OTTAWA—A meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his counterparts from the four other main federal parties Wednesday is being pushed as a non-partisan effort to help Canada’s francophone population — even as the clouds of partisanship hang over the gathering.
Trudeau will meet with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, Green Leader Elizabeth May and interim Bloc Québécois Leader Mario Beaulieu to discuss “issues facing the Canadian Francophonie,” according to Trudeau’s office.
Scheer asked for the meeting Monday after recent changes to francophone services announced by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, which included cancelling plans for a new French-language university.
Franco-Ontarians reacted with fury that spread to Quebec: the city halls in Montreal and Quebec City raised the Franco-Ontarian flag and the immensely popular Tout le monde en parle current-affairs television show devoted an episode to the issue. A backbench Tory legislator for a heavily francophone riding in Eastern Ontario broke ranks and criticized her government’s moves.
Premier Doug Ford rapidly backtracked on a plan to abolish the independent office of the French-language services commissioner; the position was restored, though under the supervision of the province’s ombudsman. And after having demoted francophone affairs from a distinct ministry to a mere area of responsibility for Attorney General Caroline Mulroney upon winning power, he gave it back its cabinet status on Tuesday.
Trudeau’s office agreed to Scheer’s meeting request and then invited the other party leaders, hoping to look non-partisan but ready to press Scheer for proposals to strengthen francophone communities outside Quebec.
Francophones in New Brunswick are also concerned because the party playing kingmaker in the minority legislature campaigned on loosening or eliminating bilingualism policies in the province.
“I’m looking forward to meeting with all the different party leaders to talk about how we need to, at the federal level, be united and above partisanship in terms of how we’re going to defend official-language minorities across the country,” Trudeau said.
Conservatives have accused the Liberals of politicizing an issue that has nothing to do with Scheer, hoping to link Scheer to Ford to win over francophone voters in next year’s federal election.
Scheer will have to win seats in francophone ridings if he hopes for his party to unseat the governing Grits.