Laurentian crisis has national import: Angus

·4 min read

The crisis at Laurentian has garnered national attention.

In Ottawa, Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus was granted an emergency session and called on Parliament to study the insolvency facing the university.

“I am proud to stand, to fight for the future of Laurentian University, and to fight for the people of Northern Ontario,” Angus said on April 14.

Angus spoke of the importance of the university to French-speaking and Indigenous communities. He highlighted the “60 years of public investment” and tricultural history.

“We have to get rid of that president and board of the governors,” was his appeal to fellow members during the late-hour debate.

“We have never seen anything like this,” the MP subsequently told The Star. “The CCAA is a totally secretive process. It excludes the municipality, provincial leaders, the staff … and then there are mass firing and cuts without any justification or negotiation. It is setting a very serious precedent.”

He said the key at this point is “to bring pressure … to bring the key political players to the table; that’s the province and the feds. We have to put the university and its function first.”

He also shared a personal story. “My own father and mother quit school at 17 and 15,” he said. “They were the children of miners. My dad returned to post-secondary education at 40 and became an economics professor; and that was because of Laurentian. Laurentian made it possible. It ultimately changed my life also.”

Angus said he was shocked by some of the programs targeted for cancellation. “The midwifery program? Physics, when we have a Nobel Prize? Getting rid of the environmental and reclamation program when Laurentian invented it? Mining engineering? Eliminating that, here in Northern Ontario, makes no sense. The people making these decisions have no idea. I’m going to be blunt, they should not be allow near any public institutions, and not public education.”

He said “we had built capacity and expertise,” but “when you turn it over to the hatchet-men, their job is to count beans and announce mass firings. We can’t let them determine what is or isn’t of value.”

Angus said the midwifery program “is fully funded” and “was serving a need that no one else in the country could serve. Without it we deny service to rural francophone families, and Indigenous communities in the Far North. These are social values that have to be factored in.”

As it stands now, “a woman in Attawapiskat who is giving birth has to be flown out on a Medivac flight to Moose Factory or another destination,” he said. “Imagine the cost. We have midwives working in those communities, teaching traditional birthing.”

Angus is adamant that what is happening at Laurentian has national significance. “Pressure on faculty to accept a forced contract undermines many basic Canadian beliefs,” he said. “University faculty and staff are being kicked out the door. No severance. The bean counters are going after the pensions next.”

Angus urges people in Sudbury to think about all the staff, students and faculty. “This will have the huge impact. This is an economic catastrophe. Economic and emotional shockwaves will be immense.”

Indigenous studies are unique to Laurentian’s mandate, Angus said, and “if you expect Indigenous students to go to Toronto where rents are high and you can’t get home easily, they won’t go. Waterloo, U of T, Guelph and others were not built for Indigenous learners nor for the inclusion of Indigenous voices. This denies access.”

Angus has received many calls from families and individuals who were planning and saving up to attend Laurentian. “For small towns across the North, Sudbury was the place to go,” he said.

Youth outmigration will be a greater issue with the loss of Laurentian.

“We were able to make it (Laurentian) a national issue and hold six hours of debate,” he said. “We were able to agree Laurentian is an issue of national concern, to draw attention to the crisis.”

Angus insisted all the Northern mayors need to act as one.

“If we can speak with one voice — as one region — we will have greater clout,” he said. “It is something we all want. We need Doug Ford to do his part. The government needs to look north. We got the prime minister’s team to make lots of warm, fuzzy promises to Laurentian, but now we ask ‘what are the actual steps?’ ”

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

Hugh Kruzel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star