Local Green Party candidate Megan Mitton says the Higgs government’s apparent plan to sell the historic Memramcook Institute shows the same insensitivity to rural areas that it demonstrated when it supported cuts to Sackville Memorial Hospital and tried to privatize the operation of Murray Beach Provincial Park.
“We see this again and again, whether it’s our rural hospitals threatened with closures this spring, provincial parks, or highly important cultural and historical symbols — simply put, enough is enough!” Mitton says in a news release, adding, “I can promise you one thing: I will fight this!”
Later, during a telephone interview, she criticized the Higgs government’s failure to consult with local people before moving ahead with plans to sell the Memramcook Institute, site of Collège Saint-Joseph, the first Acadian university.
“It’s another example of governments, and we’ve seen this with both Conservative and Liberal governments, making decisions without the people who live in those communities,” said Mitton who is running for re-election in the riding of Memramcook-Tantramar.
“In Memramcook, there are people who have formed committees, who have been working hard to find a plan, have wanted to work with the provincial government and here the government’s moving unilaterally and without any consultation,” she added.
Memramcook Mayor Michel Gaudet says the potential sale of the Memramcook Institute, without any consultation, is going to be a big issue in the provincial election campaign.
“I’ve contacted them (the government) on four different occasions in the last couple of weeks, with no phone calls returned,” he said in a telephone interview.
“Premier Higgs was in Memramcook on Wednesday and nobody even called me to be there,” Gaudet says, “so that proves how much they care about the riding.”
The provincial government has owned the Memramcook Institute since 1967 after the college and seminary there closed.
In 2014, a previous Conservative government sought unsuccessfully to sell the complex, which includes several buildings, after the corporation that ran the institute declared bankruptcy.
Then, in 2017, the Liberals pledged $25 million over three years to renovate the institute.
Mayor Gaudet says the province spent $17 million restoring the exterior of the main building and putting a new heating system in it before the Conservatives halted the project in 2018 as part of their overall reductions in capital spending.
“What’s concerning is that there’s $17 million in the building now and if they sell it, I would be very, very, very, surprised if they would get even $17 million to cover the renovations,” he adds.
Instead, he argues the government should use the institute for provincial offices instead of renting space elsewhere.
“Here’s a building that they have 100,000 square feet all completed in Memramcook which is 15 minutes from Sackville, 15 minutes from Dieppe, 20-25 minutes from Shediac,” Gaudet says.
“Here’s a building that they can go and potentially put offices for a fraction of what they’re paying in rent; it’s very fiscally irresponsible in my opinion that they are doing that.”
On Wednesday, Radio-Canada — the French-language arm of the CBC — reported that several buyers had expressed interest in the institute.
Radio Canada also quoted from an e-mail it had received from the provincial department of transportation and infrastructure saying that officials could give no further details as discussions are underway with various parties.