Working towards a French-language school board for Ottawa

On April 11, 1988, the Minister of Education Chris Ward introduces Bill 109 in the Legislative Assembly, thereby creating the Conseil scolaire de langue française d’Ottawa-Carleton. French-language schools in the region will now be managed by and for Francophones. This outcome is the culmination of twenty-five years of school advocacy with the provincial government, and infighting within the Ottawa Francophone community around issues of language and faith in education.

It is at the 1963 Association canadienne-française d’éducation d’Ontario (ACFÉO) conference that the desire of Francophones to manage their schools first emerges. The idea of ​​consolidating all the French schools in the Ottawa-Carleton region under one structure is repeated several times in years to follow, fueled by alarming statistics regarding Francophone assimilation. Considering the growing role of the school as a rallying point for the community, the survival of the minority is also at stake.

Advocates for a French-language school board in the Ottawa-Carleton region receive a big boost in 1976. The Mayo commission, created to assess local government structures in Ottawa-Carleton, expands its mandate to include education issues. After extensive consultation with Francophones, the Commission recommends creating a French-language school board.

Galvanized by this “moral” victory, the conseil régional d’Ottawa-Carleton of the l’Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario makes the French-language school board one of its priority issues. The following year, the creation of a common front to consolidate the region’s French schools into one French school system, marks a major advance. The establishment of another group to work toward the same goal – the Conseil de planification scolaire d’Ottawa-Carleton, which brings together 32 Francophone councillors from the region – marks another. Working on certain files of common interest this “parallel” council prepares, so to speak, for transitioning toward a school board that would include all French schools, Catholic and public, in the Ottawa-Carleton area.

Unanimity is, however, not so easy to achieve among Francophones in Ottawa. Several community leaders campaign to protect their religious rights, and call for Catholic Francophone school boards. But Ottawa’s Archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde succeeds in convincing them to mobilize around the idea of ​​a French-language school board where Catholic and public schools would co-exist.

The idea is strongly opposed by the Conservative government of Ontario, led by Bill Davis. It makes a counterproposal to create linguistic sections within school boards, and to give them broader autonomy in pedagogical matters. And it chooses to consolidate the denominational school system by completing government funding to Catholic secondary schools in 1984. The common front subsequently crumbles, Catholic school boards open Francophone secondary schools, and public school boards establish Francophone elementary schools, which until then have been few in number.

When the Liberals, who are more sympathetic to Francophone concerns, take office at Queen's Park in 1985, the French-language school board project returns to the forefront. The study group established on December 12, 1985 is replaced by a planning committee in May 1987, led by none other than Maurice Lapointe, propelled to the forefront the previous year by his particularly bold proposals regarding an operational model for the future Ottawa-Carleton French-language school board. Bill 109, establishing the Conseil scolaire de langue française d’Ottawa-Carleton is passed on June 29, 1988.



Inauguration of the Conseil scolaire de langue française [d’]Ott[awa-]Carleton. On the left, President Aurèle Lalonde. Photo: M [ichel] Tessier, Le Droit, November 28, 1989.

University fo Ottawa, CRCCF, Fonds Le Droit (C71), Ph92-7-281189CSLFOC-27.

Black and white photograph of two mature men wearing suits and ties. They are smiling as they lift away a cloth to unveil a plaque commemorating the inauguration of the French-language school board. One man looks directly at the camera, while the other looks to one side.