'I hope so': After PCs cut funding, York University chancellor wavers on future of Markham campus

The chancellor of York University says the school will need to get creative to find new funding for a satellite campus in Markham.

PC government pulled some $305M Liberals committed to 3 satellite campus projects in GTA

The previous Liberal government committed $127 million for a new York University satellite campus in Markham that would host up to 10,000 students. Seneca College was also a partner in the project. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

The chancellor of York University said Thursday that he had no advanced warning of the province's sudden decision to cut funding for a new satellite campus in Markham, and it's not clear where new money will come from to build the project. 

In an interview with Metro Morning, Greg Sorbara said he only learned of the Ontario government's intention after he was contacted by a producer at the CBC Radio program. 

"I went to the internet and found, my goodness, the project had been cancelled," he told host Matt Galloway. 

"My reaction was both shock and disappointment and a sense that we've got to find a path ahead, find a way to do this."

On Thursday, the Progressive Conservative government announced it was putting the brakes on the development of three satellite post-secondary campuses across the Greater Toronto Area. The previous Liberal government had committed some $305 million for the projects in Milton, Brampton and Markham, with $127 million earmarked for the Markham campus.  

Merrilee Fullerton, minister of training, colleges and universities, attributed the unexpected decision to budget constraints. 

Construction on York University's offshoot Markham campus was set to begin next month. Seneca College was also a partner in the project. 

"There have been millions of dollars invested in preparing for this campus. Everything from designing courses to recruiting staff to hiring architects to being ready to put the shovel in the ground," Sorbara, a long-time Liberal cabinet minister, explained.

"We were all ready to go."

Listen to the full interview below:

The satellite campus was set to host an initial 4,500 students. Eventually, some 10,000 students would attend classes there. A population surge and increasing demand for post-secondary spaces was the impetus for the new campuses.

"That means young people in Markham, almost all of them the children of immigrant families, would have a place to go to university … at home and not have to go away to school. If this isn't built than I don't know how you replace that capacity elsewhere in the GTA," Sorbara said.

Campus key to development plan

Further, the campuses — including a Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College partnership in Milton and Ryerson University and Sheridan College partnership in Brampton — have figured prominently into each city's development plans. 

In Markham, the new York and Seneca campus was set to form "the heart of a new downtown."

The city of Markham contributed $40 million in land to the project, while York Region added another $25 million. There are also a number of private donors involved, Sorbara said. 

The president of York University is set to meet with stakeholders on Friday to discuss next steps. That potentially includes approaching new private donors or perhaps pursuing a "scaled-down" version of the campus.

"I think we look for ways to make this happen, notwithstanding the announcement of the government," said Sorbara.

When pressed on whether he foresees the campus materializing any time soon, Sorbara feigned optimism.

"My answer would be: I hope so."


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