Laurentian University - The CHA encourages the Ontario government to minimize the damage done by taking action to protect research money and collective agreements negotiated in good faith in the public sector

Published on: 19 May 2021

Ottawa, 19 May 2021


The Hon. Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, ON
M7A 1A1

Dear Mr. Ford:

The Canadian Historical Association has already expressed its profound concern regarding the restructuring at Laurentian University that resulted in the elimination of French programs in History, the severing of ties with the Federated colleges committed to French-language education, and the subsequent lay-offs of tenured and non-tenured faculty. 

While the financial restructuring has been felt most keenly by the French-language programs and the faculty who deliver them, there are other implications that will be felt at universities across the country.  I write now to encourage your government to minimize the damage done by taking action to protect research money, protect collective agreements negotiated in good faith in the public sector, and protect the integrity of the education system in Canada.

First, Laurentian University administration’s use of research funds applied for and awarded to individual faculty members by the Tri-Council research funding bodies to cover the budgetary shortfalls of the wider institution has seriously undermined confidence in universities capacity to manage accounts.  The Tri-Councils are surely right to wonder whether large research grants and funding partnerships can be entrusted to researchers at universities with opaque finances. A research environment in which institutions are guilty of redirecting research funds cannot be sustained, and action needs to be taken to ensure the integrity of university financial management.  Researchers cannot be punished for a university’s mismanagement of accounts. Smaller regional universities are particularly vulnerable to questions about their long-term financial stability given economic downturns, changing demographics and limited alumni donations.  

Second, the use of the federal Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) to radically restructure a public institution is unprecedented in Canada, and clearly has implications for all other universities and public institutions across the country. Your government has stood by and let this happen even though this was not the intent of the CCAA. We urge your government to press for its amendment and preclude its future use within the Ontario public sector.

Finally, decisions taken at Laurentian University point to the increasing commodification of knowledge, and send troubling signals to institutions across Canada.  Far from being recognized as providing a societal service, universities are increasingly being valued purely as profit-generating institutions.  The decisions to eliminate one of the only graduate programs in history in Northern Ontario, one of the oldest Indigenous Studies programs in the country, and the only French language history undergraduate program in Northern Ontario were taken without consideration for the important service that these programs delivered.  The people of Northern Ontario are now left without access to their own history, and a similar threat now hangs over other communities as well.  If cost-recovery is the only determinant of a program’s future, or indeed the future of a university, we have turned a dangerous corner in our commitment to education in Canada.

A great deal of damage has already been done and much has been lost as a result of the decisions taken at Laurentian University.  Restoring the programs that provide such a vital service to the people of Northern Ontario, and to the francophone community throughout Ontario, will go some way in repairing the damage.  So too will taking action to protect higher education across Ontario.
Yours sincerely –

Penny Bryden
Canadian Historical Association



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