The Doug Ford government has announced it will cancel more than $300 million in funding for planned university and college campus expansions in Brampton, Milton and Markham, citing a large multi-billion-dollar provincial budget deficit.
“Through our government’s independent commission of inquiry, we now know that Ontario faces a $15-billion deficit, about two and half times the estimate provided by the previous administration,” a written statement from Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton read Tuesday evening.
“As a result, the Ministry is no longer in the position to fund the following projects given the province’s new fiscal restraints.”
Fullerton said the decision will “help make government more effective and efficient.”
York University, in partnership with Seneca College, was set to open a campus in Markham. In Milton, Wilfrid Laurier University in partnership with Conestoga College was set to establish a campus. Lastly, Ryerson University in partnership with Sheridan College was set to open a campus in Brampton.
Stephanie Rea, a spokesperson for Fullerton, told Global News in a statement Tuesday evening that $125 million was allocated for York, $90 million for Wilfrid Laurier and $90 million for Ryerson. She accused the previous Liberal government, which approved the projects, of hiding the costs from the public.
“In an election year, they made empty promises to Ontarians for programs and projects they knew they could not afford leading to a $15 billion deficit,” Rea wrote.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she and members of the opposition will fight “this devastating cut,” calling the decision “shameful.”
“Doug Ford’s decision to rip opportunity away from thousands of students is callous, and is a major blow to job creation and economic activity … Students need more opportunity to build their best life here in Ontario, not less,” she said in a written statement Tuesday evening.
“It is not only a waste of the time and money already invested, but a waste of the valuable opportunity we have to expand Ontario’s capacity for research, innovation and excellence in a number of fields.”
York University President Rhonda Lenton and Seneca College President David Agnew said their institutions learned about the “unexpected” announcement late Tuesday afternoon, saying the Markham project has been in development for years.
“York and Seneca’s joint bid was approved by the provincial government in May 2015 in recognition of the increasing demand for high-quality post-secondary education and workplace-based learning opportunities in York Region, one of the fastest growing major urban areas in Ontario,” they wrote.
“Given our combined view of the importance of this campus for the economic future of the Region and for the students who are seeking access to new higher education options close to home, we are committed to working with all involved to determine if there is a path forward that will still meet the post-secondary education needs of York Region and its residents.”
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti expressed “deep disappointment” with the decision in a statement released on Tuesday.
“We understand the difficult process the Province is undertaking to find efficiencies, however we are committed to continued dialogue and working with all of our stakeholders to secure a post-secondary institution for Markham and York Region,” he wrote.
“With this decision, York Region remains the only jurisdiction in North America with more than a million people that does not have a university.”
In Brampton, Mayor-elect Patrick Brown called on PC MPPs in all three areas to speak with the minister about the decision.
“The previously funded satellite campus was the bare minimum the province could do to provide help and opportunities to young people in Brampton. Cancelling the bare minimum investment into post secondary education is very disappointing,” he told Global News in a written statement late Tuesday evening.
“I believe Brampton deserves a full university, not just a small satellite campus. This is a step backwards towards what the city of Brampton deserves.”
A spokesperson for Wilfrid Laurier University told Global News officials have been working on a campus in Milton since 2008. The spokesperson said in a statement the campus location is “strategically located” on the Toronto-Waterloo innovation corridor and would benefit the province.
Meanwhile, Rea said ministry staff are working to determine if there are “termination or reasonable wind-down costs.” She said the government might be open to hearing plans for going ahead with the new campuses, so long as it’s done without the provincial financial commitments.
“Our government would be willing to consider a business case for how these projects may proceed in the absence of provincial capital funding,” Rea wrote.