Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find not one, but two press releases concerning the deal arrived at between the Municipality of North Grenville and the Ontario Government. By the time you read this, an announcement will have been made to the media, and we will have coverage of that in next week’s issue. As it stands now, there is very little, if anything, that is new in the statements released last week. When the draft agreement was originally announced at the end of last year, we found out that North Grenville will be getting most, but not all, of the land at the College, and most, but not all, of the buildings there.
This has been a process led and dictated by the provincial government, which imposed a gag order on the municipality throughout the past four years of talks. Now that we are less than 80 days away from a provincial election, the Wynne Government have finally agreed to make public the results of those talks. The announcement comes at the same time as the Liberals nominated David Henderson as their candidate in this riding for the election, a useful synchronicity.
The government statement is, of course, a party political statement, and seeks to place the College deal into a wider context of political gift-giving, with grateful comments from the Mayor and CAO attached. The Municipality’s statement is short on specifics, and it is hoped that the formal announcement this week will put some meat on the bare bones we’ve been given to date.
It is a real concern, hopefully to be allayed, that the agreement will be signed and sealed before the residents and taxpayers of North Grenville have a chance to see the terms that have been agreed to on their behalf. One can only hope that some form of public discussion will be possible before we are legally bound. It should be remembered that Mayor Gordon made a commitment back when talks began with the Province that the deal would not cost taxpayers a cent, and that none of the College lands would end up in the hands of developers. 633 of the 850 acres will be taken over by “wholly-owned not-for-profit corporation, which will operate at arm’s length from the Municipality”, according to the Municipality’s statement. What will happen to the rest?
It may be assumed that there will be some kind of provincial financial support, at least in the first few years, when, according to earlier statements by the municipality, the campus will be running at a deficit. The two French-language school boards have already signed leases to use some of the campus buildings for the next five to ten years. Are those leases going to transfer to the Municipality, and what other arrangements have been made to sign up tenants for the remaining lands and buildings?
All of this will be made known, and hopefully already has been when you read this. But the entire issue has been clouded in secrecy and defensiveness. It is completely understandable that negotiations should remain confidential when what CAO Brian Carré has called “probably the most significant file in this municipality since amalgamation”.
Throughout the years of talks, the response of the municipality to any request for details, or a simple progress report on the situation, has been “there’s a gag order in place, we can’t comment”. Time and time again, it was stated that an announcement would be made shortly, and nothing happened. People began to worry, other groups got in touch with the Province to offer alternative arrangements, but there was an exclusive deal in place between the Ontario Government and the Municipality of North Grenville and it was the only game in town, regardless of whether it was the best option for residents.
Even publishing the fact that options were available made the municipality angry and resulted in a deeply divisive dispute the municipality initiated with the NG Times, which has yet to be settled. The genuine hope is that this new deal will provide the people of North Grenville with a new lease on life for the College, without excessive cost and loss. The very last thing we want to see is concrete being poured over the old farmlands on the east side of CR 44, which the CAO stated have been left out of the deal because, “bottom line, it was simply too expensive” and didn’t really fit into the future vision for the Kemptville Campus Education and Community Hub. “Too expensive” implies that the rest of the campus had a price that was acceptable. More than a single cent of taxpayer’s money? Too many unknowns, which will, we all hope, turn out to be inconsequential when the full deal is finally revealed. Fingers crossed.