With one Northern Ontario New Democrat proclaiming that no one cares about Northern Ontario students or how they're being treated, an online meeting held Saturday resolved to push provincial and federal leaders to take action to stop the financial restructuring process now underway for Laurentian University (LU).
Northern New Democrats are calling for a moratorium on the CCAA (Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act) refinancing process for Laurentian. That was one of the outcomes of an online town hall style meeting held Saturday that was hosted by federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, also a New Democrat.
Although the meeting was billed as a town hall event, it essentially featured the voices and opinions of several NDP MPs and Ontario MPPs, a well-known former international union leader as well as comments from a political science student who is in her fourth year but might not be able to graduate.
Angus kicked off the meeting with a statement that Northern Ontario has invested too much into LU over the years to let it be torn apart because of a financial restructuring process that should never have been initiated in the first place.
"What we've done by CCAA in the first round was done in the darkness. It was done without scrutiny. Well now they're being scrutinized and they know we're watching and we're going to continue to watch and we're going to continue to fight," said Angus.
Also joining the Zoom event was NDP leader Singh who remarked that he is endorsing the efforts of Northern Ontario MPs such as Angus and Carol Hughes to keep the jobs and programs in place at Laurentian.
Singh said what happens at LU impacts the Sudbury economy in particular, the Northern economy in general as well as so many students, their families, Indigenous, Francophones and the business community.
The discussion was also joined by well-known Sudbury native and former union leader Leo Gerard who said the CCAA process is not the right way to go about the financial restructuring of LU. As the former international leader of the United Steel Workers, Gerard said he was familiar with CCAA processes in both Canada and the United States.
"We need to understand what's going on at Laurentian is not a CCAA. It's a hijacking," Gerard declared.
He added that he is suspicious of who or how the entire CCAA process was initiated at the university.
"Who initiated the CCAA. Did it come from the premier? Did it come from the bank? Did it come from the senate at Laurentian University? I have not been able to get an answer to that," said Gerard.
Gerard went on to say he viewed the process as a sinister trial balloon, saying if the process can succeed at LU, then it can be imposed on other public institutions.
He added that the Steel Workers union played a role sixty years ago in helping to bring people together for the creation of Laurentian University. Gerard said LU plays a significant role in the economic health of the North.
"Sixty five per cent of the students at Laurentian University were from Northern Ontario. The programs they went in were programs that would lead to better jobs including things like physics, mechanical engineering." He also said the union helped create the centre of occupational health and safety.
The meeting was also joined by Sudbury MPP Jamie West and Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, who both expressed disappointment at the CCAA process and the fact that the university's future is in jeopardy.
West, who is an LU graduate, said the fact that university was located in Sudbury meant he was able to afford to go there as opposed to leaving the city and trying to get higher education somewhere else. West said his wife is also a graduate and two of his children are students at LU.
He said the financial problems at the university are devastating for Sudbury. West said his office had tried to get answers several months ago from Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano, but that Romano was not forthcoming with any relevant information.
"We are going to do what we've always done in Sudbury and that is fight back and demand fairness."
MPP Gélinas said she too is an LU graduate and she is worried that the possible financial failure of LU could be catastrophic for Sudbury.
"We cannot let this process continue. We have to stay united, speak with one voice and ask that this process be stopped," said Gélinas.
She said she wants a moratorium to give the people of Sudbury a chance to look more closely at what is going on and to be involved in offering solutions that make sense to Northern Ontario.
"We have to have a voice," Gélinas insisted. She said she and West would soon be hosting a news conference to call for a moratorium on the CCAA process.
The meeting also heard from Katlyn Kotila, a fourth year LU student, who was double-majoring in Political Science and Communications Studies.
"I entered this semester with two majors that I was very proud to be a student of, and I am leaving this semester with not a single program under my belt," Kotila told the meeting.
She said she has no firm idea of what her future holds since all her professors were fired. Her program was terminated. Other universities have not been helpful in offering her any options where she could transfer and graduate
"Because I am in my fourth year, residency rules are a thing and I have done too much of my degree at Laurentian for them to accept me now," she explained.
She said she is not alone and many other students are experiencing similar challenges and are feeling seriously stressed out.
As the meeting was about to wrap, MP Angus recounted a concern that was expressed by a midwifery student who texted in a chat window during the meeting.
"She was told that this decision would not negatively impact her education. But Laurentian University called a meeting, during her class time, and fired her professor," said Angus.
"That shows that they don't give a sh*t about our people," Angus declared.
"And when I see stuff like that, I say that's not good enough for me. We did not get into politics as New Democrats to go along, to get along. We came into politics to stand up to fight," said Angus.
As the meeting ended, Angus told the participants that the fight will be carried on and that the NDP would also be soliciting support from individual municipalities and municipal leaders in Northern Ontario.