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Wildeman: Ontario budget did not snub UWindsor

Article and photo published in the Windsor Star

Published on: February 29, 2016

By Alan Wildeman

There has been local dismay about how Ontario’s budget excluded this part of Ontario from the government’s “SuperCorridor” of innovation stretching from London to Ottawa. Would I have wanted the University of Windsor and Windsor-Essex to be named in the budget? Of course. We all care about our region, and I thank those who voiced concerns about what this means for UWindsor.

On the matter of universities being singled out in budget documents, I am pleased to see any university or college get publicly targeted for support. It reminds everyone how important the postsecondary sector is. The budget’s announcement of a simplified process for student aid, and full tuition recovery for low-income families, is great news.

But on the matter of our omission from the SuperCorridor a longer-term perspective is needed. The budget document was also silent on universities in the Niagara region and the vast stretch of Ontario from Sudbury to Kenora.

When the province announced that UWindsor was getting $40M for a new engineering building (matched with $40M from the federal government), or $15M for our downtown campus, there was no public outcry from other universities and communities. Nor did we presume that the province had determined we were now somehow the future of engineering and urban renewal in Ontario.

In terms of the SuperCorridor, the province obviously believes there is an opportunity to pursue advanced manufacturing, and that certain universities with recognized expertise in things like information technology have an important role to play. There is nothing wrong with this. We collaborate with many of these universities already.

Windsor-Essex has been a super corridor of innovation for many decades.  It has globally recognized tool, die and mold industries. It has researchers and companies developing technologies for automotive and other sectors, from new materials to autonomous vehicles. Essex County has one of the most sophisticated greenhouse clusters on the planet.

UWindsor’s Engineering faculty work with a host of industries. Our Cross-Border Institute is Canada’s only lab studying real-time traffic flow at a major international nexus. Our Great Lakes Institute is ranked in the top five globally in fresh water research. Our Law school started Canada’s first law entrepreneurship clinic, helping entrepreneurs navigate the legal complexities of their ventures.

We received one of the largest provincial allocations made under the Campus-Linked Accelerator Program. It funded our new EPICentre, located in the Ron Joyce Innovation Centre, named in recognition of the largest scholarship gift ($10 million) ever given by the Joyce Foundation to a Canadian university. We hosted AUTO21, a national automotive research network.

FCA has invested $3.7 billion in the Windsor Assembly plant and is hiring hundreds of people. There is a new wave of start-ups and young companies percolating in our region — companies which in the Windsor-Essex tradition are driven to get things implemented into a manufacturing process.

A region of Ontario with assets and successes like this will without question be vital to the economic renewal of Ontario. This year’s provincial budget is one snapshot in time.

The budget document might have avoided the elitist-sounding SuperCorridor, and reminded everyone that Ontario’s next game-changing idea could come from Harrow or Thunder Bay. It might have reinforced that things outside of the GTA or the Golden Triangle or Ottawa are not being rolled up and stored away for possible future use. These are minor quibbles, however.

You do not champion a great university by crying foul and being indignant. UWindsor’s successes put us far beyond the point of saying “me too, me too,” or saying that we deserve something just because we are Windsor. We are having our fair share (and some would say more than our fair share) of funding successes. Our students, faculty, staff and alumni are as innovative and successful as those from any university.

We will continue to work with industry and government, to collaborate with sister institutions across all of Ontario, and to focus on telling our region’s great story.

Alan Wildeman is president and vice-chancellor of the University of Windsor