by Michael Jiggins, Executive Assistant to Steve Clark, MPP, Leeds-Grenville, written March 12, 2014
Clark Says Campuses Critical to Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Sector
(KEMPTVILLE) – The Wynne government is dealing a devastating blow to Eastern Ontario’s agri-food industry and rural communities if it allows the University of Guelph to proceed with a plan to close its agricultural campuses in Kemptville and Alfred.
Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark made that comment in response to today’s announcement by the university that academic programs and research at the two campuses will end by the end of 2015.
The move will mean the loss of 75 full-time jobs at Kemptville and 37 in Alfred, in addition to numerous part-time and casual staff positions at the two campuses, noted Clark. But the impact on the economy will be felt far beyond the job losses, he stressed.
“A full-time Agriculture Minister would understand the critical importance of these campuses to the continued success of the agri-food industry and overall economic development in Eastern Ontario,” said Clark.
“Instead, we have a part-time minister who can’t be found and whose spokesperson dismisses the value of these campuses entirely.”
Rather than doing her job as Agriculture Minister and working to keep the two campuses open, Clark said the Premier used a politically motivated funding announcement in Eastern Ontario earlier this week as cover before disappearing.
Clark said the fact Ministry of Agriculture funding helps operate the campuses suggests the Premier would have known their fate long before she was in Eastern Ontario for the announcement.
“I want to know when she knew this plan was on the table and what she’s done to prevent it from happening,” said Clark.
“We have 97 years of excellence in agricultural education, research and innovation on the chopping block in Kemptville alone. Allowing this tradition to be sacrificed for the short-term budgetary needs of the University of Guelph is unforgiveable.”
For nearly a century, Clark said, the co-operation between the agri-food sector and the Kemptville Campus has developed links that have allowed Eastern Ontario food producers and processors to keep pace in an industry that is changing rapidly.
“Producers at every step of the supply chain from field to fork have access to research facilities and expertise necessary for them to innovate and succeed,” explained Clark. “At the same time, these close ties allow the campus to stay a step ahead by adapting programs quickly to produce graduates with the skills industry needs, when they need it.”
Clark said those invaluable links will be lost if the campuses are shuttered and the expertise pulled from Eastern Ontario.
“It’s a proven recipe for success. Instead of capitalizing on it, the Premier has pulled the rug out from underneath Eastern Ontario and turned her back on rural communities yet again.”
Clark noted the campus closures – which come at a time when the Premier has challenged the province’s agri-food sector to hit ambitious growth targets – have left Ontario without a post-secondary agricultural campus east of Guelph.
“In today’s economy, success is based on knowledge and the ability to adapt to change quickly,” stressed Clark. “Kemptville and Alfred made Eastern Ontario uniquely positioned to do this, but it’s clear to me the Premier just doesn’t get it.”