Reaction was swift and furious after last week’s announcement that the University of Guelph will discontinue operation of its two eastern Ontario agricultural college campuses — one French language in Alfred; the other a long-established post-secondary education institution at Kemptville — in 2015. And much of that criticism was levelled not at the university, but at the provincial government.
“I know from my experience as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs that this decision would not have been made without the involvement of your Ministry, and usually the Minister,” wrote Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman in a message to Premier (and Agriculture Minister) Kathleen Wynne — effectively justifying the wave of letters and emails sent out to the government by a wide range of agriculture-related organizations in the province.
Programs offered through the university-affiliated agricultural colleges, including other campuses in Ridgetown and the New Liskeard area, are supported by the provincial government.
“(Kemptville) College has provided generations of eastern Ontario residents with a solid education in agriculture,” wrote newly-elected National Farmers Union — Ontario president Karen Eatwell, a Denfield-area farmer.
“Without Kemptville College it will be much more difficult for many young residents of the region to acquire the knowledge and skills they require to excel at the challenging business of farming,” she added, urging the university, the province and other stakeholders “to immediately revisit this decision and find a means to keep the college open and vibrant.”
Hardeman's colleague from Huron-Bruce, Lisa Thompson, was making a scheduled appearance at a Conservative Party-organized small business roundtable in St. Marys on the morning the announcement was made. She described the decision as another instance of the ruling Liberals failing to "connect the dots" between different sectors of the economy and education system.
Thompson suggested the loss of Kemptville and Alfred will give agribusiness companies less reason to set up operations in Ontario, and will ultimately lead to fewer jobs in the province's agriculture and agri-food industry.
The closure of the campuses surely is a harsh decision, one that reflects the depths to which both the university and the government feel they must dig to keep costs in check.