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Francophone Affairs Minister Marie-France Lalonde speaks to the media in Toronto on Thursday, January 12, 2017.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario is moving to create a French-language university – the first of its kind in the province – that will offer students a completely French environment and will provide programs different from those offered in traditional universities.

The provincial government announced Monday that it will introduce legislation in the coming months for the proposed postsecondary institution, which will cater to Ontario's 611,500 francophones – the largest population in Canada outside of Quebec. The decision came after a six-member board, led by former official languages commissioner Dyane Adam, released a 139-page report and independent study looking at the need for the university.

"We are intending to create a new French-language university here in the Toronto area," said francophone Affairs Minister Marie-France Lalonde. "Our commitment as a government is to create a standalone university with a governance and administration by and for francophones."

The board, established last fall, recommended the university be located in downtown Toronto in order to serve the 430,000 people in the Greater Toronto Area who speak French, as well as international students and those from outside the province.

The report submitted in June stated that employers are facing challenges recruiting people competent in French and that there are labour gaps in areas, including education, law, social services and health. With central and Southwestern Ontario home to the fastest growing francophone population in Canada, the university would help address these gaps, Ms. Adam said.

"The province has a legislation that guarantees services to the French speaking communities, they have an obligation to serve French-speaking communities in French, but if you don't have professionals who can give that service, then you cannot exercise that right and get that service," she said. "We need to build that capacity there, you need to have a community and an institution that knows and understand those need and can speak to those communities."

The report suggested the federal government and the provincial government work together to provide the $83.5-million needed for the establishment of the university. The report also recommended having the university active by September, 2020.

The proposed university would differentiate itself by focusing on French-language programs not offered anywhere else, Ms. Adam said. The university would focus on undergraduate and graduate programming and interdisciplinary research addressing major social issues, such as human plurality, urban environments, globalized economy and digital cultures.

"We were trying to envision a 21st century university because most in the area have existed for decades way before the new digital environment," Ms. Adam said. "It's not enough to say we are offering something in French, but we also have to be very excellent and innovative, we are adopting a transdisciplinary, experiential approach where student look at complex human problems from different perspectives."

For more traditional programming the proposed university will build partnerships with bilingual universities, Ms. Lalonde said.

Details, such as how these partnerships will be established, what to name the university and where it will be located, will all be discussed by an interim implementation committee, which will have a startup fund of $20-million provided by the provincial government. Ms. Lalonde said the committee will be up and running as soon as possible.

The university will serve help serve a need for additional programming in Toronto and Southwestern Ontario, said Pierre Zundel, interim president at Laurentian University in Sudbury.

"We've offered our support to the provincial government because we recognize there is this need for additional programming in Toronto and west towards Windsor and we are committed to being a part of that solution," Dr. Zundel said.

The new university, he said, would probably not hurt enrolment in bilingual universities such as Laurentian because the proposed institution will be taking a collaborative approach rather than a competitive one with other postsecondary institutions.

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