Introduction

We recognize the significant asset that Ontario’s Francophonie represents for our economic development.

The Ministry of Francophone Affairs, in collaboration with several partner ministries, has developed a Francophone Economic Development Strategy.

The strategy is based on findings from roundtable consultations held in 2018 and 2019 to identify challenges facing Ontario’s Francophone businesses, and on recommendations proposed by the Ministerial Advisory Council on Francophone Economic Recovery Post COVID‑19 as part of its work in the Spring of 2020.

This strategy is supported by three strategic pillars:

  • Francophone entrepreneurship and innovation
  • bilingual skilled workforce: education, training and employability
  • promoting Ontario’s Francophonie as an economic asset

The strategy identified several existing programs and initiatives in response to the issues raised by the business and social enterprise communities. The implementation will be done through a gradual approach aimed at promoting existing programs to Francophone businesses so that they can benefit from them and enhancing these programs as needed.

The results targeted by the implementation of the strategy include:

  • increasing the Francophone economic footprint
  • improving access to a qualified and bilingual workforce
  • creating jobs and expanding market opportunities

Initially, the Ministry of Francophone Affairs moved forward with the implementation of new initiatives such as the creation of the new Fédération des gens d’affaires francophones de l’Ontario, as well as the creation of Quartier d’Affaires (in French), a platform to promote products and services of Francophone businesses.

These two unifying projects bring together key players in the Francophone economy and offer a range of business-support and coaching services to Francophone businesses and entrepreneurs in Ontario.

In addition to helping better identify and define the Francophone economic environment, these initial achievements have set the stage to better support Francophone businesses and organizations and contribute to Ontario’s prosperity.

Objectives

The objectives of our Francophone Economic Development Strategy are to:

  • encourage and stimulate Francophone economic recovery through actions targeted specifically at Francophone organizations and entrepreneurs
  • increase awareness in the Francophone business community of existing initiatives and programs that focus on economic development and recovery, as well as training and business support
  • create meaningful convergence among key ministries and stakeholders to encourage an integrated approach
  • reduce the administrative burden of businesses through structuring initiatives such as the promotion and the simplified access to information on programs that foster growth of the Francophone economy
  • maximize the effectiveness of programs and initiatives and increase their reach to Ontario Francophones and businesses

The strategy is based on an inclusive definition of a Francophone business in Ontario which:

  • is partially or fully Francophone-owned or -led
  • has a significant proportion of Francophone or bilingual employees
  • offers or aims to offer products/services to a Francophone market

Ministries as a working group

Since our strategy is government-wide, as of August 2019, the Ministry of Francophone Affairs chairs an inter-ministerial working group which has put together a targeted inventory of current programs and initiatives that could help overcome the challenges identified by Francophone businesses.

This working group brings together the following ministries:

Strategic framework

To date, the partner ministries have identified several programs and initiatives in response to the issues raised by Francophone entrepreneurs and key economic stakeholders.

In a collaborative and concerted approach, the ministries have identified three strategic pillars under which these programs and initiatives are grouped:

  • Francophone entrepreneurship and innovation
  • bilingual skilled workforce: education, training and employability
  • promoting Ontario’s Francophonie as an economic asset

This grouping is intended to facilitate the promotion of these programs and strategically expand their reach. This will ensure that Francophone businesses and organizations can benefit more from these programs and contribute more fully to the province’s economic development.

Pillar 1: Francophone entrepreneurship and innovation

This first pillar is designed to encourage and support entrepreneurship, a key driver of economic growth in Ontario that contributes to job creation, regional development and increased tax revenues.

This pillar also aims to increase the reach of digital technologies, which not only generate more investment in infrastructure, but also increase productivity in the industrial and service sectors.

Programs under this first pillar will:

  • help Francophone entrepreneurs who are starting, expanding or buying a small business obtain support, training, mentoring and financing
  • foster Francophone entrepreneurship focused on innovation, particularly business incubators and accelerators
  • promote research in French-language digital technologies to position Ontario as a leader in new technologies

The implementation of the Fédération des gens d’affaires francophones de l’Ontario has laid the foundation for this pillar. The Fédération is designed to facilitate networking between businesses and entrepreneurs in order to increase strategic alliances, create new business opportunities, and offer support and coaching services to businesses.

The Fédération also offers business support services such as training, mentoring and concierge services to help identify support programs. These services form the basis of a potentially more comprehensive range of business incubation services.

The Fédération is now active and its Quartier d’Affaires (in French) digital platform serves as a business-to-business matchmaking tool to identify buyers and sellers of products and services, and helps these businesses develop their markets and increase their sales.

Quartier d’Affaires also allows members to share their expertise as well as tools such as an economic toolkit in French and information on the most promising markets and sectors.

The popularity of this type of business support and incubation service is expected to grow, especially in a post-pandemic environment that will be conducive to the emergence of new entrepreneurs looking to seize opportunities and refocus their careers.

In January 2021, the Ministry of Francophone Affairs also set up a project to promote products and services of Francophone businesses. With the support of other Francophone key stakeholders, the Regroupement des gens d’affaires de la capitale nationale has created a business-to-consumer module, which was integrated into the Quartier d’Affaires digital platform on March 31, 2021.

The enhancement of this platform will allow businesses to expand the reach of their e-commerce to their Ontario clientele and to access important Francophone markets such as Quebec and New Brunswick.

Pillar 2: Bilingual skilled workforce: education, training and employability

This second pillar aims to help businesses remain competitive and support Ontario’s Francophone and bilingual workers so that they have the skills and access to training which will enable them to meet the needs of employers.

This second pillar will make it possible to:

  • promote entrepreneurship, especially among young people and women
  • mentor and train the next generation of Francophone leaders
  • enhance the programs of the province’s French-language and bilingual colleges and universities so that they better meet the needs of businesses and the modern economy
  • promote and encourage Francophone immigration to meet the need for more bilingual workers

The micro-credentials strategy, which is being developed jointly by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities and the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, shows promise in supporting businesses seeking a bilingual, skilled workforce.

Pilot micro-certification programs are already in place and are aimed at rapid skills development to help workers acquire the skills sought by employers in the automotive and advanced manufacturing sectors.

In addition, the eCampusOntario program provides online learning tools to encourage the use of educational technologies and online learning environments. To date, the program has implemented 36 pilot projects at Ontario colleges and universities.

Training programs such as Second Career, Bridge Training, Pre-apprenticeship and SkillsAdvance Ontario are a key component of this pillar.

Pillar 3: Promoting Ontario’s Francophonie as an economic asset

The goal of this pillar is to highlight the province’s Francophonie as an economic asset and build on Ontario’s outstanding reputation for economic dynamism, its high standard of living and its cultural diversity.

This third pillar is based on Ontario’s close economic relations with Quebec and several member countries of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (in French) and on the value of dual trade which could be greatly increased through targeted promotion. The promotion of tourism highlighting the Francophone aspects of Ontario is also an area to explore further under this pillar.

This pillar seeks to:

  • support Ontario’s Francophone entrepreneurs by further promoting the economic benefits of Ontario’s French-speaking community and helping them reach new markets
  • attract Francophone entrepreneurs from abroad to invest in Ontario
  • increase Francophone tourism through new strategies and coordinated promotional efforts

A key element of this pillar is the close economic relationship between Quebec and Ontario’s economic Francophonie.

The Ontario-Quebec Francophonie Trade Award is a concrete example of these bridging efforts.

The Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (in partnership with the Fédération des gens d’affaires francophones de l’Ontario, the Fédération des Chambres de commerce du Québec (in French), the Quebec office in Toronto and the Ontario Ministry of Francophone Affairs) is supporting the creation of an award to foster the growth of interprovincial trade between the two provinces.

The award will be given annually and will recognize a business in Ontario and a business in Quebec that actively uses French as a tool to facilitate interprovincial trade between the two provinces.

This award is part of the commitment by the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec to increase interprovincial trade between the two provinces and supports Ontario’s Francophone economic development strategy.

The data currently available on Francophone businesses is limited. Additional data and its aggregation will allow for the development of a current portrait of Francophone businesses, an important tool for identifying new sectors of activity or new niche markets for the recovery and growth of Ontario’s Francophone economy.

The Fédération des gens d’affaires francophones de l’Ontario has produced a summary portrait of the Franco-Ontarian economy (PDF in French) that identifies the major issues to be addressed as a priority to strengthen the province’s Francophone economic ecosystem.

Conclusion

This Francophone economic development strategy will be implemented through the concerted efforts of the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, its partner ministries and Francophone businesses and communities.

Ultimately, this Francophone Economic Development Strategy supports the Ontario government’s vision, which is to highlight Ontario’s Francophonie as a central economic asset.