Bringing private sector processes to the public sector has been the dream of Liberals and Tories for a long time. The restructuring of post-secondary education in Canada has been heading here for years. The attack on higher education started with the reduction of public supports for higher education in the 1990s. Then came increasing tuition fees, exploiting the international student market, the marketizing of university funding, commercialization of university research, corporatization of the university operations, and now the application of harsh private sector insolvency legislation to get rid of valuable academic programs.
The Liberals and Tories do not understand what universities are for and what has happened to Laurentian is the result. And, the consequence of decades of trying to force universities to become private sector actors have become very clear. Unfortunately, there is unlikely a single Tory (and only a few Liberals) who are going to be feeling bad about this result. The layoffs, restructuring, and gutting of this public institution is what the private sector levers of "efficiency" are designed to do.
The more that there is compartmentalization of the public sector into independent arms (like non-profits and "independent" and "publicly assisted" institutions) the easier it is to apply private sector tools to suppress wages and costs.
The mean-spirited aspect of the Ford government's anti-intellectualism and open vitriol against academics and the job protections necessary for their work has also contributed to the timing of this outcome.
When we say the private sector cannot provide public services, this is what we mean. Public services require public funding to make it through crises, or they will be ratcheted down exactly when people need them most. Applying this kind of private market mechanism means that public institutions exacerbate private economic crises instead of acting as a counter weight to them.
We should not be fooled, Ford's Progressive Conservative government has caused this to happen. It is not an accident. The only solution is to pass legislation that does not allow the application of CCAA and similar processes designed to put capital (or, in this case, simply money) first. And, to provide adequate and sustainable funding to public institutions.
The student and worker organizations have been saying that it is inappropriate for the CCAA process to be applied to universities. That is very true both on a social and economic level. The impacts of this restructuring can only save public money, but it is the public who are negatively impacted by the restructuring. The result is a net zero outcome for the payers of higher education, but wholly negative for the communities, workers, and students affected. It is a private market-style crisis with no silver lining of savings for stakeholders. It is unclear who the government thinks benefits from such a situation other than those ideologues who want to see a reduction in government spending generally.
The nature of academic work makes it difficult to see the impacts of this kind of attack. But, private sector workers who see this kind of thing more often will be able to spot the effects immediately. Instability is the hallmark of the private market and the enemy of long-term planning. It is impossible to learn, study, and research at a high level of quality in such an environment.
The negative impact on students and the economy of Sudbury will have short, medium, and long term effects that are not all obvious right now. Jobs in the short term, but it is clear that culture, language, community, and local economic activity will be negatively affected.
The promise is that government services – like higher education – will be built-up during crises so that communities can weather the destructive forces of capitalism. The current economic, social, and health crises have exposed this truth. Adequate public protections for the nastiness of the private markets is simply necessary for all workers and communities to survive. Unfortunately, Laurentian is yet another example of the failures of this government to provide those supports for the people of Ontario.
The hope is that out of this crisis will come a renewed urgency to build understanding of what a university is and why certain job protections are necessary for that institution to function properly. And, by extension, the need for an expanded investment in sustainable public services.