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Laurentian board chair says AG’s early report on university ‘not entirely correct’ but doesn't elaborate

Jeff Bangs did not go into details during Friday board meeting on what parts of the preliminary report are inaccurate, but he said LU is working with Bonnie Lysyk as she completes her yet-to-be-released full report
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Jeff Bangs is the chair of the Laurentian University board of governors. (File)

Some of what Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said in her scathing April 13 preliminary report on Laurentian University’s finances was “not entirely correct,” said the chair of LU’s board of governors.

Lysyk said she believes the data shows Laurentian University did not have to file for creditor protection under the Companies Creditors’ Arrangement Act (CCAA).

This action was “strategically planned” and Laurentian “chose to take steps to file for creditor protection in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on February 1, 2021,” her report said.

“Some of what she said the other day is not, you know, not entirely correct,” said Jeff Bangs, speaking at the April 22 Laurentian board of governors meeting.

“We believe that. But that's not to not to challenge her in any way, because she came to conclusions and formulated a preliminary report of eight pages based on the information that she had available to her and the answers that she had had up until that point been provided.”

Bangs did not elaborate during the meeting what items in Lysyk’s report he considers to be “not entirely correct.”

Lysyk said she was only able to table a preliminary report on Laurentian this month, nearly a year after being tasked with the audit, because of the university’s resistance — which has included legal challenges — to providing full information to her team.

“The delays have meant our office continued to receive and review information from Laurentian into April 2022,” she said.

Lysyk decided to table a preliminary report this month “on what we’ve learned so far” because of the upcoming spring provincial election.

“We plan to work with Laurentian’s new chair and board of governors to finalize a comprehensive special report and release it in the near future,” said Lysyk, in a press release issued alongside her report. 

Bangs said discussions had begun with the auditor general “prior to the release of a report on engaging with the board and senior management to help with the completion of her final report.”

The preliminary report “said some things that a lot of us didn’t like to hear,” Bangs said. But there’s now an opportunity to work collaboratively with the auditor general, who has already reached out to pick up that conversation, he said.

This now gives the board and senior administration at LU “the opportunity to answer some questions that need to be answered and correct some facts that need to be corrected before she completes her final report,” Bangs said.

He said he can’t predict the timing of the report, although he said it will probably come out some time after the June Ontario provincial election.

“But that will conclude at some point and will probably provide a much more fulsome account of what's going on at Laurentian, not just in the past year or two, but going back a dozen years, and looking at all of the factors that led us to where we are today,” Bangs said.

Laurentian president Robert Haché echoed Bangs’ comments regarding the auditor general’s preliminary report during the April 22 board of governors meeting.

“I just want to start by reiterating, we will, we will absolutely continue to provide all of the information that we possibly can provide to the auditor general,” Haché said.

“It is crucial that she has the correct facts, and we are in fact have been going through and are continuing through with our fact checking process with her office at the moment.”

Haché also provided more details on his take on the matter at the April 19 meeting of Laurentian’s senate.

He said the university did what it could to advocate to government for financial support, and only turned to filing for creditor protection as a last resort.

Haché was sharply questioned about the auditor general’s report at the Laurentian senate meeting. Many senators actually changed their background image during the Zoom call to the cover of Lysyk’s report.

“I do want to stress in my president's report that at no time was the CCAA a preferred option for the university,” Haché said at that meeting.

“It was always a last resort, and the decision to enter was only taken on the 31st of January (of 2021). It was not something that we wanted, it was something that we actively were working to avoid. 

“It does seem the auditor general does suggest some opportunities that we might not have taken as much advantage of as we might have. All I know is in all of the conversations that we had, as far as the problems unfolded, we did everything we could to provide information to government and to the ministry to avoid this and at the end of the day, it was not avoidable.”

Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com, and covers education and the arts scene.