Laurentian University shifts tone and will release 3 million documents to Ontario, MPP says
Back-and-forth struggle between insolvent Sudbury university, public officials could be near end
Following intense government scrutiny and public backlash, Laurentian is releasing over three million documents that could help shed light on the Sudbury, Ont., university's insolvency.
Jeff Bangs, interim chair of the school's board of governors, appeared before the standing committee on public accounts on Wednesday, France Gélinas, member of provincial parliament for Nickel Belt, told CBC News.
Although details of Bangs's presentation aren't yet public, Gélinas said the school is showing a dramatic "change in tone" over disclosing the records to the province for the first time. Those documents could include financial statements and emails between banks and senior administrators at Laurentian.
"It's a complete shift of behaviour," Gélinas said. "The board of governors of Laurentian understands our goal — that we want to shed a light as to what happened, give people answers, so we make sure it never happens again and we can start to rebuild confidence."
The school declared insolvency on Feb. 1, 2021, and applied for protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), which has allowed it to operate while dealing with its financial problems.
As part of the CCAA proceedings, Laurentian cut more than 30 programs and over 100 faculty and staff members were terminated in April 2021, actions that put it under intense criticism by students and staff.
Since then, public information about the school's finances has been scant, despite Ontario's auditor general asking for access to documents between 2010 and 2020, a time of rapid construction and several high-profile public donations to the school.
That request was turned down by an Ontario Supreme Court judge in January.
In December, 11 members of the board resigned, including chair Claude Lacroix, a prominent lawyer in Sudbury.
The same day, the province announced a bailout — $35 million to refinance the university's existing debtor-in-possession (DIP) loan, which first was made available when it went into creditor protection.
'A window of optimism'
Despite previous hurdles to get information from the school, Gélinas said she's impressed by the interim chair's willingness to stand before the committee and commit to getting the documents into their hands.
"This has given me a window of optimism that I haven't had ever in this file."
The documents were being delivered to the committee, Gélinas said, with over 17,000 expected to have arrived Wednesday morning. More are expected to arrive in the coming days.
"We're getting really, really close to having everything we need to be able to do our work and answer the questions that everybody in Sudbury wants answers to."
Gélinas estimated the public will have a written report in the coming weeks, "two months at the max."
Provincial legislation to reduce number of board members
Laurentian said the government is drafting legislation to reduce the number of board of governors members to 16, from 25 in previous years, noting in a statement that the size "would seem reasonable and appropriate relative to the size of the university itself."
"Laurentian is committed to this accelerated process of board renewal and we are confident that continued support from the province will contribute significantly to the university's emergence in 2022 as a fully restructured and financially sustainable university."