Ontario taxpayers won’t have to pay for the new French-language university until after the next provincial election, according to Francophone Affairs minister Caroline Mulroney, giving the government time to focus on balancing the budget.
In an interview with CTV News, Mulroney confirmed that the provincial portion of the $126 million project — roughly $63 million — will only be paid beginning in 2023, the year the Progressive Conservative government has projected a balanced budget.
“Once Ontario has reached budget balance, that’s when we’ll be paying our portion,” Mulroney told CTV News. “It’s an eight year agreement. The federal government will be paying half, and we’ll be paying the other half.”
Mulroney, along federal Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Saturday to fund the Université de l'Ontario français in Southwestern Ontario.
The payment schedule was first proposed by Joly in a June 7 letter to Mulroney, which expressed a desire to cover the costs of the first four years of construction.
“I would like to also remind you that should an agreement on this project be reached, federal programs have the necessary flexibility to cover the start up costs for the Universite de l’Ontario francais in the initial years of the project if the provincial contribution is paid in subsequent years,” the letter reads.
While the Doug Ford government agreed to the terms, it also agreed to fully refund the federal government’s share if Ontario backs out of paying it’s half — guaranteeing that the university won’t become a provincial election issue in 2022.
“Because it is exceptional for Canada to cover 100 percent of the expenditures for the first four years of a multi-year project, Canada will seek assurance from Ontario that it will reimburse Canada of its share should Ontario not be in a position to provide funding within the expected timeframe,” reads a joint news release issued on Saturday.
Mulroney says the MOU also gives Ontario assurances that the federal government will foot its share of the bill regardless of the federal election.
“What’s important is that the two levels of government have come together to jointly fund this project,” Mulroney says. “We are working very hard to get Ontario back on track, but we want to make sure that we’re also doing what we need to do for the benefit of the Francophone community.”
The Ford government’s cancellation of the project last November, amid other cuts affecting the province’s 600,000 Franco-Ontarians, ignited fierce backlash and criticism from other governments.
It also propelled then PC MPP Amanda Simard to vote against the government's Fall Economic statement, leave the party and sit as an independent.
While Mulroney is seen as being instrumental in reviving the university, she says she had the backing of the premier’s office.
“It wouldn’t have gone ahead if I didn’t have the support of the premier and our cabinet.”