Markham designated. Next stop: Oshawa?
A new addition to the list is an event that should not go unsung. On June 30, Markham became the 26th area designated under Ontario’s French Language Services Act. With the announcement by the Office of Francophone Affairs, this major step forward, reflecting the wishes of an entire community, finally became a reality. What does this mean, in concrete terms, for Francophones in this municipality northeast of Toronto?
Effective July 1, 2018, all government ministries and agencies will be required to provide, in Markham, services in French that are equivalent to the services provided in English. High-quality services available in a city of more than 300,000 people. This is not a minor victory. Implicitly, official designation breaks the isolation and creates a network, a circle in the form of a link, demonstrating that other Francophones in this same area also wanted to receive their services in French. As a result, people feel less alone.
Good things come to those who wait. And, in the interim, to those who work hard. We should take this opportunity to commend citizens and Francophone organizations in the area for the years of work they have put into this project. Since the early 2010s, the Association des francophones de la région de York (AFRY) (in French) has held many talks, meetings and consultations to ensure that the desire for French-language services in the area is fulfilled and realized through designation. With a vision for the future, the AFRY, from its head office in Aurora, was able to mobilize Francophones in the York region. This is exactly the kind of approach recommended in the 2011-2012 annual report of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner, entitled Straight Forward. In the report, support is viewed as a new criterion for the approval of designations. That support, that commitment, can take different, varied forms. People send letters and meet with elected representatives and, eventually, they get service in French, in their native language. It’s not just a nice story.
Next stop: Oshawa
Now we turn to the profile of another municipality, this one located east of Toronto. You can get there on Highway 401, or on the Go train, rocked by the gentle swaying of the rails and, through the window, the waves of Lake Ontario. Next stop: Oshawa.
In this city of more than 140,000, the members of the Francophone community are working hard to get designated-area status. ACFO-Durham-Peterborough’s designation committee is redoubling its efforts, holding talks and meetings with the various levels of governments to advance its case. The committee has given up on official designation for the Durham region to focus its efforts on Oshawa. Just like Markham, Oshawa has a growing Francophone population.
Following the completion on May 25 of public consultations on the designation of Oshawa, the matter is now in the hands of the Office of Francophone Affairs. So the burning question is, When will Oshawa’s designation happen? Franco-Ontarian Day, September 25, would be a splendid occasion for the government to announce Oshawa’s designation and the perfect opportunity to pave the way for a list consisting of 27 designated areas. Two municipalities: Markham and Oshawa. Two similar challenges, one similar destiny? Both cities have a highly multicultural population, which ensures vitality, a population composed of Francophone newcomers, at a time when the face of Ontario is changing and becoming more diverse. This is also the sense of a plural Francophonie, and an opportunity for the government to show that it is listening to its constituents, regardless of the municipality of origin.
In conclusion, the Government has missed a great opportunity. Hoping that the next will be the good one.