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Letter: Laurentian shows Ford doesn’t deserve North’s votes

‘Much attention has been devoted to mismanagement at Laurentian, and rightly so. But the Conservative cabinet also bears a major responsibility, and their inaction has made the crisis worse’
typewriter pexels-cottonbro-3945337 (From Pexels by Cottonbro)

The Conservative government under Doug Ford is doing major damage to Northern Ontario — in education, culture, science, and the economy — by their mishandling of the insolvency crisis at Laurentian University. They don’t deserve our votes.

This entire process has been a bonanza for the corporate sector at the expense of taxpayers. The announcement of $53.5 million is in addition to last December’s announcement of $35 million plus an additional commitment of $22 million in funding – that’s a total of $110.5 million, most of which will end up in the pockets of lawyers, consultants and banks.

The latest election ‘payola’ of $53 million doesn’t change that. The Ford government still supports sending Laurentian through the disastrous CCAA insolvency process – a first for a Canadian university. 

The $53 million is to be used to buy public property we already own, though not necessarily endowed green spaces or the Art Gallery of Sudbury and its collection. Programs, faculty, and staff will not be restored by it. Laurentian, once the largest university in Northern Ontario, will be a pale corporate shadow the full public university we deserve.

Much attention has been devoted to mismanagement at Laurentian, and rightly so. But the Conservative cabinet also bears a major responsibility, and their inaction has made the crisis worse. Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario’s Auditor-General characterized the problem gently as “weak ministry oversight.” Their failure goes even further to include systemic underfunding and lack of transparency.

The Conservative government knew of the serious financial problem at Laurentian and vulnerabilities in the Northern universities. It could have taken direct action, but instead it allowed Laurentian to unleash the CCAA corporate insolvency process – in the middle of a pandemic.

As the massive cuts to Laurentian became known across the province and around the world – over 60 programs and 200 faculty and staff were slashed – the Province could have stepped in to end the CCAA process. It could have worked directly to refinance the university and deal with creditors. It could have spared loss and disruption to the futures of hundreds of students. Yet Mr Ford’s cabinet took no action.

Among those losses was the closing of the second oldest Indigenous Studies program in Canada and important efforts for Indigenous language revitalization. This destruction occurred without any consultation with Indigenous communities. The province, like Laurentian, has claimed it seeks a path of truth and reconciliation with Indigenous people, but where was Mr. Ford’s cabinet?

When the Franco-Ontarian community spoke out against the slashing of Francophone programs, where again was Mr. Ford’s cabinet? Along with the federal government, the province also has a responsibility to protect minority language and educational rights. Yet the cabinet remained silent as Laurentian slashed the Département d’études françaises, Histoire, Science politique, Arts dramatiques, etc – in a supposedly “bilingual” university.

What about the long-term harms to our region? Their inaction has already hurt many community arts, sports, and cultural organizations, hurt valuable research, and lost millions of dollars of public awards and private donations held in trust. 

Many local and regional businesses too will be hurt and even lose what they were owed by Laurentian for goods or services.

It took many months of suffering under the CCAA process before it became obvious even to the Ford cabinet that public trust in Laurentian was collapsing, along with future enrolments. Only in December 2021, did then Minister Jill Dunlop act to provide “relief” to Laurentian.

But this was not relief aimed at ending the CCAA process and restoring Laurentian as a major public university in Northern Ontario. It only helped cover a political disaster for the Conservatives caused by the ineptness of the previous minister, Ross Romano. 

Worse, it continued to support the CCAA and the downsizing of Laurentian into an even more top-down corporate model of education responding to market pressures and profitability. The Ford cabinet’s inactions undermine the desire of communities, faculty, and students for a public university with more open and collegial leadership responding deeply to community needs in the large and disadvantaged region that is Northern Ontario.

Nor have the cabinet’s interventions ended the massive waste of public funds and student tuitions in the CCAA process on “external lawyers, external financial consultants and government-relations specialists” (as characterized by the Auditor-General) – at least $24 million so far and still climbing.

There was one positive result of the cabinet’s interventions: they have blown away the pretense that the province could do or say nothing during the CCAA process.

Actually, a lot could have been done – and could still be done – if we had a government who actually cared for public education and for Northern Ontario. That is not the Ford Conservative Government. Even this last payout shows what they really care for – and it’s not Northerners. They don’t deserve our votes this June 2.

The Tricultural Committee for University Education at Sudbury/Comité triculturel pour l’éducation universitaire à Sudbury was formed by representatives of Save our Sudbury, the Coalition nord-ontarienne pour une université de langue française à Sudbury and key leaders from local Aboriginal communities in response to the devastating local impact of Laurentian University’s use of the CCAA. The Committee aims to build bridges between communities affected by the cuts to programs and positions at Laurentian, and to support them in their efforts to re-establish a consistent university offering that meets the needs of their community.

Reuben Roth
Greater Sudbury