Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is cancelling funding for three university campuses in the Toronto area, blaming the province’s poor finances.

Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, said the government is no longer in a position to fund the three satellite campuses in Markham, Milton and Brampton owing to the province’s “new fiscal restraints.”

The campuses were set to open in 2021 and 2022 and serve a total of 8,000 students.

Ms. Fullerton cited a review of the province’s finances that found the deficit has more than doubled to $15-billion this year. During the provincial election campaign, Doug Ford, now Premier, also promised a line-by-line audit of government spending.

“Our government committed to restore accountability and trust in Ontario’s finances. This includes making difficult decisions about projects across the province,” Ms. Fullerton said in a news release issued late on Tuesday.

The cuts total around $305-million in funding promised by the previous Liberal government. A spokeswoman for Ms. Fullerton blamed the Liberals for making “empty promises” and said the ministry is working with the institutions to understand what has been completed “and if there are termination or reasonable wind-down costs.”

“Our government would be willing to consider a business case for how these projects may proceed in the absence of provincial capital funding,” spokeswoman Stephanie Rae said.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath called the decision “callous” and said it’s a major blow to job creation and economic opportunity in the regions.

“Scrapping these campuses now is shameful and will undercut the futures of thousands of students. It is not only a waste of the time and money already invested, but a waste of the valuable opportunity we have to expand Ontario’s capacity for research, innovation and excellence in a number of fields,” she said in a statement Tuesday.

Patrick Brown, the former PC leader who was elected Monday as Brampton’s mayor, said the decision is a step backward for the city.

“The previously funded satellite campus was the bare minimum the province could do to provide help and opportunities to young people in Brampton. Cancelling the bare minimum investment into postsecondary education is very disappointing,” he said in an e-mail.

“I hope the PC MPPs in Markham, Milton and Brampton will stand up for the communities and speak to the minister.”

The campuses were announced by the previous government as partnerships with Ontario universities and colleges.

The Markham campus was part of York University in partnership with Seneca College; the Milton campus was part of Wilfrid Laurier University in partnership with Conestoga College; and the Brampton campus was part of Ryerson University in partnership with Sheridan College.

In a joint statement, Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor at York University, and David Agnew, president at Seneca, said the provincial government informed them of its “unexpected decision” late on Tuesday.

They said the project was approved by the previous government in 2015, which promised $127-million in funding, and “triggered the start of the extensive work that has taken place since then to develop the programs, partnerships and building design.” Ms. Lenton and Mr. Agnew said the $252-million campus project “is already well under way,” with the design and development-planning phase completed. “The procurement process to secure a construction firm is nearing completion and construction was set to begin later this fall,” they said.

“We are committed to working with all involved to determine if there is a path forward that will still meet the postsecondary education needs of York Region and its residents,” they said.

Wilfrid Laurier University said it was “deeply disappointed” in the decision.

“Wilfrid Laurier University appreciates the financial challenges facing the Ontario government, but we are deeply disappointed by the sudden news to cancel the university’s new campus in Milton,” spokesman Kevin Crowley said. “Laurier has worked with the Town of Milton and numerous community partners since 2008 to bring the benefits of postsecondary education to this fast-growing community.” He added that the university will continue to work with Milton and partners “to explore all options for keeping the dream of postsecondary education alive in this vibrant community.”

Spokespeople for Ryerson University did not respond to a request for comment.

The Globe and Mail, October 23, 2018