March 25, 2023

Conestoga College’s president says he wasn’t surprised by the provincial government’s decision to cut funding for a proposed campus in Milton to be shared with Wilfrid Laurier University. In fact, he says, it will give the college and university an opportunity to create a more equal partnership moving forward.

Last week, the Ford government released a statement on its website stating that more than $300 million would be cut for three university satellite campuses, which has been previously promised by the Liberals: the York University/Seneca College campus in Markham, the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton, and the Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton.

The decision to cut the funding was due to the soaring deficit, which the government says is currently $15 billion.

Sign near the proposed Wilfrid Laurier and Conestoga College Milton Campus (CTV News Kitchener)

“There is a massive deficit and that is one issue,” said Conestoga president John Tibbits. “So I wasn’t totally surprised and Conestoga isn’t disappointed either.”

However, he added, the shared campus was one in which Laurier was the dominant player.

“Let’s put it this way: It was clearly the Laurier project, with some involvement from Conestoga. There was no way that Conestoga was close to being half the project. That’s just not the case.” Tibbits said.

The first student enrolments in Milton were expected in September 2019 at a temporary campus, with the main campus opening in 2021. Located on 150 acres of land, Tibbits said it planned to enrol approximately 2,000 students.

“The programs were still in discussion and we were expecting around 2,000 students. They were going to be mainly science degrees from Laurier, but because we didn’t know how much space we had, it was still up in the air.” 

Tibbits also mentioned that Conestoga has felt it has played a minor role in the progression of the Milton campus, when what it wants is a partnership that resembles the Brantford campus.

“It was their building. We might get space; we might not. If we got space, we would have to pay, and once they grew we would likely have to move out,” said Tibbits. “We like our partnership in Brantford, but it needs to be a partnership where both parties bring their strengths. If you look at this community, we have both strong institutions and I would like to think that this region is much stronger because both parties are here. . . . Milton would be far better off to have two strong institutions. It seems to be very logical that bringing both strengths would be great for Milton.” 

Deborah Dubenofsky, vice-president of finance and administration at Wilfrid Laurier University, told the Waterloo Region Record last week that the Liberals wanted the campus to be a university-led project, and Laurier was looking forward to collaborating with Conestoga.

“I’d describe Conestoga as integral to the proposal,” said Dubenofsky.

With no money left on the table, it leaves the project at a halt. But there are still discussions on what the best plan would be with moving forward for the Milton campus.

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