Speaking during a campaign tour stop in Sudbury early Saturday morning, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says his party wants to save the financially ailing Laurentian University, “and that means saving all the programs.”
As has been widely reported, Laurentian, which declared insolvency this spring and is undergoing court-supervised restructuring, made massive cuts to its staff and programs this spring.
While Singh did address other issues during his campaign stop - including the NDP’s plans for student debt and its support for federal vaccine passports - given his location, he put a spotlight on the situation at Laurentian.
Sudbury.com asked Singh what the New Democrats would do to support Laurentian if they formed government, or, if not elected, how they’d push those in power federally on the issue.
“We want to invest in protecting this university and saving it,” said Singh, who addressed supporters at the event held at the University of Sudbury, an educational institution operating on Laurentian’s campus that has been impacted by Laurentian’s restructuring.
“We would have acted sooner. We would have acted much more quickly to save Laurentian University. Now, where we’re at, we would immediately invest to provide that support.
“We know in a crisis, you can’t kind of wring your hands and wait around. You have to act immediately.
“If we lose these programs, we lose these professors, we lose the infrastructure, that’s going to be hard to rebuild.
“We want to act immediately to prevent that from happening. Our goal would be urgency - immediately getting in and figuring out exactly how we can provide support, providing that financial support, understanding how important this institution is for the people of Sudbury, but also for the entire north of Ontario.
“Because it’s so important, we can’t allow it to fail, and we have to step in and provide that support.”
Singh was joined at the event by not only his entourage and the national media following his campaign tour, but also local supporters and area NDP politicians.
That includes Sudbury federal candidate Nadia Verrelli, who lost her job as a political science professor when Laurentian eliminated her department in the spring, as well as Nickel Belt candidate Andréane Chenier.
Also in attendance were Timmins NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has been particularly critical of the situation at Laurentian, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing NDP MP Carol Hughes, and local NDP MPPs Jamie West (Sudbury) and France Gélinas (Nickel Belt).
Verrelli, who introduced Singh at the event, said it was emotional being back on Laurentian’s campus - it was the first time back for many since “Black Monday,” as the day in April when LU made its program and staff cuts public has been dubbed.
“Where were our Liberal MPs or anyone from the Liberal government when all this was happening?” she said. “They did not show up, despite our cries for help.”
She gave credit to Singh, Angus and Hughes for spurring an emergency debate on Laurentian in the House of Commons, and West and Gélinas for setting in motion the auditor general’s report into LU’s finances.
The University of Sudbury, where Singh spoke Saturday, is one of three educational institutions operating on Laurentian’s campus that was, until recently, federated with LU, and provided courses that counted toward Laurentian degrees.
As part of its restructuring, Laurentian terminated the federation agreement with the University of Sudbury along with Thorneloe and Huntington universities in the spring, as it wanted to keep in its own coffers the government and tuition funds transferred to these schools.
The University of Sudbury is currently working with the francophone community to become a French-language university, but hasn’t received the government approval it needs to proceed this fall. It has also given a similar offer to the Indigenous community.
Singh also addressed this situation.
He said Laurentian as well as the University of Sudbury have an important mandate for bilingualism and providing access to higher education in French.
The federal government supports bilingualism, Singh said, so there is a particular duty for federal politicians to step in.
“It’s already so hard for people to access services in French,” he said. “It’s already so hard for young people to find a university to pursue their education in French, and to let an institution like this go, and to see cuts in its programming, would be a devastating blow to francophones in all of Ontario, but particularly in the North
“So that’s another reason we absolutely have to step in, and the federal government has another reason to step in and provide supports.”
Serge Miville, the University of Sudbury’s new president, said he was happy to host the NDP leader’s visit to Sudbury, as it highlights what his institution is trying to achieve.
“We’re pretty happy we get to talk to potential MPs, and we get to talk to a whole bunch of people, and tell them about this great project we’re doing,” he said. “I think we’re turning a lot of heads with that.”
Singh’s main announcement during his Sudbury stop involved some promises for post-secondary students.
He pledged to forgive up to $20,000 of student loan debt, remove interest from federal loans, and double federal student grants. He also committed to giving new graduates a five-year head start before without having to make any federal loan payments.