Sudbury MP crafting bill to amend CCAA process in wake of Laurentian University insolvency

Sudbury Liberal MP Paul Lefebvre told an emergency House of Commons debate on the Laurentian University financial crisis that he will table a private member's bill to amend the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.

But Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus says a private member's bill doesn't go far enough

Sudbury Liberal MP Paul Lefebvre says he's tabling a private member's bill on Monday in hopes of preventing public institutions like universities from falling under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. (CBC News)

Sudbury Liberal MP Paul Lefebvre told an emergency House of Commons debate Wednesday evening on the Laurentian University financial crisis that he will table a private member's bill Monday to amend the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.

Lefebvre said he wants to prevent other universities from going down the same path as Laurentian and using the CCAA process as a tool to restructure.

"We need to make sure that never happens again. We must ensure the sustainability of our institutions across the country."

Lefebvre said he started to prepare his bill in February, when the university announced it was financially insolvent and started proceedings under the act. The insolvency process prevents an organization from going under while it works to get back on financial footing.

Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus called an emergency meeting in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening to discuss solutions to Laurentian University's financial crisis. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus called for Wednesday's emergency debate, which lasted several hours. 

Angus demanded that Justin Trudeau's government act to prevent the CCAA from being used by an educational institution, and said he was concerned other public institutions could be dismantled or privatized.

He also stressed the importance of offering university courses in rural areas, noting that when he thinks of Laurentian University, he thinks of his father — and the doors the school opened for him.

"The fact that we had a university in the North made it possible for my father to get the education that had been denied to him and he became a professor of economics," he said.

Angus described Laurentian as part of northern Ontario's fabric, with opportunities for northerners in French, English and Indigenous languages.

Laurentian a 'national symbol'

Lefebvre spoke of how destructive the cuts have been on professors, students and the Sudbury community at large. 

"The carnage and the anxiety that I've seen in my community should not be repeated anywhere else in the country," he said.

"We cannot continue cutting post secondary funding at the provincial level and just expect the federal government to come in with a cheque."

However, Angus said a private member's bill does not go far enough. 

"This isn't just the jurisdiction of the provincial government," he said. "We had the prime minister stay at Laurentian. He held his cabinet meeting at Laurentian.

"This is a national symbol ... I'm asking my colleague, what has he asked the prime minister to do?"

Many MPs also spoke Wednesday night about minority language rights and the importance of access to education for francophones in Ontario.

Conservative MP Steven Blaney framed the issue as "a crisis for French language education," and called on the federal government to take action immediately.

"Under Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian government must guarantee education in a second language."

Blaney reminded the federal government of its duty to protect and promote official languages and bilingualism from coast to coast.

Situation 'outside the spirit of the CCAA'

On Thursday morning's Radio-Canada show Le Matin du Nord, political scientist Stéphanie Chouinard said private bills, like the one Lefebvre is crafting, often die during the legislative process. But in the case of the CCAA bill, Chouinard said, the situation could be different.

"I hope, because there seems to be a consensus," she said, noting parliamentarians seem to agree "the Laurentian situation goes outside the spirit of the CCAA, [and] this law was not intended for post-secondary institutions."

Chouinard said she believes "the debate could be accelerated," but "the opposition parties will have to do their bit."

With files from Sam Juric and Radio-Canada