That this House do now adjourn.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am very proud to be here this evening as the NDP spokesperson for the greater Timmins—James Bay region. I am very touched to open the debate on the future of Laurentian University.
For the people from all around northern Ontario, Laurentian University is a symbol that opened the door to several generations of young Franco-Ontarians, indigenous and young anglophones from small towns in northern Ontario.
It is important for Parliament to look at the crisis at Laurentian University and come up with a solution.
I will be sharing my time with the member for .
People in Canada might be wondering why the Parliament of Canada is talking about the future of a university in Sudbury. There are national implications about what is happening there right now. The use of the CCAA, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, to demolish a public institution is something that we have to deal with at the federal level to make sure it will never happen again. If we allow this precedent to happen at Laurentian, we can bet our bottom dollar that premiers like Jason Kenney and other right wingers will use the CCAA to attack public institutions.
This is not an example of the reason that legislation was put in place, and it cannot be used at Laurentian today. A number of programs that have national significance are being attacked and undermined at Laurentian. That is the issue to be debated in this House, and I thank my colleagues from all parties for being present for this debate.
When I look at Laurentian, it is very emotional. My father was in his thirties and never had a chance to go to school. My dad had to quit school when he was 16 because he was a miner's son. There was no opportunity for post-secondary education. My mom quit school at 15 to go to work.
When my dad was 35, he had the opportunity to get a post-secondary education, and he got that because Laurentian University was there. The fact that we had a university in the north made it possible for my father to get the education that had been denied him, and he became a professor of economics. That is what Laurentian did for him.
I was speaking to a young, single mother yesterday who never got to go to school, as she had a child very young. She phoned me and said she was going to go to university next year. She asked where she will go now. Doug Ford and his buddies probably do not think it is a problem if people are in Kapuskasing or Hearst. He would say they should just go to Toronto or Guelph. They cannot.
Laurentian makes that possible. Laurentian removed the barriers for so many people in a region that has suffered such massive youth out-migration, year in and year out. Laurentian was the tool that we used. It is 60 years of public investment. I think particularly of the Franco-Ontarian community that has built a level of expertise and capacity that was second to none.
I think of the indigenous community. The university had the tricultural mandate, and the decision of the board of governors to attack indigenous services as part of their restructuring is an attack on truth and reconciliation.
Call to action 16 states, “We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.” Guess what, with the CCAA, that is gone. Gone as well are the massive and important programs for francophone youth to get educated in key areas.
I believe we have to step up at the federal level. We have to come to the table to work with Laurentian on its future, but I would say part of that has to be that we get rid of the president and board of governors who made this deal possible. If we look at what they put in their plan, this is not a restructuring. This is an act of intellectual vandalism that is without precedent.
They are destroying the engineering program in the land of the deepest mines in the world. They are destroying the francophone mining engineering program when the majority of young people coming into the mining trades are francophone and work all over the world. They have taken that away.
They made a decision to get rid of the physics program when we have the world-class Neutrino Observatory, which has won awards around the world. Now scientists will be coming in from elsewhere, but the local university will not be part of it. What kind of thinking is that?
The decision to cut the nursing program in a region where the majority of the population is francophone goes against the principle of access to equitable services for francophone communities.
We need to look at a couple of key areas to see why this matters at the federal level. The attack on the programs that were designed for the northern indigenous is an attack on reconciliation. The federal government has an obligation there.
The attack on the francophone language rights, services, programming and training is denying opportunities, and it will have an effect for decades to come. It is also going to have an immediate impact on the right for people in rural regions to receive service in their language because young people are being trained in their language to work in those communities. I would point to the decision to kill the midwifery program, which was fought so hard for.
For rural people, that program was essential. It is essential for the far north, in communities like Attawapiskat, where the midwives went to work.
This is showing us it does not matter, in this so-called restructuring, what the mandate of that university was, which was to provide opportunity and education that was second to none in North America.
Anyone who has not read the filings being used under the CCAA should really take a look at them, because this is the road map for the destruction of public education and public services in Canada. What we heard on Monday was a shocking attack on education, programs and opportunities. It was slash after slash after slash, but what is in here is what comes next. It is the ability of this board of governors, the Doug Ford crowd, to go after and destroy the pensions.
Coming from northern Ontario, we are no strangers to the attack on pensions. I remember when Peggy Witte destroyed Pamour mine and the workers had their pensions stolen. I remember when the Kerr-Addison mine, one of the richest mines in the history of Canada, was stripped bare by the creditors, so there was nothing left but a bunch of unpaid bills, and the workers had their pension rights denied. Is that is the plan for the post-secondary education? That cannot happen. Not on our watch.
Were there mistakes made at Laurentian? Absolutely, but it is indicative of the larger crisis in post-secondary education, where students are forced to pay massive amounts to get access to education. They come out with major levels of debt. We see university administrators putting money into new buildings, into all the bells and whistles, and denying tenure and adequate work for the professors.
We saw another university in northern Ontario that fired a whole crop of young, dedicated professors and put the money into the sports program. What we are seeing with Laurentian and other universities is the creation of a new level of precarious worker, the university professors and staff, who take on enormous amounts of student debt and are given no opportunity or security and now even their pensions are going to be undermined.
I am calling on my colleagues tonight that the federal government has a role to play. We have to change the CCAA laws so we never again can have a precedent where a public institution can be ripped apart and destroyed and where the pension rights and protections of the people who work in that public service are erased.
That is not what the CCAA was established for. It was established for private companies. It was also to give them security while they restructured. What is happening at Laurentian is not a restructuring, so we need to deal with the CCAA.
We need a commitment from the federal government about the Francophone services. We need to speak up for the indigenous programs that are being cut. We have to recognize northern Ontario is not going to go back to third-class status, where the young people, who are the greatest assets we have, have to leave year in, year out because we do not have the services. Laurentian is a service we put 60 years into. We have to protect it.
I am calling on the to show up and come to the table with a plan to work to save Laurentian.
Madam Speaker, thank you for clarifying that. I was about to ask my hon. colleague from a question, but I will go ahead with my own speech after the really impressive one he just gave. It will be along the same lines as the question I was going to ask.
Each year and in each election, the Liberal Party of Canada tries to charm francophones outside Quebec, telling them how wonderful and important they are and how important diversity is. It woos them with fine words, but what happens after? Essentially, the Liberals drag their feet and not much happens. In fact, nothing happens. The tragedy at Laurentian University is unfortunately another example.
Too often in our history, the Liberal Party of Canada has touted the francophone community in its election slogans and speeches. The Liberals use the francophone community as a reliable voting base for when election time comes around, but they are all talk. Nothing ever gets done. The tragedy at Laurentian University is unfortunately another example of that behaviour. I am extremely sorry to see the Liberals treating francophones as a doormat to get easy votes, while never following up with any measures or decisions.
The cuts to Laurentian University are devastating. I just want to remind members that Stéphanie Chouinard, a political scientist who teaches at the Royal Military College in Kingston, called what is being done to French programs a literal bloodbath.
I think that my colleague from Timmins—James Bay clearly explained how Laurentian University was an icon in northern Ontario. He clearly demonstrated how it was an anchor institution that enabled francophones, among others, to continue studying in French and to pursue their education without leaving the region. It provided the opportunity to stay in northern Ontario and to live and study in French without having to move to Ottawa or even Montreal.
The carnage we are witnessing today is utterly appalling. Unfortunately, the federal government is dragging its feet and basically abandoning the 10,000 students who attend Laurentian University every year. The layoffs cost 110 professors their jobs. We cannot just stand by, because it is a shock for those people. If they leave the region, they may never return. That is absolutely terrible. There are also 28 French-language programs that are being eliminated. These 28 programs are important not just for the economic vibrancy of the region and the vitality of the francophone community, but also for access to public service, certain services and professionals capable of doing the work.
I want to list 25 of the 28 French-language programs that have been cut: law and political science; education; environmental studies; French studies; chemical engineering; mechanical engineering; mining engineering; geography; history; theatre; marketing; leadership; outdoor adventure; French literature and culture; mathematics; philosophy; financial planning; health promotion; human resources; midwifery; linguistics; economics; nursing; political science; and zoology. These are the programs that are vanishing before our very eyes.
This takes me back to the days of the great fight to save Montfort Hospital, when we really had to take to the barricades to defend the rights of francophones. It feels as though, right now, not only is there a Conservative government in Ontario that really could not care less, but there is also a Liberal government that is dragging its feet on the issue and waiting to see what will happen.
The Ontario Conservative government is prepared to trample on the rights of francophones and give up on a university like Laurentian and the ability to access programs and classes that are really useful not only for northern Ontario, but for the whole province and the entire francophone community of Canada. Meanwhile, the federal government is up on some kind of pedestal in its ivory tower, talking about how wonderful and fantastic the Francophonie is.
Let us look at what happens when it is time to take action. The sent a letter to her Ontario government counterpart in which she said something that really blew my mind. It says right there in black and white that “the Government of Canada is prepared to study the possibility of providing financial assistance”. I must congratulate the Liberals on taking such a strong stand. Look at that: they are “prepared to study the possibility”.
Why do they not say that it is absolutely essential to protect post-secondary and university education with a suite of crucial programs for northern Ontario and that they will do everything they can to make that happen?
No, that is not this Liberal government's position. This Liberal government is monitoring the situation and may possibly be prepared to intervene.
Laurentian University is the only institution in northern Ontario that offers programs for francophones as well as a tricultural program. It offers programs in English, of course, but it also offers programs for indigenous peoples. This situation will certainly affect northern Ontario's francophone community, but it could also affect the programs Laurentian University offered in indigenous languages for indigenous communities.
As my colleague from Timmins—James Bay asked, were there problems with management, or poor planning? I do not know, but that is likely the case, given what is happening.
One thing that I am absolutely sure of, however, is that universities and post-secondary education in Canada have become chronically underfunded over the years. Whether under a Conservative or a Liberal government, we are witnessing the systematic privatization of our public universities and their programs and infrastructure, with what look like public-private partnerships. As the Canadian Association of University Teachers recently said, this could just be the first warning sign, the first brick to fall, the first university to run into trouble, and it will become increasingly common to see universities having trouble making ends meet.
Yesterday, the Standing Committee on Official Languages heard from Mr. Doucet of the Société de l'Acadie du Nouveau-Brunswick. He told us that, if things continue the way they are going, we will inevitably see cuts to French programming at the Université de Moncton.
We are also seeing what is happening at Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta. It is absolutely appalling. There is no money at all for the continuity of education at that campus, even though is so important for Alberta's francophone community.
We can see that the problems are piling up, and I am very proud and honoured that the NDP requested and was granted an emergency debate on the matter this evening in the House of Commons. This is like a game of dominoes where francophones keep losing time after time. Unfortunately, Laurentian University may simply be the first to fall.
However, there are solutions. The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada told us that the federal government can take action and even has a duty to act. We completely agree.
There is another thing we agree on. The Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario is proposing a solution that would involve a separate French or francophone university in Sudbury. We fully support that initiative. In fact, this week, I sent a letter to the Minister of Official Languages, urging her to consider this solution in order to maintain access to a post-secondary and university-level education in French in northern Ontario. To the NDP, that is a top priority. We think it is extremely shameful that there was no way under the current Liberal federal government to not only properly fund the universities, but to support francophone minority communities.
Since my time is running out, I will share my other ideas as I respond to my colleagues' questions.
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 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.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
We just heard a moving account from a member whose very important community has seen its university put on the chopping block. We also examined this very troubling situation yesterday at the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
For francophone minorities outside Quebec, linguistic institutions are the pillar, the core around which a minority community can flourish. In North America, where English is the dominant language, it is particularly important to ensure that minorities have their own institutions, even in the most remote areas of Canada. Earlier a member referred to Campus Saint-Jean, which is located in western Canada. Other examples are the Université de Moncton in Atlantic Canada, and Laurentian University, which we are talking about now.
Yesterday I had a chance to ask the questions, and I hope she will take part in tonight's debate. She told us she was looking for solutions for Laurentian University. That was yesterday. Today I hope she has had time to think about the solutions being put forward by, for and with the francophone community, including the member of her own caucus who obviously wants to find a solution.
Yesterday the minister presented her white paper to us. This white paper was not without interest, but there was nothing concrete. For five years now, communities have been calling for the modernization of the Official Languages Act and for concrete action.
I have here a news release from the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, which joins the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario in calling on the government to intervene and ensure that the University of Sudbury is able to take over, collect the funding that Laurentian was receiving for French-language university education, and become a university by and for francophones.
There are solutions. My colleague mentioned this earlier this evening. This is a full-frontal attack on an institution that plays an important role in northern Ontario.
What we got from the minister yesterday was, unfortunately, a white paper. A white paper is all well and good, but we want concrete action. This issue needs to be addressed. We also need to address Campus Saint-Jean and the Université de Moncton, but we especially need to address what is going on at Laurentian University. That is what we can see.
We are often asked what the Conservatives think about it, and yet our commitment is clear. Even before the Laurentian University crisis, we had committed to increasing funding for francophone post-secondary education in minority communities and to creating a new funding envelope for that.
Next week, a budget will be tabled. Of course, we are still in a pandemic. In the last few years, we realized that budgets for our institutions—such as the Laurentian University—were not indexed. We asked the minister if she intended to index the funding, but our question remained unanswered.
It is still time to do it and to make sure that funds allocated to the Laurentian University to support post-secondary education in French are used only for that purpose. The AFO is calling for that.
I hope the minister will grant that request from the francophone community, so that funds earmarked for the francophone community in northern Ontario indeed are used to its benefit. Teachers and professors must be allowed to remain active, and important programs in engineering and education must be maintained. We have mentioned in particular the programs for caregivers and for women and men who assist women in giving birth.
As parliamentarians, we have the opportunity tonight to make a statement and to encourage the to take concrete action for the Laurentian University community. I want to mention that the government does not need to do that out of charity. Indeed, section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that the government must enforce the right to minority-language education.
The mandate letter of the present Minister of Official Languages reminds her of her duty to enhance the vitality of minority language communities, to protect their institutions and to increase bilingualism across the country. She must protect the institutions of the francophone minority and, of course, the institutions of the anglophone minority in Quebec.
We have an emergency on our hands. We do not want a white paper that might be tabled after the next election. What I would have liked the minister to do yesterday was present her bill and the concrete actions she would be taking, but instead she told us that she would be holding further consultations and that some measures would eventually be taken.
While the minister jabbers on, we are seeing real tragedies happening all over the country, and tonight we are focusing on Laurentian University in particular. That is why, in this time of great urgency, the members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages are unanimously recommending that the government live up to its obligation to provide help, as well as support, to teaching institutions nationwide that teach official languages and enhance the vitality of official language minority communities.
Tonight, we can see how badly Sudbury and all of northern Ontario have been shaken by this crisis. The minister has a responsibility and an obligation to act to support Laurentian University. I hope that she is in problem-solving mode tonight and that she will offer solutions as well as evaluate the solutions that are being put forward.
As I was saying, the Assemblée de la francophonie de l'Ontario, or AFO, has proposed some very specific courses of action that I would like to share with the House, since we are having a constructive debate.
The AFO is proposing a one-year moratorium on cutting programs. We cannot necessarily react very quickly to this crisis, so there needs to be some breathing room. It is also important that the $12 million in federal and provincial funding that has already been allocated for university education be transferred as soon as possible so it can be used to retain professors and ensure that the students and community that rely on their francophone institution can maintain this connection. This is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial governments, of course, and the AFO reminds us that the two governments demonstrated their ability to work together on the issue of Ontario's French-language university. We believe that they could do it again for Laurentian University.
This time, we want the minister to take action. I have a lot of respect for her, but she sometimes goes on partisan rants that can get a bit annoying after awhile. I am thinking here of her references to what she calls Conservative cuts.
I want to remind the minister that the program for official language minority communities was in force until 2015 and was part of the roadmap for official languages proposed by the Conservative government, the second iteration of which was developed by Bernard Lord. When the Liberals took office, the communities no longer had access to that program. They had to wait for the Université de l'Ontario français crisis before the minister finally realized that nothing was being done with the program. That is when the minister reinstated the court challenges program.
The communities do not want us to argue semantics. They want action. The minister has been in office for five years. She has the ability and the responsibility to take action, and that is what we expect in the case of Laurentian University. I believe that the Liberal member is going to speak to her personally in order to ask her to take concrete action.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for granting the NDP's request for an emergency debate.
I think tonight's debate transcends partisanship. As parliamentarians, we have to think about this situation. I listened to the member for and sensed a lot of emotion in his speech. This is happening right in his backyard, in his community. As he mentioned, he represents the people of Sudbury. His friends and family members who study or work at Laurentian University do not know what will happen to them.
I thank the Speaker for granting the request by the member from the other opposition party. It is very commendable, and I wanted to highlight that.
My thoughts go out to the member for Sudbury. I was sad to hear during his speech that he will not be running in the next election. I had the chance to work with him on a number of files. I appreciate him greatly. It is unfortunate that we may never run into each other in person again. If he is listening, I send him and his wife my regards.
I want to talk about the importance of emergency debates and their criteria. House of Commons Standing Order 52 states the following regarding requests for leave:
(1) Leave to make a motion for the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration must be asked for after the ordinary daily routine of business as set out in sections (3) and (4) of Standing Order 30 is concluded.
Mr. Speaker, I do not want to belabour the point, but I thank you once again for granting the request for tonight's debate.
I am saddened to see the people of that region having to face a loss and reduction in services in addition to the pandemic. The pillars of the French fact in northern Ontario have been shaken. It is sad because these people should not have to face this on top of a pandemic. I think we have to be aware of that and work together to find solutions.
This is what happens when a government has had no vision for more than five years. The has been in office since 2015. I respect the minister. In fact, I told her so yesterday at the Standing Committee on Official Languages. The fact remains that she is not taking action. She is holding consultations. Earlier, her colleague said the minister was promoting the French fact and the two official languages and that she was very present. However, she is always in reaction mode. The government seems to wait until the house is on fire before taking action.
Recently, in December, a white paper on official languages was proposed to us, but it is just another case of postponing decisions and having to hold more consultations to make sure that whatever is put in place some day will be effective. However, that day might be too late, and new consultations will need to be launched. It is important to act. That white paper is no solution.
I met with people from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, or CAUT. They were speaking out against the insolvency situation that started on February 1. This is the first time a Canadian public university has become insolvent. I heard the comments from the CAUT representatives. They are urging the federal government to work with the Province of Ontario to provide the funding that Laurentian University needs and to help bilingual and francophone post-secondary institutions. Given the vital role that these post-secondary institutions play in meeting Canada's current and future challenges, they recommend that the federal government develop a national strategy with the territories and provinces, in order to provide sufficient stable funding to promote high-quality post-secondary education.
I met with these people on February 17. They filed for bankruptcy protection on February 1. Today is April 14. The may have a plan, and Monday's budget may contain some solutions. However, these people filed for bankruptcy protection on February 1. As a member of Parliament, I met with faculty representatives on February 17. There was no reaction until Monday, April 12. As I said before, the government is waiting for the house to catch fire before it reacts.
Mr. Speaker, last fall, we requested an emergency debate on the decline of the French fact in Quebec, especially in Montreal. We are here tonight to discuss Laurentian University, which is in financial straits. What does tomorrow hold?
I have the privilege of sitting on the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Yesterday, the committee heard from the minister and other stakeholders. The stakeholders mentioned that we could not wait for the Official Languages Act to be updated. If Laurentian University is in trouble today, other Canadian universities will also have problems in the future, be it tomorrow or the next day.
Does the government want to turn its back on post-secondary institutions that teach linguistic minorities? If so, it had better tell us. It is not taking action, and that does not sit well with me. I have to talk about what the Conservative Party of Canada has done. I am not trying to be opportunistic. As soon as our new leader was appointed, we presented a clear plan. In the first 100 days of a Conservative government, we will invest the money to sustain our institutions, defend the French fact and protect official language minority communities.
Today, we have to come together because the problem is bigger than the 28 programs that were cut. It is a society-wide problem. As long as Canada has two official languages, and as long as the people of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier place their trust in me, I will rise in the House to defend the French fact. We have to roll up our sleeves and find solutions that give Canadian citizens access to education in French.
Our professors and our students have been wronged. Down the line, that will either stifle our French language or ignite it.
In closing, I would like to read a brief excerpt from the preamble to the Official Languages Act:
...to respect the constitutional guarantees of minority language educational rights and to enhance opportunities for all to learn both English and French;
That is what the preamble to the Official Languages Act says, so I think the minister needs to act immediately.