Gov’t assurance no plan to close U de H
Ontario Liberals fanned the flames sparked by a recent CBC Radio Canada report by suggesting Premier Doug Ford’s government may be looking at closing Université de Hearst.
“It would be a mistake to cut funding at Hearst University - and it would be an even bigger mistake to close it,” Mitzie Hunter, Finance Critic for the Ontario Liberal Party, stated in a release.
Her remarks were in response to a report the Ford Government had been reviewing the “sustainability” of Université de Hearst — a small university with campuses in Timmins, Kapuskasing and Hearst, with a current enrolment of 160 students.
Luc Bussières, president of Université de Hearst, told The Daily Press, “We learned that they (the Ford Government) were worried about the many financial challenges and recruitment challenges with Hearst university and they were talking about its sustainability” in late August.
Bussières said he addressed this with the office of Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Francophone Affairs.
“I asked, ‘Should we worry about this?’ The meeting was held on the 31st of August. So for me, it was an ancient story but I wanted to be sure. And in about 15 minutes, I had the confirmation from the cabinet of Caroline Mulroney that we didn’t have to worry about that. It was an old question and they were doing due diligence.”
MPP Gilles Bisson (NDP — Timmins) said this government discussion about the sustainability of Université de Hearst came up after “the government had asked the ministries to review all expenditures so there was a cross-ministry review of services and facilities that are funded by the province of Ontario, including Université de Hearst
“So there was a briefing note that was drafted at the end of August that pointed out the challenges that we have of operating a university in Northern Ontario. We have a smaller student base and as a result, our cost per pupil is higher but that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t offer the service.”
Bisson said when he heard about the review, he spoke with the leadership at the Université de Hearst.
He said the idea of the university being closed wasn’t a primary concern or even a consideration.
“They were not so much concerned that this would lead to some sort of closure of the university, but more so about what it would mean for funding in the budget coming in the spring of 2019,” said Bisson.
“I would have been really surprised if the government, after what they did with the French Language Services Commissioner and the university in Toronto, would attempt to close Université de Hearst. All hell would break loose.
“Last week, that 41-community protest that happened across Ontario and the floor crossing of Amanda Simard over that issue has really put the government back on their heels with the francophone community. They may not reverse those decisions yet. They may in the future. Who knows? But they’re certainly not wanting to escalate that and that was my sort of feeling.”
While sensing there is no immediate threat, Bisson warned against complacency, especially for those wanting to preserve Frenchlanguage services and education.
“We know this government is going to be moving quite aggressively on the expenditures side,” said Bisson. “What that means for the Université de Hearst in the upcoming spring budget is yet to be seen. It could be quite problematic but we don’t know that yet … I don’t think at this point they’re going to move on the short-term on anything like that but the community should stay vigilant and we should keep the pressure on the Ford Government.”
University president Bussières said he would be surprised if the Ontario Government had designs on shutting down the university considering enrolment and interest in the university has been on the rise.
He said at least half of the students are from outside of the region — and many of those are international students from France and from several countries in Africa where French is the predominant language spoken.
“We are no longer the small university serving only the French people in our region,” said Bussières. “In the last five years, we have doubled the number of students enrolled at our university. So we have had great success and that’s why we would be very surprised if the government would make a decision like cutting Hearst University.”
Luc Bussières, president of Université de Hearst, said an Ontario Government discussion of the sustainability of the university was triggered by the fact the cost of operation per pupil is higher than at other larger campuses. BussiËres said he was given assurances the government has no intention of closing the school.