Statement from Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman on Laurentian University decision to leave Barrie.
I am deeply disappointed, but sadly not surprised by the decision made by Laurentian to leave Barrie.
My first thoughts are for the individuals who will lose their jobs, and their families. While the relationship between Georgian College and Laurentian as part of the University Partnership Centre (UPC) has deteriorated in the past several years, it is the faculty, the students, the local economy, and ultimately our community who will suffer because these two institutions could not agree on a sustainable future.
The Ministry of Colleges, Training, and Universities (MTCU) decided in 2011 to put a moratorium on any new programs or growth in universities in Simcoe County pending their decision on the location of new standalone University campuses. The Province has consistently refused to allow growth in Barrie since then. This has been damaging to all three of our postsecondary institutions and has serious implications to our community. Laurentian, Lakehead, and their partner Georgian College were put into a holding pattern and valuable new programs like Lakehead-Georgian’s electrical engineering were blocked by the Ministry. Barrie has suffered from a four-year moratorium on new university programs while this process has played out, in the expectation that the Province would address the serious shortfall of access to university spaces for our students here by investing in our city. They failed to do this. We are the only city in the Province which has had a moratorium on new university programs.
Then in 2015, the Province decided to award only one new campus in Ontario, to Markham, instead of the three campuses promised by the government. While hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested by the Province in university education in places like Toronto and Waterloo Region, where their economies are already strong, the Provincial investment in capital dollars for university education in Simcoe County has been zero. Zero in Barrie, zero in Orillia. Cities such as Barrie, identified by the Province as urban growth centres have suffered by a lack of Provincial investment and this is underscored by this lack of action on post-secondary education.
Following the decision in 2015 to not award a campus to Barrie, the government then proposed a framework for the three Simcoe County institutions based on minimal enrolment growth. It was not workable, and Laurentian as a consequence, is leaving Barrie. Barrie is the largest census metropolitan area in Canada without a university campus and is projected to grow by over 30% in the coming years. While cities across Ontario are partnering with universities to growth their economies, Barrie is losing its largest university partner. On behalf of Barrie residents, I intend to continue to ask the Provincial government why this happened, and what they intend to do about it. Most of all today I think we need to consider the people whose jobs are affected, and ask if it needed to be this way.