Sudbury·Audio

New Democrats zoom in on Laurentian University and call for a moratorium on restructuring

Federal and provincial New Democrat politicians promised support and some action for the Laurentian community in a Zoom town hall-style meeting Saturday- less than a week before the university heads back to court to hear whether its restructuring plan will be able to continue.

New Democrats call for inquiry and deeper look at Laurentian's finances

Federal and provincial NDP politicians and supporters took part in a Zoom town hall on Laurentian University on Saturday, April 24, 2021. (Nina Amrov, NDP)

Federal and provincial New Democrats promised support and some action for the Laurentian community in a Zoom town hall-style meeting Saturday - less than a week before the university heads back to court to hear whether its restructuring plan will be able to continue.

The insolvent university has cut dozens of programs and more than 100 faculty, staff and non-unionized positions as well as severing ties with its federated partners in a plan meant to appease creditors.

It will find out April 29 whether the courts will approve its next step to apply for a $10 M loan to allow it to continue to explore savings through more efficient operations and the sale of real estate.

Students, faculty, staff and community members have expressed outrage and protested the cuts made public April 12 with calls for politicians to stop proceedings under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), provide funding to save the university's programs and take a deeper look at how Laurentian became insolvent.

Saturday's town hall mainly consisted of comments from New Democrat politicians.

Timmins-James Bay member of parliament Charlie Angus hosted and opened with a reference to Laurentian's tricultural mandate.

 "We put 60 years into this university, this university which reflects the Indigenous, francophone and working class realities of all our northern communities," he said. 

"Your public actions are being noticed. What was done by CCAA in the first round was done in the darkness. It was done without scrutiny. Well, now they're being scrutinized and they know that we're watching and we're going to continue to watch. We're going to continue to fight." 

Sudburian and retired International United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard was one of the few non-politicians to be given a platform and he used it to attack the CCAA process.

Retired International President of the United Steelworkers Leo Gerard urged Sudburians to fight for Laurentian University at a town hall organized by the New Democrats. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

"We need to understand that what's going on at Laurentian is not a CCAA, it's a hijacking." 

He urged politicians to look into who initiated the process to get a better understanding of how it might be used against other public institutions.

He also appealed to Sudburians and northerners to stop the process.

"So this is a tremendous opportunity for the community to come together and fight like we did 60 years ago to make sure that Laurentian University survives, but not just survives, thrives," said Gerard.

"I have two nephews that graduated mechanical engineering from Laurentian. You know what? They didn't want to go to Windsor. They didn't want to go somewhere else. They wanted to stay and work in Sudbury. And they're both working here. And without that, we'd never have that."

Provincial New Democrats from the Sudbury area talked about their next steps.

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas talked about the impact on students.

Now, with only one year left of my degree, I don't know what I'm going to do. I am being given some makeshift options, at best, from Laurentian University, where they're telling me that I can potentially take online courses elsewhere to count towards a Laurentian degree, then to get transferred here and there in the most confusing way.- Katlyn Kotila, student

"As soon as you peel the onion a little bit, you realize that it's not 10 percent of the students that have been affected," said Gélinas. "It's 100 percent of the students at Laurentian that have been affected by those cuts." 

One of those students explained how the program and faculty cuts have complicated her life.

Katlyn Kotila is in the fourth year of a double major in political science and communications.

Both programs have been cancelled. 

She says Laurentian's promise that all students will be able to complete their studies has been hollow for her.

"Now, with only one year left of my degree, I don't know what I'm going to do," she said. "I am being given some makeshift options at best from Laurentian University, where they're telling me that I can potentially take online courses elsewhere to count towards a Laurentian degree, then to get transferred here and there in the most confusing way possible. And all of this is happening while not knowing and being able to trust that Laurentian University is going to be able to stay open long enough for me to be able to obtain this degree. And so I'm going into the fall stressed and overwhelmed, but I am not alone and I am not the only student who is feeling this way."

Participants on the chat line raised the issue of what the New Democrats plan to do about the situation with at least one person calling for a public inquiry.

That had Angus deferring to his provincial colleagues to investigate, then he wondered how the NDP might get more access to influence the restructuring process moving forward.

"We were not given that because this was a secretive process and I didn't think any of us expected this process would be the hatchet job that it was. We have to now strategize to get a seat at the table."

Federal party leader, Jagmeet Singh responded by saying the NDP continues to keep up the pressure on the Liberal government to stop the CCAA process.

"This is a disaster. This is a crisis. We can't afford to see the federal government wait and hem and haw. We need immediate action. So I invite everybody to join our online campaign to increase that pressure by adding your name and getting more people, as many people as possible, reach out to friends that are Francophone, reach out to Indigenous communities that you know, that have seen the impact and the benefit of of the Laurentian model and how good that is and how we want to expand on it, not lose those type of programs. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is seen during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday February 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Gélinas added her voice to that motion as well.

"This is not acceptable. We need a say and that means a moratorium on those decisions until people of the north put their heads together and find a solution forward that is respectful to the north, of Indigenous people, Francophone people, and makes sense to us," she said.

In addition, Gélinas says she plans to write to the province's Auditor General to request a forensic audit so that the AG can investigate whether there was financial wrong-doing at Laurentian, or not.

She and Sudbury MPP Jamie West plan to hold a news conference Monday, April 26, continuing to apply pressure on the Minister of Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano, for a moratorium on the restructuring.

They say they'll focus on the harm to health care caused by the cancellation of the School of Midwifery and cuts to the nursing program.

The ministry has said politicians cannot intervene in the CCAA process, but it has appointed a special advisor who will report on what happened at Laurentian and will make recommendations to prevent the same situation from occurring at other post-secondary institutions. 

Federal and provincial members of the NDP got together for a town hall recently to discuss the situation at Laurentian University and how to help.We have a portion of that town hall meeting featuring Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas, Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, former United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. 7:24

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Rutherford

Reporter/Editor

Kate Rutherford is a CBC newsreader and reporter in Sudbury. She reaches across northern Ontario to connect with people and their stories. She has worked as a journalist in Saint John, N.B and calls Halifax, N.S. home.

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