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Canada votes 2021: Candidates chime in on Laurentian and keeping post-secondary schools healthy and solvent

In the wake of Laurentian University’s insolvency, we asked the candidates about protecting post-secondary education, and about ensuring access to French and Indigenous higher learning opportunities
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Sunlight glints off of Laurentian University's Parker Building over Lake Ramsey at sunset.

With election day on Sept. 20, the time to make a decision is upon us. To help you parse where the party’s stand on the issues of the day, we sent a questionnaire to the candidates of the four parties with a member in parliament, as well as the People’s Party of Canada candidates.

Issues we polled the candidates on were climate change, affordable housing, Laurentian University and the post-secondary sector, the opioid crisis, Indigenous issues, vaccine passports, corporate taxation, universal basic income and mental health supports.

Questionnaires were sent to all candidates, though not all candidates chose to participate. As well, some candidates did not answer all questions provided. 

Nickel Belt Riding

What will your party do to prevent insolvencies at post-secondary institutions?

Craig Gravelle, Green Party

To prevent insolvencies at post-secondary institutions, we need to invest in students. There are so many students who would be attending post-secondary if it were not for the barrier that is tuition. It is no longer guaranteed that a graduate will end up with a job that is related to their field of study and in turn, an income to support paying off loans or raising a family. We must abolish tuition and implement a Guaranteed Livable Income to allow more students the opportunity to attend post-secondary and to study into their later academic years. Abolishing tuition removes the barrier. A GLI allows more students more time to study, instead of working multiple jobs while struggling to remain focused on their studies.

Marc Serré, Liberal Party

The situation at Laurentian University is devastating. Jobs were lost, students and staff are still facing challenges and our beloved institution crumbled. We are clearly stating in our platform our commitment to protecting public post-secondary educational institutions, such as Laurentian University, from being subject to corporate restructuring.

Does the leaner Laurentian that will come out of the restructuring process provide the same broad educational options to students?

Craig Gravelle, Green Party

No, the leaner Laurentian does not provide the same broad educational options to students. Students looking for more broad educational options are looking elsewhere which is not good for Laurentian’s future. We must work to reinstitute programs lost.

Marc Serré, Liberal Party

My hope is that Laurentian University can put the needs of the staff, researchers, Indigenous peoples and students at the forefront. While education remains a provincial jurisdiction and requires serious action on their behalf, I remain at the table to help in the capacity that I can to counter the cuts that took place at Laurentian University, and working hard to ensure that our communities in the North have the education that they deserve. 

What will your party do to ensure the strength and sustainability of Francophone and Indigenous post-secondary education in Canada?

Andréane Chénier, NDP

The devastation at Laurentian has made it so we cannot simply put it back. It’s actions, and the lack of federal and provincial support has forever broken what it was. Laurentian leadership has broken faith with Indigenous and Francophone communities who are now rightly looking for another model of post-secondary education in the north. As we have been saying even before this election began, the Federal government has a role in helping with these communities to establish their own path forward. What happened at Laurentian as a blow for our whole community, losing long time community leaders, harming our local economy by the job losses, and forcing so many of our youth to pursue their future elsewhere. New Democrats will:  

  • Provide support to rebuild Laurentian 
  • Work with University of Sudbury to ensure that it can become a stand-alone French university that is governed by and for Sudbury’s francophone community and provide stable funding to ensure its development.  
  • Work directly with local and regional Indigenous groups to fund post-secondary education in a manner of their choice.   
  • Work to protect Laurentian’s Greenspace and ensure that the land remains in public hands. 
  • Find ways to re-fund research dollars directly to students and academics who lost federal funds due to this restructure  
  • I would also work to make sure to make post-secondary education within reach for students in Sudbury by: 
  • Make post-secondary education more affordable for people in Sudbury by forgiving up to $20,000 in student debt and eliminating interest on federal student loans.

Craig Gravelle, Green Party

The Green Party will ensure permanent, stable funding for post-secondary educational institutions to provide Francophone and Indigenous post-secondary education in Canada. 

Marc Serré, Liberal Party

I want to emphasize that I’ve been there and remain active to help find a solution for post-secondary education in French in the north of the province — a solution led by and for Francophones, which guarantees their right to education in French. I have met members of the University of Sudbury, the Assemblée de la francophonie and many Francophone stakeholders and partners, and I want to reaffirm my clear positions in support of the community, which has the solution in hand. The new funding proposed in our Liberal platform will protect and strengthen post-secondary education in French in Canada. This includes supporting opportunities in Northern Ontario, by, for and with Francophones, to ensure that Francophones have access to quality post-secondary education where they live. I continue to be at the table to work with Indigenous peoples and stakeholders, ACFO, AFO and other organizations and individuals who want to see this dream become a reality to reduce the exodus of our young people to large urban centers and ensure a brilliant academic development for francophones for decades to come. This is what Francophones and Indigenous people deserve and it recognizes the hard work that has been done to bring us here today.

Sudbury Riding

What will your party do to prevent insolvencies at post-secondary institutions?

Viviane Lapointe, Liberal Party

The Liberal Policy Platform calls to protect public post-secondary educational institutions, such as Laurentian University, from being subject to corporate restructuring. Specifically, this means a re-elected Liberal government will adopt the private member’s bill introduced by current Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre to restrict colleges and universities’ access to the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. I know Paul worked very hard to lobby caucus, cabinet and the PMO to pass this important bill, and I’m very pleased to see his work reflected in our party’s platform.

Colette Methé, People’s Party of Canada

Laurentian University is the only university in Canada to declare itself insolvent, ending federated universities. I believe this is devastating news that should concern the entire country. Education is the pillar of a community. It is appalling that programs have been cancelled, teachers have been dismissed, and students who, in the middle of their program, have had to resort to finding other universities to finish their studies. Some people are suggesting amending the bankruptcy and insolvency act, but this is not a solution if the burden of debt repayment falls on the taxpayers back. Instead, we must look at why Laurentian University came to the point of insolvency. The People's Party of Canada focuses on four basic principles, one of which is accountability. Public institutions must be accountable for the management of their funds. 

David Robinson, Green Party

In the short run it will be important to revise the Federal CCAA and the bankruptcy act to avoid them being applied so brutally and foolishly. Universities are in provincial jurisdiction, however, and the federal government has very limited power to prevent insolvencies if the province underfunds or imposes impossible conditions on institutions.

Ian Symington, Conservative Party

The people of our riding have been adversely affected by the recent financial crisis at  Laurentian University. I graduated from Laurentian, my daughter attends Laurentian, and I volunteer at Laurentian. Laurentian University is an educational and cultural centre for Sudbury and the North. The impact has far reaching effects. I would like better governance models for publicly owned and operated facilities, a higher accountability for these institutions to protect the integrity of the public dollars that go into support and build programs. We need to build these educational facilities on solid foundations so we can attract newcomers to this great riding and have programs that are meaningful for different streams of study. A perfect historical example of this is the Northern Ontario School of Medicine which has greatly reduced the physician shortage in Sudbury and is a highly competitive program that has attracted the best and brightest to our city.

Does the leaner Laurentian that will come out of the restructuring process provide the same broad educational options to students?

Viviane Lapointe, Liberal Party

That is a question that should be asked of the provincial government, which has exclusive jurisdiction over the operations of colleges and universities and the academic programs they deliver.  Certainly, the opportunities to support Laurentian’s programing with federal research supports will be there, with a focus on improving gender and racial equity among Canadian faculty, promoting inter-disciplinary research, and reinforcing Canada’s world leading capabilities in applied research, such as mining. 

A Liberal government will also: 

  • Create a fellowship for 1,000 students and new graduates and offer French Language Training to 3rd and 4th year students to help bridge current gaps including language barriers. 
  • Introduce a new fund for student well-being to improve wait times and increase access to mental health care at colleges and universities and invest $500 million over four years to support Indigenous-governed and operated postsecondary institutions. 
  • Establish a $75 million a year fund for colleges and universities to help commercialize leading research, including identifying and securing patent rights for research done within their institutions and connecting researchers with people and businesses to help put these innovations into action and grow our economy. 
  • Introduce a new fund for student well-being to improve wait times and increase access to mental health care at colleges and universities. The fund will support the hiring of up to 1200 new mental health care counsellors, including those who can support the needs of BIPOC students, at post secondary institutions across Canada. We will invest $500 million over four years and dedicate 10 per cent annually to support Indigenous-governed and operated postsecondary institutions.

David Robinson, Green Party

No. Laurentian can "build back better," but it will be a challenge to overcome the reputational damage that has been done. This an interesting question, but it is quite peripheral to the federal election.

Ian Symington, Conservative Party

Laurentian remains in a unique position to attract students with its Northern location, strong programming history and highly qualified staff and diverse student mix. The need to rebuild with solid funding plans and providing stable programming for students will be the next phase at Laurentian. We are all hopeful that this terrible process of deep cuts will be the worst of the crisis and Laurentian enters a growth phase that will engage new public and private monies to sustain growth of programs with more oversight and accountability.  

What will your party do to ensure the strength and sustainability of Francophone and Indigenous post-secondary education in Canada?

Viviane Lapointe, Liberal Party

Un gouvernement libéral réélu s’engage à faire passer à 80 millions de dollars par année, et ce, de façon permanente, le financement aux établissements d’enseignement postsecondaire dans les communautés de langue officielle en situation minoritaire. Le nouveau financement annoncé de 240 millions de dollars sur quatre ans pourrait servir à renforcer les institutions comme l’Université de l’Ontario français et l’Université de Moncton, assurer la protection et la pérennité du campus Saint-Jean de l’Université de l’Alberta et appuyer une institution postsecondaire dans le Nord de l’Ontario, par, pour et avec les francophones, afin de contrer les coupes qui ont eu lieu à l’Université Laurentienne et assurer que les francophones ont accès à une éducation postsecondaire de qualité là où ils habitent.

A re-elected Liberal government will spend $240 million over four years dedicated to protecting post-secondary French-language education in Canada. This includes supporting opportunities in “Northern Ontario, by, for and with Francophones, in order to counter the cuts that have taken place at Laurentian University and ensure that Francophones have access to post-secondary education of quality where they live.” Our government is already in talks with the provincial government to deliver a post-secondary solutions, by and for Francophones in Northern Ontario, in the same way we did for the new Francophone university in Toronto recently.

David Robinson, Green Party

We all know that I am not going to be the MP. I am happy to express my support for a Francophone university if the community is ready to support one, but voting for the Green Party or any other party will not advance this project. Voting Green just says you want more action on climate change.

Ian Symington, Conservative Party

We have a unique opportunity in Sudbury to capture our cultural mix of people including  Francophone and Indigenous populations and bring them together through viable  educational programs. Our Conservative plan has funding available specific to  Francophone education outside Quebec and Indigenous education across Canada and  Sudbury stands to benefit from this plan.

Nadia Verrelli, NDP

The devastation at Laurentian has made it so we cannot simply put it back. It’s actions, and the lack of federal and provincial support has forever broken what it was. Laurentian leadership has broken faith with Indigenous and Francophone communities who are now rightly looking for another model of post-secondary education in the north. As we have been saying even before this election began, the Federal government has a role in helping with these communities to establish their own path forward. What happened at Laurentian as a blow for our whole community, losing long time community leaders, harming our local economy by the job losses, and forcing so many of our youth to pursue their future elsewhere. New Democrats will:  

  • Provide support to rebuild Laurentian 
  • Work with University of Sudbury to ensure that it can become a stand-alone French university that is governed by and for Sudbury’s francophone community and provide stable funding to ensure its development.  
  • Work directly with local and regional Indigenous groups to fund post-secondary education in a manner of their choice.   
  • Work to protect Laurentian’s Greenspace and ensure that the land remains in public hands. 
  • Find ways to re-fund research dollars directly to students and academics who lost federal funds due to this restructure  
  • I would also work to make sure to make post-secondary education within reach for students in Sudbury by: 
  • Make post-secondary education more affordable for people in Sudbury by forgiving up to $20,000 in student debt and eliminating interest on federal student loans.