Canadian Manufacturing

Laurentian University’s insolvency still being felt in parts of northern Ontario’s labour market

The cuts had a "domino effect" on the economy and prompted some to leave the city to pursue work or education elsewhere.

May 10, 2022   The Canadian Press

When Laurentian University abruptly filed for insolvency last year, the impact of the Sudbury, Ont., school’s financial woes reverberated throughout the region — jobs were cut, educational programs were lost, the local economy took a hit and even the campus pool that served many residents was shut down.

Emily Donato says the city she’s lived in for years took a hard hit, one that it’s still recovering from. The situation has prompted questions not only about what happened, but also on what the next provincial government will do to support those still recovering from the fallout.

“It’s more than just Laurentian, it’s a community,” says the 57-year-old who teaches nursing at the school.

“I think that the province needs to really take a look at what’s going on in Sudbury and how it affects the surrounding northern and rural areas as far as the resources that it was able to provide that are not there.”

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The impact of Laurentian University’s financial troubles is one of the key issues currently affecting residents in this part of northern Ontario, Donato says, while health care and transportation are also priority areas.

Laurentian laid off nearly 200 staff and faculty members and axed dozens of programs, including an in-demand bilingual midwifery program, after abruptly filing for insolvency.

The cuts had a “domino effect” on the economy and prompted some to leave the city to pursue work or education elsewhere, Donato says. Meanwhile, a cloud of uncertainty still hangs over the school, which remains under creditor protection until the end of May, she says.

The situation at Laurentian has turned post-secondary education into an unavoidable election issue in northern Ontario, alongside perennial issues such as support for industry and mining, said Stephanie Chouinard, who teaches political science at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

“To the community, the way the program cuts were carried out at Laurentian felt like a betrayal,” particularly for the francophone community, which was disproportionately affected by the elimination of programs not offered elsewhere in the region, she said in French.

The Tories announced a critical minerals strategy in March, laying out a five-year roadmap meant to connect the resource-rich north with manufacturing in the south and boost the province’s electric vehicle and battery production. The NDP pointed out Ford hasn’t lived up to his 2018 promise of immediately developing the Ring of Fire, a mineral-rich region 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Danny Whalen, president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, said having a critical minerals strategy in place is crucial to growing the province’s green economy and cementing the region’s role in it.