Sudbury senator’s motion on Laurentian to be heard May 4

·4 min read

A sense of urgency, as well as what Sen. Josée Forest-Neising believes is a government requirement, led her to seek consent from her Senate colleagues to consider a motion she had created to support Laurentian University, one she wished to bring to the Senate on April 20, rather than May 4.

The motion itself, found at the bottom of this article, encouraged the Senate to voice its solidarity with the Franco-Ontarian community and require the Government of Canada to take all the necessary measures, “in accordance with its jurisdiction, to ensure the vitality and development of official language minority communities.”

It will now be heard at the May 4 sitting of the Senate, at a point in the agenda that, as Forest-Niesing describes it, “is dead last behind a long list of other equally important matters.”

The Senate has a mandated timeline for Senators that wish to add items to the fixed meeting agendas — a set period that allows the senators time to review, research and reflect on the motions and have time to prepare ahead of the meeting date. Forest-Niesing hoped that with diligence and an appeal based on the need for quick action in the situation, the Senate would vote in favour of removing the required deadlines for agenda admission and allow her to bring the motion immediately to the floor.

“This is a very urgent matter of public interest that should concern us all given the precedent setting situation of Laurentian, and it is availing itself of recourses that I think we can all agree we're never contemplated to be available to publicly funded institutions, but rather, were designed for private enterprise,” she said.

However, she was unsuccessful in overcoming the technical timing. The motion will still be read, but not for some time.

In the vote to remove the wait time, there were only two dissenting voices. “The end result is that, for reasons that I have yet to understand, two of my conservative colleagues opted to oppose,” the senator told Sudbury.com.

Her urgency is not just as a politician, but as a Sudburian. Senator Josée Forest-Niesing practiced law here for 20 years and was a board member or chair of the Art Gallery of Sudbury, the Ontario Arts Council, the Carrefour francophone de Sudbury and the University of Sudbury. She was appointed to the Senate in 2018.

And while she is currently fighting for the Francophone aspects of the Laurentian University crisis, she says that she fears for the Indigenous studies programs as well as the Anglophone ones.

“There is an equally important need to continue to serve Indigenous peoples and that the Indigenous programming has saved,” she said. “I would submit that the English language programming at Laurentian is also very important, I feel very strongly that it too must be saved. The university itself, even if it survives as a unilingual Anglophone University, I don't want to see it disappear.

“Our community relies on it very heavily, not only from an economic standpoint, but its outreach to the community, its partnerships with other community organizations, its contributions to research, its attraction of students from everywhere around the country and abroad. Makes it an important institution for the entire community, including Francophones.”

The motion as she wished to present it in the Senate, is as follows:

1. That the Senate express its concern about the closure at Laurentian University in Sudbury, of 58 undergraduate programs and 11 graduate programs, including 28 programs French language programs, representing 58 per cent of its French-speaking programs and the dismissal of 110 professors, nearly half of whom are French speaking;

2. That it reiterates its solidarity with the Franco-Ontarian community;

3. That it recalls the essential role of higher education in French for the vitality of Franco-Canadian and Acadian communities and the responsibility to defend and promote language rights, as expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act; and

4. That it urges the Government of Canada to take all the necessary measures, in accordance with its jurisdiction, to ensure the vitality and development of official language minority communities.

Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. She covers the Black, Indigenous, immigrant and Francophone communities.

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com