EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: University expansion got lost in the shuffle this week

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Sometimes the most important news items get buried beneath the flashy, sexier stories.

Case in point was city council this week, where arguably the biggest story to hit Cornwall this year (word that the Seaway City could land a university campus) was overshadowed by a decision by councillors to vote themselves a raise…not to mention shelving debate on a closed-door waterfront development committee meeting that should have been open to the public.

The raise issue, while generating plenty of fodder for the coffee-shop quarterbacks, will result in a ho-hum response from voters this fall.

And while councillors went to great pains to suggest the mammoth raise (see our story for details) will be phased in over four years, and is for the 2015 council and not members of the existing body, consider this: most of the current group are running again and most of them will be re-elected. So council, for all intents and purposes, just voted itself a raise.

If only it were that easy for all of us.

The waterfront development committee thing is also a big fat non-issue. Did the committee get it wrong? Yup. Should some members of council who sit on the committee have stepped up and kept the meeting from going in-camera (because they should know better)? Of course. Will the majority of voters penalize those council members in October. Nope…most of them couldn’t find the waterfront development committee on a chart with a rowboat.

Which brings us back to this point – sometimes there's more ink in the headlines than in the story.

A steering committee made up of local stakeholders has made significant strides in landing Cornwall a university. Talk about some rock-solid good news to hang our hat on.

While we won't be seeing a stand-alone facility specific to Cornwall, there is hope the city could land a university campus from two unnamed post-secondary institutions that are in talks with the committee.

Committee members who spoke to city council Monday night wouldn’t name the two institutions, but it won't be long before their names are known. Committee membership can be counted in dozens, and that's just too many mouths to keep quiet for long.

In the meantime, the talk coming out of city hall this week made it sound like it's only a matter of time before a portion of the Nav Centre property in Cornwall's east end is transformed into a facility that provides in-class instruction from university professors, St. Lawrence College offers university-level classes, not to mention online learning opportunities.

Reality may be something else. Committee member Tom Kaneb tempered the positive vibe at city hall Monday by pointing out nothing is cast in stone, and there's still a metric ton of work to do to convince Queen's Park that Cornwall is a viable option for a university expansion.

The provincial government has made it clear it will not fund new stand-alone universities in Ontario, and instead will set aside money for existing facilities to expand.

It's not the Cornwall campus of the University of Eastern Ontario - but the "blended model" committee member Gail Kaneb mentioned Monday night is the next best thing…and we should all be excited about that.

I'm old enough to remember when the University of Ottawa operated a campus in Cornwall. If memory serves, a student could spend the first two years of their education here (or something like that) before moving to Ottawa full-time to complete their degree. Even if my details are off a bit, there used to opportunities for local students to further a university education within Cornwall borders.

Anything that can be done to return to that kind of model, or even augment it, should be latched on to with white knuckles.

The fact that the committee has already secured a home for the university campus should bolster our chances. So should the partnerships that have been created with Akwesasne, not to mention other players like the college and the city, to name just a few.

The next task, according to committee leader Gerry Benson, will be to create a groundswell of public support. The group is active on social media (not sure I understand the symbolism of an egg as a Twitter profile picture) and will be active in getting the word out about the project.

The ball is firmly in the court of Queen's Park for freeing up any money.

But our responsibility is getting behind this idea now, to make sure it becomes a reality.

Organizations: Lawrence College, Queen's, Nav Centre University of Eastern Ontario University of Ottawa

Geographic location: Cornwall, Seaway, Ontario Ottawa

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