The announcement that the University of Guelph will be closing its Alfred and Kemptville agricultural colleges was met with real disappointment from the Ontario farming community in March. Now, it seems that the issue may become further politicized ahead of the coming election.
Recently, the Ontario government announced that it would be providing facilitators to help communities associated with the campuses to make plans that would allow the agricultural education facilities to stay open, according to Farms.com. Everything seemed to be going according to plan on May 2, when Grant Crack, the Liberal candidate for the riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell said that he was happy to report that the facilitators were in place.
While Crack originally said that the government did not want to put things on hold just because of an election, it seems that this is exactly what has happened, the news source reported. According to Crack, the process has now been "put on hold."
"After consulting with the Secretary of Cabinet Office…he [Peter Wallace] made it clear that the government cannot spend money," Crack told Farms.com.
Crack also went on to condemn opposition parties for forcing an election and delaying the issue.
"They [the PC-Tory's] have no one else to blame but themselves for putting this process on hold," Crack told the news source. "At the end of the day it was our government that made progress on the file and they delayed it."
Leeds-Grenville PC MPP Steve Clark disagreed, calling Crack's statement a "publicity stunt," and suggesting that the Liberal government was trying to save face with the agricultural community, Farms.com reported. He went on to explain that the government had two months to appoint facilitators and suggested that the Liberals had "dragged their feet" until there was no more time to act.
Neil Currie, the general manager for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, expressed her frustration to Better Farming. She explained that, as far as she understood the issue, the facilitators had already been chosen, but were not allowed to work during the election. "I don't know why," she said.
Brian Carré, chair of the Kemptville College Renewal Task Force, told the news source that he was aware earlier this week that facilitators would be unable to start work. The way the election legislation is set up, he explained, no new dollars can be spent during an election. When the government appointed the facilitators, their timing made it impossible to free up the funds needed to pay them.
Task force carrying on
Despite the setback that this issue is causing, Carré expressed to the news source that the lack of a facilitator has not stopped the task force from doing its work. It does, however, mean that the force currently has no way to dialogue directly with the government.
"Yesterday we released a request for 'expressions of interest' for service providers who have an interest in taking on the task of providing educational and research services at the Kemptville campus," Carré told Better Farming. "We don't have a facilitator that can access information for us but it doesn't mean that we can't forge ahead, which is what we've [been] doing."
The Kemptville task force has talked a a few interested groups already, according to the news source. Some are from educational institutions, some from partnerships and some are from abroad, but Carré declined to name the interested parties at this time. If the liberals don't win the provincial election, Carré explained that either the current facilitators will be reconfirmed, new ones will be appointed or a "completely different approach" will be taken.