THUNDER BAY — Former mayors of Thunder Bay and Sudbury are calling on the Ontario government to come to the aid of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
Ken Boshcoff and Jim Gordon say they are "gravely concerned" about the sustainability of NOSM in light of Laurentian University's financial struggles.
One of the things they want the government to consider is to give NOSM degree-granting status.
The Sudbury school filed for creditor protection in February.
Laurentian and Lakehead Universities co-host NOSM, with campuses at each location.
In a statement issued jointly on Tuesday with Angele Brunelle, executive-director of L'Accueil francophone de Thunder Bay, the ex-mayors said the government needs to protect NOSM and ensure it continues to thrive.
Boshcoff noted that he, Gordon and Brunelle were all strong proponents of the establishment of a medical school for Northern Ontario.
Their statement said that when the school was founded 16 years ago "None of us would have predicted this situation...but we cannot sit idle watching a critical health-care strategy be derailed because [NOSM] is not truly autonomous."
They said NOSM was established as a stand-alone legal entity, develops its own curriculum, is accountable for its own accreditation, and recruits its own faculty and students.
However, it still relies on Laurentian and Lakehead to grant its degrees.
Boshcoff explained that "Basically, if I donate now to NOSM, it goes in the bank account managed by Laurentian...We can't raise money independently. It goes to Laurentian's bank account. If they become insolvent it will be wholesale jeopardy and chaos for fundraising, scholarships, securing the number of students that we do."
He added "The reach for fundraising is vast, cross-country and international really. So we have to make sure that money isn't lost."
Boshcoff said he, Gordon and Brunelle only want to ensure the school is stable and sustainable, and that people continue to donate and support it.
Granting NOSM degree-granting status, he said, could address the problem by allowing the medical school to control its own finances, rather than Laurentian which manages incoming money including tuition and donations.
The Sudbury university has over $300 million in liabilities.
In an interview, Gordon called what has happened at Laurentian "an absolute scandal."
Referring to the university, he said "You want these people to continue telling our medical school what to do? Because the only thing they do for us is to give a doctor a piece of paper. We do all the rest."
Gordon added "I'm telling the government they should step up and provide us with the means to continue standing on our own feet, but better than that, to be able to raise money and do things the way we should."
He said he knows what he's talking about because he spent two years lobbying for the medical school, and was then given the task of developing its business plan.
Gordon said he worked closely with founding dean Roger Strasser throughout.
Dougall Media requested comment for this story from NOSM's current dean, Sarita Verma.
On Wednesday morning a spokesperson for NOSM issued only a brief statement saying "Since Laurentian University is undergoing court-supervised proceedings, we are not able to comment.."
When Laurentian's plight became public earlier this year, Lakehead University gave assurances that it was financially sound.
NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from NOSM