Former Ag Minister Recalls the Past

Mar 18, 2014

PC MPP Ernie Hardeman Says Some Wanted the Eastern Ontario Ag Campuses Scrapped Years Ago

By Amanda Brodhagen,

Almost 20 years ago, Kemptville and Alfred agricultural campuses were under threat of closure.

Tory MPP Ernie Hardeman still remembers when he was approached with the idea to close the Eastern Ontario agricultural campuses when he was minister of agriculture under the conservative government of Mike Harris between the years of 1999 and 2001.

Interestingly enough, the idea to shut down the campuses was also proposed under Hardeman’s predecessor, Noble Villeneuve, who served as agriculture minister from 1995 to 1999.

Both ministers refused the idea of a closure during their tenure.

It was during Villeneuve’s time that a partnership was formed between the University of Guelph and the province. Guelph assumed control of the agricultural campuses, which included Kemptville, Alfred and Ridgetown in 1997.

“The mandate was that they [the University of Guelph] must run the three agricultural colleges,” Hardeman said in an interview adding that the cost of running all three satellite campuses was taken into consideration for the university’s funding.

In an economic impact study conducted by Delotte in Dec. 14, 2007, it clearly outlines the University of Guelph’s role in providing agricultural education to all three regional campuses. This is outlined on pg. 9 of the report.

“The University of Guelph and the OMAFRA Agreement also specifically supports programs and operations at a number of provincially owned facilities. These include three regional agricultural campuses of the University of Guelph at Alfred, Kemptville and Ridgetown, offering college-level agricultural diploma and research programs, both covering the spectrum of livestock, horticulture and field crop disciplines.”

A new agreement has been drafted since 1997, but the details of the deal are unknown. “They [the Liberals] won’t make public the agreements that they have with the university,” he said.

Hardeman is also not convinced that the reason for the closures was partially due to declining enrollment, arguing that the number of students attending the college presently is comparable to 1997, when the partnership was created.

“They want to take the money that they were getting to run those colleges and put it into the University of Guelph to cover their deficit,” he said.

Unlike Villeneuve and Hardeman, Premier Kathleen Wynne who also serves as the province’s agriculture minister has maintained that the closure was the University of Guelph’s decision to make, despite numerous calls to step in and reverse the university’s decision.

“Every previous time there was a minister at the cabinet table that spoke on behalf of agriculture up until now,” explained Hardeman.

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