Madam Speaker, I am the member of Parliament for Sudbury, and I am currently about one kilometre from Laurentian University.
Laurentian is a flagship institution in our community and a major economic and cultural driver. As we know, it is actually a tricultural institution.
My family has a long history with Laurentian. I come from Kapuskasing, but back in my day, Laurentian offered courses at the Université de Hearst. My mother is a graduate of Laurentian. She took distance education courses. For nine years, she worked on the kitchen table to get her degree in social work, which she managed to do.
My kids went to the Touche-à-Tout daycare on the Laurentian campus. They learned to swim in Laurentian's pool. We go cross-country skiing as a family on the university grounds.
I even taught a few advanced taxation classes at Laurentian's school of business, filling in for a colleague who had taken a year's sabbatical. My wife Lynne teaches students in the Faculty of Medicine at both Laurentian University and Lakehead University. She teaches many students.
My family has very close ties to Laurentian, and I am not the only one in this situation. Our entire community is the same way.
The city of Sudbury and Laurentian have a very close and important relationship. I can look at some of the amazing professors we have there, such as Dr. Peter Beckett, who studies regreening, and its international institution on regreening. As the House may know, Sudbury's environment was devastated because of mining practices back in the forties, fifties and sixties, but because of the ingenuity of the professors and students in the department at Laurentian, we were able to regreen and plant 14 million trees in our area alone.
I think of John Gunn and the Vale Living with Lakes Centre. All of the lakes were decimated, but this changed because of his research. There are other world-class researchers doing research right now. I think of David Pearson and new folks like Dr. Nate Basiliko and Nadia Mykytczuk, just to name a few. We know that we have amazing indigenous professors as well, and students who are learning not only their language, but social work and the many other very important programs at Laurentian.
We were blessed to have professors like Gaétan Gervais, Robert Dickson and Fernand Dorais, and graduates like Daniel Aubin. The La Nuit sur l'étang festival, which has been one of our flagship annual events since 1973, was created by a Laurentian student. Furthermore, the Franco-Ontarian flag comes from Laurentian University, in Sudbury. [Technical difficulty—Editor] Gaétan Gervais and his students.
I had the honour of chairing the 2011 Canadian Francophone Games, which were hosted by Laurentian University. The people of Sudbury have a meaningful history with Laurentian University.
In 2015, when I became the MP for Sudbury, one of the first things I did was to contact and reach out to Laurentian's leadership at the time and encourage them to apply for the research grants and capital grants that were about to come online. In the spring of 2016, we announced the first of many large research funds for Laurentian.
Metal earth was a $55-million multi-sector project designed to modernize the research for the deposit of metals. It was right at Laurentian because of the amazing professors it has. Shortly after that, we announced a $27-million investment in a new research centre to replace the cramped 40-year-old science building. The Cliff Fielding centre for research, innovation and engineering was opened three years later, on time and under budget. It is home to Laurentian's family of internationally recognized mining and engineering facilities.
Since then, I have returned to Laurentian regularly to announce more than $10 million in funding for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and CFI. This was for Laurentian researchers and graduate students. We celebrated research week annually at the end of February before the pandemic hit.
Our government has provided funding for research projects on indigenous health, in conjunction with Health Sciences North and Sudbury, and for the study and preservation of indigenous languages. We have provided over $840,000 to Laurentian for research designed to help first nations communities adapt to climate change. We have also provided $1.5 million for Laurentian researchers to work with Wikwemikong Health Centre and Health Sciences North in Sudbury to assess the health of indigenous children across the country. In all, our government has provided more than $10 million in research grants to Laurentian alone.
If we add it all up, over the last five years we have invested over $100 million in Laurentian University capital projects and research projects. This is on top of the annual subsidies the federal government provides through the French languages program and services.
As I said, I have been engaged with Laurentian from day one, since I became a member of Parliament, and in December and January I continued discussions on how I could help. If it is not through the research funding that I just talked about, it is through a new program on indigenous languages that we created. I invited Laurentian to apply to it, but unfortunately they missed the first round. I then went back to them to encourage them to apply for that funding in the second round.
The federal government also transfers money to the province through the official languages in education program, or OLEP. The province then distributes that funding. Laurentian University has received more than $1 million over the past five years. The federal government transfers around $16 million a year to the Government of Ontario.
On February 1, when Laurentian decided to protect itself from creditors through the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act process, all of the residents of Sudbury and I were shocked and in disbelief. People do not realize this, but one of the largest creditors is the federal government. What has happened is that all the funding I talked about, which was still in Laurentian's coffers, is not there anymore because of the process under the CCAA.
Teachers and students who are conducting world-class research have, since day one, been left without knowing their future or what is going on, and that has certainly left many questions and a lot of people frustrated, to say the least. The effect on the teachers, students and families has been devastating as well. These are professionals. These are students, some graduate students, who have come here to learn from these professionals. The whole process since day one has been extremely difficult.
Monday, April 12 was certainly a dark day for our community, for the Laurentian community and also for the Sudbury community. More than 100 professors and 70 staff members were laid off. These are professionals, experts in their fields. I have close friends who were affected and who lost their jobs. I have friends and family members who are Laurentian University students and who do not know what will happen on May 1 or September 1.
We have talked about the various faculties that were affected. The French-language Faculty of Education was producing our future leaders and our future high school teachers. Without them, there can be no French-language education.
With regard to the environmental studies program, Sudbury is known to be a world-class pillar. It is something I have championed and mentioned on every platform I could get on. When I talk about my community, I say we are leaders in environmental reclamation and that mining and the environment can be together, with the economy at the forefront. That is because of Laurentian University and its ingenuity.
There is also the physics department. We have the SNOLAB, a world-class research facility, which is two kilometres underground. It is not too far from here. A Nobel Peace Prize was won because of the research that was conducted along with Laurentian.
The French midwifery program receives more than 300 applications each year. Only 30 students are admitted. Still, the decision was made to abolish these programs to allow the university to survive.
We are going through a difficult period. We are having a hard time understanding, and we have plenty of questions. Anxiety is high, and that worries me. I am worried about the mental health of the students, the professors and their families. They do not know what will happen. It is taking a long time for communication to flow and, sometimes, very little information is shared. Our community is going through a very difficult time.
The unfortunate announcement was made on Monday, April 12. When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I told my wife that we were going to have to keep fighting. This fight is far from over. A total of 24 programs were abolished, and our education is again being compromised. I never really thought this would happen in my community, in my backyard. I am so proud of the people who are here. Now we must start thinking about the next steps.
During the restructuring period, from February 1 to April 12, I spoke with the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages to see what we could do. As members have seen, we are speaking to officials from the Province of Ontario.
Universities and colleges are a creation of provincial law. The provinces have more than a leadership role to play. It is their responsibility and it is their jurisdiction. That being said, certainly our government has been steadfast since the beginning and has said that we will be there to work with the provinces to determine and help out as we move forward. The Prime Minister has said the same thing.
As I said, when I woke up Tuesday morning, I said to myself that we have to keep fighting. I got lots of calls from my friends in the community, and we talked about what we can and must do to make sure our community keeps its post-secondary institution. The community I am so proud of is coming together to make sure that young people, like my children, can earn an art degree in our region. The battle is not over. We really have to get the conversation going. This is a process we have to go through. It is frustrating, but at the same time, we have to keep dreaming. We are hopeful that we will keep being able to get an education in the language and program of our choice in our region. This region is very important to the francophone community in Ontario and Canada.
As my colleagues will have noticed, I am the one who got the entire 20-minute opening slot today given the importance of this topic. I thank my NDP colleagues for raising this matter this evening. This is an important subject, and some people think it is a final decision. I, however, think we have to keep the conversation going now that the process has started and seems to be wrapping up. We really need to have a conversation with provincial representatives, which is what we are doing today.
That is why one of the things I did was think of solutions, of what I can do. A month and a half ago, in mid-February, I started coming up with ideas. As mentioned earlier, I used to be the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources and I decided not to run in the next election.
Because I am no longer a parliamentary secretary, I can bring forward my private member's bill, and I have been working on it since mid to late February. We talk about the frustrating aspect of the CCAA, that public institutions like post-secondary institutions can avail themselves of the protection through that process. I believe the reason that law is there is not to protect creditors with respect to public institutions like post-secondary institutions.
That being said, when there is a CCAA proceeding, it is not the role of any politician to insert themselves in an independent judiciary process. I have been asked by my constituents to get involved and stop it. We are not China; we are not Russia. Politicians do not stop an independent judicial process. I know that is frustrating. If we could, we would when we do not agree with it, but that is not how the democracy we live in works.
I will go back to my private member's bill. On Monday, I will be tabling in Routine Proceedings, for the first time as a member of Parliament, amendments to the CCAA to ensure that post-secondary institutions cannot avail themselves of the protection of that act. The reason why I am doing this is very simple.
The carnage and the anxiety I have seen in my community should not be repeated anywhere else across the country. We are living through a stressful time that should not be happening, if the provinces would take their responsibility and r jurisdiction seriously.
We knew the situation Laurentian was in, and it is not the only one. We cannot continue cutting post-secondary funding at the provincial level and expect the federal government to always come in with a cheque. It is responsibility of the provinces. They have a duty. As I said, universities and colleges are creations of provincial laws.
That is why I hope all members of Parliament will support my private member's bill to amend the CCAA to ensure that it is not used to basically restructure public institutions across the country.
We all have to make sure this never happens again. We also have to come up with short- and long-term solutions for Laurentian University. I, personally, will never stop supporting Laurentian, but we certainly need to look at the big picture to see how we can ensure the survival of our programs and make sure that the teaching staff that was laid off has a future in our community.
I think that the federal and provincial governments have a role to play in that. We have to ensure the survival of our institutions across Canada. That is why I am pleased to participate in today's debate. I thank the many residents of Sudbury who have written to me.
For all my constituents in Sudbury who have written to me or who have reached out to me, I have engaged with not only with the administration, I am engaged with the union, I am engaged with the students and I am engaged with the professors. I am engaging in all the discussions to find solutions in these very difficult times.
I wish none of my colleagues in the House of Commons have to go through what we are going through in Sudbury and at Laurentian University.
I look forward to questions from colleagues.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the time to talk about home and of how proud I am, and to say that it is a difficult time for everyone.