Residents were looking forward to celebrating the centennial anniversary of the “cornerstone of the community,” but instead they’re bracing for the worst after learning Kemptville College will be shuttered.
“It’s bad news, there’s no two ways about it,” said Kemptville mayor David Gordon, who confirmed the University of Guelph will announce the closure of its two rural campuses in Kemptville and Alfred in a “cost-cutting” measure to be announced Wednesday.
And while the agricultural community of Eastern Ontario is bracing for the “devastating impact,” there was deafening silence coming from Queen’s Park.
Premier Kathleen Wynne – also the minister responsible for agriculture – was in the neighbourhood Monday, but her office had little to say about the looming decision.
Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell called the news a “bit of a shocker.”
“Every farmer in SDG has gone to (either Kemptville or Alfred),” he said, adding that a few of his brothers graduated from Kemptville. “It will be a huge loss to be without that facility.” He added the francophone community will also be hit hard, as Alfred is the only francophone ag college in Ontario. “It worked out pretty well over the years.”
McDonell was unsure how much money would be saved by their closures, if cost savings is the government’s motive behind the impending closures.
Ministry of Agriculture spokesman Mark Cripps first declined comment, deflecting all questions to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Then, when asked whether the schools’ closure would have a widespread impact on the agricultural community of Eastern Ontario, Cripps responded, “How so? I mean, there’s lots of agricultural education opportunities in Ontario.”
True enough, with schools in Guelph and Ridgetown — a 700 km hike down the 401 — but that answer didn’t sit well with Richmond dairy farmer and Kemptville College grad Kent Fraser.
“The thing they’re missing is that a lot of us are still from the family farm, so the benefit of being close is being able to go home and participate and function in the day-to-day activities of our family farms while attending college,” Fraser said.
“That’s definitely a big deal for families who depend on their sons or daughters being able to come home and lend a helping hand. From that aspect, a seven-hour drive to Ridgetown is not a viable choice for a lot of people.”
Aside from the unmanageable commute, Fraser said the college in Kemptville is a vital hub of a vibrant farming community. He met his wife and mother of his four children there, and the campus served as a veritable trading post of ideas and information on farming practices.
“It’s a big blow,” he said. “It’s devastating from a personal as well as an agricultural standpoint.”
Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark called it a “black mark” on Premier Wynne’s leadership.
“I can’t believe she would abandon Eastern Ontario in terms of the education in the agri-food business,” Clark fumed.
“For her to come here with a million bucks in her hand (for the St-Albert cheese factory on Monday), knowing the devastating announcement that was to come, I would say it’s a black mark on the Premier’s watch.¨