parents want to ensure that they can continue to speak the minority language must also be able to go to day care in the minority language, which is French in this case, and that, of course, the education continuum then needs to continue through elementary school, high school and post-secondary studies.
That is why our reform recognizes the importance of the education continuum. We need to protect the institutions and recognize the education continuum. We need to work with the provinces to do that because we are operating within a federal system that provides for two things.
First, the Constitution provides for linguistic rights based on our two official languages, and the federal government is responsible for protecting those rights. It also provides for a division of powers. Education is a provincial jurisdiction. The Supreme Court had many opportunities to establish a clear precedent in that regard. Just last summer, with the British Columbia school boards, the Supreme Court stated that both official languages had to be truly equal and that provinces had to play their part in financing their education system in the minority language, in this case French.
Whether it is Campus Saint-Jean or Laurentian University, provinces need to be at the table and find concrete solutions to make sure that the francophone minority and francophiles have access to high quality post-secondary education in their region, like every citizen should.
Regarding Laurentian University, which is the subject of tonight's debate, I had a chance to talk with the Ontario minister of education and the Ontario minister of francophone affairs. It goes without saying that they have to play their part in finding a solution to protect a French-language post-secondary institution in northern Ontario. I am prepared to have many conversations with them. At the end of the day, they have to be able to come up with a solution, and we will be there at the table to help them financially. We will be there because we believe, as the federal government, that we have to protect the linguistic rights that fall under our jurisdiction in accordance with the Constitution. However, the groundwork has to be done at the provincial level.
The province is facing a major language crisis. It must acknowledge that and take action. It should be able to find solutions. It is not normal to find ourselves in a situation where a public university has to go to court when there are management problems. In those circumstances, we will certainly be there to help the community find solutions and to make sure that funding is available. For our education system to work, we must also make sure that provinces are accountable.
What is happening now is especially dramatic because some programs were abolished, namely the midwife program. Such a cut has devastating effects on a whole generation of francophones because the program offered by the Laurentian University was the only public health education program offered outside Quebec. It was a key program for women’s health, especially in Canada's Far North. As we can see, it has a very real impact. We must be able to work with the province and with the community to fund education programs in that field.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the really important quality work which the members for Sudbury and for Nickel Belt have been doing for years. My colleagues are very much in touch with their community and are proud Franco-Ontarians. I know they do a great job in defending the interests of their fellow citizens. I also know that they maintain an ongoing dialogue with people like Stéphane Gauthier and Denis Constantineau, who are involved in trying to find solutions to strengthen the French fact in northern Ontario.
Franco-Ontarians and Sudburians are resilient. We will stand by them and help them defend their language rights and ensure the sustainability of the French fact in Sudbury, in northern Ontario and across Canada.
I look forward to questions from my colleagues.