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Conservatives snub Stratford over funding for proposed university campus

It’s not a secret that the federal Conservative government doesn’t particularly like Ontario right now. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s statement a few months ago that he couldn’t think of any reason for businesses to invest in the province of Ontario is one famous example. You would think however, that in ridings where they hold seats, they might be inclined to help out specific projects in Ontario, if only to give their MP’s a boost, if not the region that might deservedly need it.

Unfortunately, even that doesn’t seem to be the case. A prime example of that would be the small city of Stratford – famously known for the Stratford Festival. It’s tourism industry has been hurt recently by the high Canadian dollar. It’s manufacturing industry – as elsewhere in Ontario – has seen job losses. The farming community around Stratford – a major pork producing area – is also feeling the pinch from lower prices on pigs, increases in operating costs, and the high exchange rate. In short, this is an area that is economically hurting.

So, when an idea came forth a couple of years ago about adding a Stratford campus from the University of Waterloo, which would deal with the study of advance technology, it was viewed as a way to help Stratford’s economy in the short term by the actual building of the facilities, and in the long term by attracting students interested in new media, and companies in the field of advance technology as well. A study by the respected Deloitte & Touché firm estimated that the economic Impact for the Stratford area would result in 415 jobs + $56.4-million of revenue during construction, and once built would have 180 jobs annually + bring in around $26.7-million.

That brings us to the funding of this campus. 10 million $ was committed by the provincial government. Another 10 million $ was committed by Open Text, a private company in Kitchener-Waterloo. The student residence – estimated to cost 20 million $ – would be privately funded. An application was sent to the Federal government for the remaining 10 million $ needed to get the project officially off and running. This was done about 18 months ago, and it was claimed by the federal Conservative government that it was very interested in the project and that it was “performing due diligence” regarding the request for funds.

Unfortunately for Stratford, back in April, the federal government decided not to supply the 10 million dollars missed the deadline for suppling the funding and then recently announced the money was not forthcoming. The excuse that was given by the local Conservative MP in this riding of Perth-Wellington, Gary Schellenberger, was that “Currently, there is no federal program which provides capital funding to universities and colleges because education is, and always has been, an area of provincial jurisdiction.”

My first thought is if this was the case, why would the federal Conservatives sit at the table for 18 months and not say this right at the outset when the proposal for funds was first sent to them?

My second thought is that this supposed lack of program to do this type of funding certainly didnt seem to stop them from sending funding to some Universities out west. Consider this recent editorial in the Stratford Beacon-Herald pointing out this apparent hypocrisy and double standard:

As disappointing as it is, people in Stratford could probably accept that statement, if it were completely true. But it’s not…in January the University of Alberta announced a major renovation of its downtown Edmonton campus at a cost of $86.5 million. Of that total, $15 million came from the federal government. Explain how the red-hot economy of Alberta can get millions of dollars for the bricks and mortar of a university and the battered economy of Stratford and area gets zero. And while it’s not bricks and mortar, in April Ottawa handed over a $5-million cheque to the University of Calgary to help fund research in carbon capture and storage. And if that is not enough to make the constituents of Stratford feel rebuffed and ignored, consider this. Last October, Afghan Education Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar was in Montreal with federal International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda as Ottawa announced $60 million over four years to help schools in Afghanistan manage teaching and learning activities, to hire personnel — and to build facilities.“Your national centre for teacher training and your provincial colleges … will all be supported with significant (funds) that come from Canada,” said Mr. Atmar proudly.

As you can see in that editorial and in this article, the local community is pretty steamed over the Stratford snub delivered to it by the federal Conservatives. The funding proposal for this is a drop in the bucket, and the benefits as shown by the study show enormous benefits for both Stratford and the region. Yet, the Conservatives take 18 months looking at it, only to come up with a lame excuse for not funding this project, while similar projects in Alberta and Afghanistan are funded with nary a thought. The office of MP Schellenberger tried to say that in the case of the one school, the University of Alberta situation was “different”, but it doesn’t appear many in the community are buying that. If you want to see how low Ontario is in the eyes of the federal Conservatives, this particular situation on Stratford is a prime example.

Liberal industry and science critic Scott Brison, who visited the Stratford area a few days ago, says that if elected to power, the Liberals will write the cheque for the Stratford campus. If the good citizens of Stratford and Perth-Wellington would like to send a double message to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives that they don’t appreciate the double standard shown their community by this government, and that they don’t like the direction the Harperites have taken this country, the Liberal candidate running in Perth-Wellington is Sandra Gardiner. 1 less Conservative MP means help in removing them from government, and back to the opposition benches where they belong.

UPDATE: I’ve included some briefing notes on this if you’d like to browse throug the main points. If you’d like the PDF file of the actual Delotte & Touche report, I have a copy of that, and would be happy to pass that along as well.

uofw-stratford-campus

UPDATE 2@ 3:00pm: As I said last update, I’ve obtained a copy of the aforementioned Deloitte and Touche report on the proposed University of Waterloo Stratford campus. I’ve decided just to post it here, and folks can have a look if they want to read more details on this proposal.

economic-impact-study-final-report

UPDATE [email protected]:43pm: It was mentioned in comments how some of the Stratford business community are outraged at the lack of federal government support for this endeavour and how some hotel owners had resorted to placing their discontent on their hotel signs. Here is one such example of that:

Self explanatory.

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