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Legislature takes rare step, issues speaker’s warrant for Laurentian documents

House leader doesn’t pull any punches: ‘Your utter disrespect for parliament and the people of Ontario is shameful, and we will not let it stand’
2021 Laurentian University 2 Sized
Laurentian University.

The Ontario Legislature voted Dec. 9 in favour of taking the rare step of issuing a speaker’s warrant to compel the university to provide the province with privileged documents it has been refusing to provide.

Refusal to abide by the warrant opens those named by it to punishment, including imprisonment, Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas said today.

The warrant, directed at Laurentian president Robert Haché and board of governors president Claude Lacroix, would require the documents in question be produced no later than Feb. 1, 2022.

The province’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts passed a motion Dec. 8, recommending that the speaker of the house issue the warrant.

Among the documents under the warrant are board of governors public and in-camera materials going back to 2010, complete email records for Laurentian officials, including former president Dominic Giroux and current president Haché, email communications with Laurentian auditors KPMG and Laurentian’s lawyers, and more.

Laurentian University declared it is insolvent last winter, and has been undergoing court-supervised restructuring under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

The university has refused to provide certain documents to both the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk.

Lysyk was tasked by the Public Accounts committee last April with conducting a value-for-money audit of Laurentian.

Laurentian and Lysyk’s office squared off before the courts earlier this week, with counsel for the AG saying she is entitled to view these documents under the Ontario Auditor General Act, while counsel for Laurentian said this is not the case.

MPPs said Thursday the Ontario Legislature’s actions and what is happening in the courts are separate matters.

“The Superior Court indisputably has authority over those matters within its jurisdiction,” said government house leader Paul Calandra, the PC MPP for Markham-Stouffville.

“And similarly, parliament exercising its judicial function, as the highest court in the province has the authority, the exclusive authority, over matters within its jurisdiction. 

“Like I said, Mr. Speaker, this is not about any other proceeding. This is about the rights of this place, our ancient parliamentary rights, 1,000 years old or more, as old as our institutions and our system of government itself.”

Calandra said the step of issuing a speaker’s warrant is “rare indeed” but “very necessary.”

The House Leader had a message for Haché, Lacroix, and the university’s legal counsel.

“I say dissuade yourselves immediately of any impression that this parliament will surrender to your tactics,” he said. “Your utter disrespect for parliament and the people of Ontario is shameful, and we will not let it stand.”

While Laurentian has until Feb. 1 to produce the desired documents, Calandra said LU should not confuse the reasonableness of this timeline with an opportunity to evade the order.

“Mr. Speaker, you know this house has many tools still at its disposal, including significant punitive measures, which we will not hesitate to use if the order of this house is treated with the same disregard that other orders of the Public Accounts Committee have been,” Caladra said.

Gélinas said it was with a “heavy heart” that she asked her fellow MPPs to vote in favour of the motion to approve the warrant.

She said the Public Accounts committee, of which she is a member, “tried really hard” to work with Laurentian on the matter, but it was “to no avail,” and they were left with “no choice” but to take this action.

Gélinas brought with her to the Legislature a speaker’s warrant issued in 2012, related to Ontario’s air ambulance service.

“I thought in my career that would be the only one that I would ever see,” said the local MPP.

“I want to let you know what those warrant looks like, if most of us have never seen one, and I hope we never see one again. 

“It said things like you are required to produce to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts all documents, records or things related to the committee's consideration. 

“If you disobey this warrant, you may be subject to punishment, including imprisonment. That we have to go to such drastic measures does not make me happy. But we have to do this.”

Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West, who is a Laurentian alumnus, said his alma mater has “thumbed its nose” at the Legislature. He said he believes every other tool at the body’s disposal has been exhausted.

He said he’s concerned about Laurentian’s behaviour setting a precedent for future audits. “Rest assured, Speaker, other people will be watching too,” West said.