SUDBURY -- The federal government offered in January to help the government of Ontario preserve French programs at Laurentian University.

But Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, said the province didn't respond.

That made Laurentian's decision to declare insolvency a surprise to the federal government, said a news release Tuesday from Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre.

"Laurentian's decision to initiate judicial oversight restructuring proceedings under the Creditors Arrangement Act came as a surprise, not only to the community, but also to the federal government given Minister Joly's previous offer to negotiate with the province," the release said.

Lefebvre called on the provincial government to join with the federal government "in ensuring the future of French-language education in Sudbury and in northern Ontario."

“For our government, there is no doubt that there must be strong post-secondary institutions for francophones in northern Ontario," Lefebvre is quoted as saying in the release.

"Minister Joly has made it clear she is ready to work with our colleagues in the province to achieve this, since the education is under their jurisdiction."

Joly testified about her offer to help during her appearance before the Official Languages Committee on Tuesday.

“Last January, following a discussion with Laurentian University, MP Paul Lefebvre informed our office of the pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the establishment's programming, as was the case for many post-secondary institutions across the country,” Joly told the committee.

“Subsequently, we initiated a discussion with the Province of Ontario, since they are ultimately responsible for the good management of post-secondary institutions in the territory, to offer our assistance. We haven't had any feedback."

Joly and Lefebvre said the federal government's commitment to Laurentian University and French-language education in the north has been unprecedented and remains unwavering.

“Our government has invested more than $253 million over three years to support French-language education in minority communities under the Official Languages in Education Program (OLEP)," Joly told the committee.

"We also proposed to the Province of Ontario to review the priorities established in the OLEP to find viable solutions to the cuts announced by Laurentian University.”