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Special investigator's report on Laurentian University insolvency coming soon, minister says

Ontario's post-secondary minister says an investigator probing the financial problems at Laurentian University will issue a final report in six to eight weeks.

Romano says province was made aware of serious nature of Laurentian's financial issues about six months ago

Despite its financial troubles, Laurentian officials say current students will not see a change in their day-to-day education and the school will continue actively recruiting new students. (Erik White/CBC)

Ontario's post-secondary minister says an investigator probing the financial problems at Laurentian University will issue a final report in six to eight weeks.

The northern Ontario school filed for creditor protection earlier this month amid what it called "unprecedented" challenges after a decade of financial strain.

The Sault Ste. Marie MPP and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano, says the report will help the government decide next steps when it comes to the university.

Romano spoke to reporters after making a funding announcement to help increase access to mental health and addiction services for post-secondary students during COVID-19.

The government is promising $7 million for student supports, both on-campus and virtually. The funding can also be used to address the needs of vulnerable and diverse groups, such as Indigenous students, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities.

Romano says the province was made aware of the serious nature of Laurentian's financial issues about six months ago.

"What we do know is that this is certainly not specifically related to COVID or exacerbated by COVID. This is a concern that has been in existence for a very long time at that institution," Romano said.

The special investigator, Dr. Alan Harrison, is reviewing the details about how the university's financial insolvency came to be.

"Dr. Harrison is finalizing that report ... and that will certainly inform our actions moving forward. We are now assessing whether or not other means would be necessary to get involved at an earlier stage than we presently have in this particular case." 

'A black cloud'

Romano said it is unfortunate that Laurentian has reached this point.

"Coming out of this situation [we want] to ensure that we remain focused and hypersensitive on the needs of our students. We want to ensure that all of our students have the supports that they need. We want to ensure that the continuity of their education is maintained first and foremost."

Laurentian University president, Robert Haché, has said proceedings under the federal Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act won't affect day-to-day operations at the school.

Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano, says the province was made aware of the serious nature of Laurentian's financial issues roughly six months ago. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Romano reflected on having gone through "a significant CCAA process with Algoma Steel ... a few years ago" — a process that lasted three years, and was a difficult time for the community of Sault Ste. Marie, which is part of the riding he represents.

The process creates "a black cloud" over residents and uncertainty within the creditors of that community, he noted.

"I'm certainly — [along with] our entire government — committed to ensuring the best possible result for Laurentian and their students coming out of this situation."

More calls for funding

Laura Mae Lindo, a New Democrat critic for colleges and universities, said the public has a right to know what's been going on at the school.

"People want to know what was actually happening at Laurentian," she said. "And this review would provide them with those answers. There's no need to hide it."

The province has warned it may introduce legislation granting it greater oversight of every university's finances.

Lindo said the province should provide sustainable funding to all post-secondary institutions, including Laurentian.

She pointed to a 10 per cent tuition cut introduced by the Progressive Conservative government in 2019, which universities were forced to absorb. The decision resulted in a major revenue decrease across the sector, she said.

"This is a broader issue, those cuts were not things that a sector could easily walk away from or pick themselves up from," she said.

On Tuesday, the United Steelworkers union called for the Canadian and Ontario governments to stop the insolvency proceedings at Laurentian and to provide the long-term, stable funding at the school.

While the Steelworkers do not represent workers at the school, the union said it has members at post-secondary institutions around the province who are concerned about the situation at the Laurentian.

During a media event, reporters got to ask Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities, about the financial situation of Laurentian University. This was some of his response. 8:46

With files from the Canadian Press

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