The OPSEU Provincial Francophone Committee’s third biennial conference brought OPSEU members together in Ottawa from June 14 to 16 to talk about creating positive change in their locals, workplaces and communities.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas kicked off the conference – called, “Building our Legacy through Heritage, Education and Culture” – with a keynote address at the historic Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, the ancestral, traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people.
“As part of a broader labour movement, we must work to protect and improve French language services and all public services that help our most vulnerable, especially those who have newly arrived,” said Thomas, applauding the Francophone Committee’s commitment to pushing the envelope when it comes to protecting and strengthening French language services within the union and in the community.
Thomas acknowledged the changing demographics of Ontario’s Francophone community since many of its new residents speak French as their first language and come from other parts of the world, such as Africa.
The conference began on Friday evening with a smudging ceremony and traditional teaching led by Mance Granberg, an Abenaki from the Cowasuck band of the Pennacook people and a member of OPSEU’s Indigenous Circle from Region 4.
The conference also welcomed Daniel Richer, an Abenaki storyteller and town crier. He shared stories of respect and harmony among all living things by demonstrating how the people around the world are part of the sacred circle of life. The evening ended with a presentation from Karolyne Pickett, a Franco-Ontarian filmmaker from southern Ontario.
On Saturday, retired Collège Boreal professor Pierre Riopel talked about the history of the Franco-Ontarian flag.
A panel discussion followed on the role education plays in not only the preservation of the francophone culture but also its promotion. Panelists included Dyane Adam, Chair of the Technical Implementation Committee of the Université de l’Ontario français; Catherine Gagné, a secondary school teacher and member of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO); and Suzanne Rondeau, a primary school teacher and Chair of Unit 57 of the AEFO.
This discussion was timely given the Ford government’s recent cuts to French language services in the province, including the elimination of Ontario’s first standalone Francophone University.
Conference participants dined together Saturday evening and enjoyed a performance from Acadian singer Wilfred LeBouthillier, a winner of the Québec reality singing competition Star Académie.
On Sunday, renowned artist, illustrator and Francophone comic book author Paul Roux talked about the importance of comics in Francophone culture.
Franco-Ontarian artist Stef Paquette closed the conference on a high note with a musical and comedic performance. A natural showperson with a wacky sense of humour, Paquette has crisscrossed Canada with his guitar and harmonica and performed at countless festivals, concerts and schools.
In addition to speeches and performances, the conference also featured two workshops. One provided participants with a hands-on lesson in the grievance process, while the other saw participants creating their own comic strips as an ode to what this medium represents in francophone culture.
For the first time ever, non-French speaking members were also invited to participate in the conference, with simultaneous translation for those who needed it.
This conference was a celebration of the French language and culture. At a time where divisive and protectionist ideologies dominate conversations, the 2019 OPSEU Francophone Conference found ways to create a space of solidarity.
It was rooted in respect for cultural and linguistic diversity for all, with OPSEU’s francophone members leading the way.