Ebene Magazine – Ontario’s general auditor investigates the financial debacle at Laurentian University

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Ian Campbell
CTV News video journalist from Northern Ontario

@CTVIanCampbell
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SUDBURY –
Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas has received support from the Ontario legislature to have the provincial auditor general investigate exactly what happened at Laurentian University.

The school recently cut 39 percent of its programs, laid off staff, and cut $ 30 million from its budget. This was only possible because the university filed for bankruptcy under the Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act.

Last week, Gélinas submitted a motion to the Standing Committee on Public Finance for Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk to undertake a full review of the situation.

« How could it be that KPMG would take a university exam year after year and tell them everything is fine and then eight months later we will have $ 200 million in debt? » She asked. « How can you explain that? »

Gélinas said she was pleasantly surprised at the support she had received from some quarters of the legislature government.

« I think the (conservative) MPP Toby Barrett said it best when he said, ‘I had no idea this was happening in your community, » and they voted to send the examiner to Laurentian University for the get to the bottom of financial events, « she told CTV News.

There have been many calls for an investigation after so many people lost their jobs, but Gélinas said this will give the community the answers it needs faster and its exam will be published.

« The Auditor General is an official of the Legislature and being an official means you come with a lot of power, » she said.

« She has the right to go into a building, whether she is welcome there or not; she has the right to have access to documents, whether they are private or not; she has the right to ask questions and people have to answer . « 

« She will be able to tell us if these are good, bad or terrible decisions that you have made, » she added.

The Auditor General has not publicly said when she and her team will arrive, but Gélinas said it will be soon. She said the Auditor General’s report would take months as opposed to years to investigate.

Gélinas isn’t the only one who wants an investigation into the situation. Retired homicide investigator Craig Davies said he has spoken to anyone who believes Laurentian owes them money and plans to submit his findings to the Auditor General’s team.

Davies, the son of former Sudbury local council chairman Tom Davies, said he just couldn’t watch and watch.

« I am a retiree, a patient who has a lot of time to spare, and I was concerned about the situation as there are a lot of people at Laurentian University, » he said. « It’s one thing to talk about, but I come from an environment where you do it, when you have the ability to do something about it. »

He said it was the abolition of the physics program that specifically motivated him to get off the couch.

« We’re literally changing the world, and the Laurentian physics lab is the home lab for the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNOLab). It also runs the radiation engineers’ program, » said Davies. « It’s a farce with what you did to these people. »

« All we want is the truth. We don’t blame anyone for anything. We just want to hear the truth and we haven’t been told that yet. »

The retired investigator said no one is saying there is financial misconduct, but the community is suspicious and deserves answers.

« I read these stories from these people, » he said, and choked. « I won’t let you down, I can promise you that. »

In the meantime, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation urges the Province of Ontario to stick to its current course.

« If the provincial government just bailed them out now, it would be like paying your child’s credit card bill, the max, without teaching them financial responsibility, » said Jay Goldberg, interim director of Ontario.

« We think it is really important for the university to take financial responsibility for some of the mistakes of the past. »

Many details related to Laurentian’s bankruptcy are kept secret due to a confidentiality clause under the CCAA process. It has led some like MPs Charlie Angus and Paul Lefebvre to call for reforms to protect creditors.

Angus said in a recent debate that he feared other governments would allow universities to use this measure to circumvent their provincial jurisdiction.

« I think Laurentian is on this problem because there is a cost problem, not a revenue problem, » he said.

« The tuition fees that the university took over increased by 74 percent between 2010 and 2020. So you have actually generated a lot of new income from the tuition fees and still show deficits. »

Laurentian University restructuring coverage

Ref: https://northernontario.ctvnews.ca

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