Mayor Jeff Lehman’s Statement
(Barrie, ON) For five years, Barrie City Council, staff, business and community leaders and Laurentian University have been working hard to make a case for a standalone university campus in Barrie. The Ontario Liberal Party committed in the 2011 election to funding three new undergraduate campuses. A provincial request for proposals was launched in December 2013 to build capacity where student demand is strong but at the same time, where access to post-secondary education is limited. Barrie continues to have a very strong case.
- The Presidents and CEOs of Barrie’s largest employers have expressed their support for a campus in Barrie, through interviews and letters of support;
- In June of 2012, more than 200 leaders from the Barrie business community joined a City-led economic strategy session called Ideas in Motion. A University was established as one of the top priorities for Barrie’s economy;
- More than 1,500 residents signed an online petition supporting bringing a satellite campus to Barrie;
- In September 2014, a public opinion poll of 1,000 people in Barrie indicated that 80% of respondents are supportive of the Mayor and Council of Barrie’s goal of establishing a stand-alone university campus in Barrie.
As I stated in my inaugural address in December 2014:
It is time for Barrie to have its own university campus. Today, with companies starting and growing daily, we need to focus on creating more stable, well-paid jobs. We need to continue to support a stand-alone campus of Laurentian University in our city, as complementary to our renowned Georgian College, because we can only get stronger with both.
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.
We are extremely disappointed with the Province’s decision. Instead of investing in three campuses in areas of the Province that are underserved, one campus was approved in an area with nine other campuses within a half hour’s drive of each other. The decision abandons our students and our business community, in Barrie, Simcoe County, and Central Ontario.
Waterloo Region, with a similar population to Simcoe County, has more than 40,000 university spaces. In Simcoe, we have less than 3,000. 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. We are the urban growth centre of Simcoe County. Currently, 88% of university applicants from the region are forced to leave to study, and this will only get worse without a stand-alone university campus. Our participation rate in university studies is far below the Provincial average.
This cannot be allowed to continue, regardless of this decision. As such, I will not be taking “No” for an answer.
So what happens now?
While we have not been successful in the Provincial Major Capital Expansion (MCE) process, we assume that the four-year moratorium on new university programs in Barrie is lifted. A vision of university education has been co-developed by Laurentian, the city, our community, and industry that would help Barrie thrive into the future. Laurentian University now needs to be able to grow in our community, which I will continue to fight for. Georgian College also needs to be allowed to expand degree programs in Barrie.
In short, if the Province will not help us with this growth, we will have to do it ourselves. Barrie needs and deserves this investment in our economy and in our young people.
Some days in this job are easier than others. But today was a day that also reminded me why I do this job. Started on CBC Radio at 7:40 talking about the Resiliency Conference we are hosting tonight and tomorrow. Then had to write a statement expressing my deep disappointment and frustration over the Province’s decision not to support a university campus in Barrie. That dominated the day a bit, with media reaction and a press conference at 3pm. But in between, I observed a Barrie Police tactical unit training exercise, and got to see first-hand the professionalism of our force and the Simcoe County EMS Tac Medics that are embedded. The City was pleased to receive the first “Blue Flag” rating for the Barrie Marina, for environmental protection. My incredible staff have got everything lined up for the Conference tomorrow – and we received a pile of last-minute registrations. And a staff member sent me pictures of the snowploughs that have been decorated by students at Barrie schools. So, while today was a kick in the gut to lose the university bid, that’s not over yet – and I had a bunch of reminders of how great the people are that work with me and for the City.
Here’s a pic from the training exercise…and I’ll post my statement on the university decision separately.