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The Politics of Saving an Ag College

Kemptville College’s Future Unknown Despite $2M Announcement

By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com

The political mudslinging was paused for the Kemptville cause, at least more recently.

In a rare occurrence, opposition MPPs gave credit to where it was due.

The province gave $2 million to the University of Guelph to accept new students to Kemptville College for the 2014-15 academic year. Earlier, Guelph had announced that it would close the campus in eastern Ontario in 2015.

“It’s good news,” John Vanthof NDP MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane said in an interview. Vanthof, a retired dairy farmer serves as the agriculture critic for his party.

“One year isn’t that long in educational terms, but in the political world it’s a life time,” he said adding that one cannot dismiss how far the government has come on this issue.

Until now, the Liberals have maintained that the closure was the University of Guelph’s decision to make, referring to the institution as an “autonomous body,” suggesting that the government had no business interfering.

The University of Guelph said it could no longer continue offering agricultural programing at Kemptville due to declining enrollment, rising costs and managing a $32 million deficit.

While the case was made that it was strictly a business decision, still the news didn’t sit well with the agricultural community. Losing a 97-year-old agricultural institution wasn’t going to go without a fight, especially since attending Kemptville College has been a tradition for many farming families in the region for generations.

“No government is going to change its mind without pressure,” explained Vanthof.  “This is a good example of what can be achieved when we all work together,” he said.  

Vantof, who can be described as down-to-earth and well-liked among his colleagues of all political stripes, made a point to praise PC MPP Steve Clark for his dedication to the cause. While it’s no surprise that Clark would be vocal about the college closing, given that the institution is in his riding of Leeds-Grenville, Vantof’s genuine and thoughtful comments provided a glimpse into the multi-party effort that has been made to find a solution to the Kemptville closure.

Similarly, Clark who has been instrumental in keeping the debate about the college alive in the legislature chose to focus on the inroads made rather than what they didn’t get in the deal.

“Today’s announcement doesn’t provide everything we asked for, but it’s an essential first step,” he said adding that the “stop-gap” measure buys the community some time to attract new partners to the college.

The biggest disappointment of the announcement – not having an intake of new students in any of the agricultural degree or diploma programs. Clark acknowledges that the announcement wasn’t everything that they had asked for, but says he’s confident that a long-term plan can be reached with other partners to eventually offer those educational opportunities in the future.

Clark says he is eager for the province to appoint a provincial facilitator to work with the Task Force to develop a viable solution for the college’s future. According to Clark, interviews are already underway to appoint a facilitator. Appointments are made by an Order in Council process.

UoG: Our Position Hasn’t Changed

It should be made clear that the announcement doesn’t change the University of Guelph’s plans to cease its operations at the college.

“This does not change our plans in terms of termination,” Rich Moccia, Associate Vice President of Research (Strategic Partnerships) at the University of Guelph said in an interview.

Guelph will end its educational programing at the college in 2015.

Though, the announcement changes one key aspect of the university’s original plans. Initially, Guelph said it would not be accepting an intake of students for fall 2014, but now it will offer enrollment in 10 programs mostly in the skilled trades.

Moccia says he hopes the 2014 fall intake of students in certain programs will help with the college’s transition process.

“Our hope is that partners will be identified and option plans will be put forward to meet the needs of the local community,” he said.

Loss of the Ag Diploma Program a Blow

The Kemptville College Task Force, a group that formed following the university’s decision to close the college provides reaction about the government’s recent announcement on the future of the agriculture campus.

Members of the task force say they are grateful for the province’s support, but feel that it doesn’t fully address the community’s concerns.

“While we welcome this news today, it does not go far enough to answer the needs of the agricultural industry in Eastern, East-Central and Northern Ontario,” Brian Carré, Chair of the Kemptville College Renewal Task Force said in a release.

Speaking as a young farmer and graduate of Kemptville College, Marty Derks calls the announcement “disappointing” adding that the agriculture diploma program is the cornerstone of the college. Derks who also sits on the task force made these comments as an individual not representing the group.

Ernie Hardeman, Tory MPP for the riding of Oxford who serves as the PC agriculture critic echoed much of the task force’s concerns. He calls the announcement made by the Liberals a “positive move,” but is worried about losing the agriculture diploma program and would have liked to have seen it as part of the suite of programs being offered for the fall 2014 term.

“They’ve given up on the agriculture component of the college,” he said.

Related articles:

Kemptville College to Remain Open for Another Year

The Quota Fight that Never Was

Kemptville College Task Force Reports on Progress
 


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