Laurentian advocates cheer Sault MPP Ross Romano's exit from ministry of colleges, universities

A group of faculty and students formed to protest the cuts at Laurentian University says its lobbying has paid off.

Sault MPP Romano moved into portfolio dealing with government and consumer services

Sault MPP Ross Romano was shuffled as Minister of Colleges and Universities to Minister of Government and Consumer Services last week. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

A group of faculty and students formed to protest the cuts at Laurentian University says its lobbying has paid off.

In a cabinet shuffle last week, Sault MPP Ross Romano who was the Minister of Colleges and Universities was moved to the Government and Consumer Services portfolio. Jill Dunlop, Simcoe-North MPP,  takes over Colleges and Universities.

Since Laurentian declared insolvency on February 1 and sought creditor protection, Romano has refused to comment on the situation saying he was legally barred from interfering in the process in any way.

Save Our Sudbury, formed after drastic job and program cuts on April 12, has been campaigning for his resignation since then.

The effort to remove Romano has included petitions, letters and demonstrations, and campaigns from labour councils and faculty associations.

Christopher Duncanson-Hales, a former professor at the University of Sudbury, and member of Save Our Sudbury says the group feels vindicated.

Duncanson-Hales lost his job teaching philosophy and religious studies when Laurentian severed ties with the federated universities.

"It's a victory in a sense that we've sort of shown what the voice of the people can do when it comes together," said Duncanson-Hales.

But he said it's a hollow victory.

"As far as I'm concerned, Ross Romano might have been shuffled out of cabinet, but he was shuffled out of relevance a long time ago," Duncanson-Hales said. 

Romano showed no leadership through the CCAA crisis, Duncanson-Hales said, as the entire process seemed shrouded in secrecy.

CCAA stands for the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and is legislation that usually deals with insolvent businesses. Laurentian is the first public sector post-secondary institution to use it to restructure.

Christopher Duncanson-Hales is a member of 'Save Our Sudbury.' (Roger Corriveau/CBC)

"I know that the minister, whenever he was asked a question about [CCAA], would dodge it and say 'I can't say anything about it,'" he said. 

But seeing Romano removed from cabinet shouldn't be considered a victory, Duncanson-Hales said. 

"He wasn't doing anything to begin with, so having him shuffled out so that he can do nothing in another portfolio or another position, it doesn't really change anything."

"But in the end, it isn't going to be just one minister being shuffled out. It's going to be either the CCAA is halted or the programs are restored."

"The provincial government has be held accountable for what's happened at Laurentian," he said. "So President Haché, the board of governors who dropped the ball, completely dropped the ball on the finances and the government of Ontario, who has allowed this to get to the point where where it is now." 

Nipissing University political science professor David Tabachnick says last week's provincial cabinet shuffle was probably routine preparation for an election a year from now. (Erik White/CBC )

David Tabachnick, the chair of political science, philosopy and economics at Nipissing University, said he's not sure Premier Doug Ford was reprimanding Romano by shuffling him out of the portfolio.  He said it seemed to be a rather routine shuffle, and didn't signal a judgement on Romano's performance.

"Just from looking at the comments from [Save Our Sudbury,] it didn't look as though there was a really strong connection between the appointment of the next minister and some sort of change of policy around Laurentian or universities and colleges in general," Tabachnick said.

"If this was truly a rebuke of the last minister's time dealing with the Laurentian crisis, then perhaps along with the new minister or Minister Dunlop's appointment, that there would come some sort of change in at least, tonally, if not the substance of the policy."

"But we haven't seen anything like that. Now, that may come out in a few days, and perhaps then the group that you're referring to will be justified in their celebration," he said.

The shuffle itself may just be an opportunity to "look good" to voters just one year out from the next provincial election.

"If you look at the cabinet shuffle more generally, I think what Ford is trying to do is sort of change some of the faces that people will see in association with his government," Tabachnick said. "There are more women now. There are more people of colour as well, looking a little bit more like Ontario, if not southern Ontario."

"I think that was part of his consideration here. The Progressive Conservatives of Ontario don't want to just be the party of white males. They want to be the party of all Ontarians. And so the government should reflect that desire." 

However, Tabachnik says it doesn't seem as though Romano's exit was planned as a way to appease Sudburians upset by his handling of Laurentian's financial crisis.

"You know, how much does the government care about Laurentian? How much do they care about Sudbury? So far, it doesn't seem very much at all," said Tabachnik.

Spokespeople for now-Government and Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano and the new Minister of Colleges and Universities, Jill Dunlop, said they were not available for interviews.


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