The presence of the Ottawa Francophone community on the provincial political scene is affirmed with the rise of the public sector. With the creation of the first French-language public secondary schools in the region and state control of the Hôpital Montfort and the University of Ottawa, Ottawa Francophones seek to become more involved at Queen’s Park. The riding of Ottawa-Vanier (formerly Ottawa East) gives the Francophone community a voice.
One of its representatives, Albert Roy – first elected to Queen’s Park in 1971 under the Liberal Party banner, then re-elected in 1975, 1977 and 1981 – lays the foundation for the future French Language Services Act in Ontario. In 1978, he introduces a private bill (Bill 89) that would require the province to offer all its services in French. MPPs from all parties support it after a massive awareness campaign led by ACFO. But the Bill is rejected at the third reading. Then Premier, Conservative Bill Davis, is nevertheless sympathetic to the idea of framework legislation regarding French-language services. In view of the province’s Anglophone majority, however, he chooses to move forward slowly, with a policy of gradually increasing services rather than officially recognizing bilingualism.
This only serves to postpone the inevitable! The French Language Services Act is passed a few years later under the Liberal government of David Peterson, who promises to do so during the 1985 election campaign. He entrusts responsibility for drafting and adopting it to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, Bernard Grandmaître, who becomes the Ottawa East representative following the December 1984 by-election held when Albert Roy moves to federal politics. Bernard Grandmaître is re-elected four times, from 1985 to 1995.
The law is tabled for the final reading and royal assent on November 18, 1986. It is adopted unanimously, following intensive negotiations carried out expertly by the Minister. Bill 8, as it is known colloquially, comes into force three years later. The government is now compelled to provide services in French where numbers warrant, specifically in 22 regions of the province, including the entire Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton.
David Peterson states that Bill 8 is the final step toward official bilingualism in Ontario. But this step has not yet been completed in the province. Madeleine Meilleur, who represents Ottawa-Vanier at Queen’s Park from 2003 to 2016, and who also serves as Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, focuses on enforcing the French Language Services Act. In 2007, she creates the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, which becomes the watchdog for the Act.
Bernard Grandmaître at a polling station during the Ontario provincial elections, September 10, 1987, Photo: Armand Legault, Le Droit.
University of Ottawa, CRCCF, Fonds Le Droit (C71), Ph92-7-10091987BER-5.