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A sign is seen on the York University campus in Toronto, on Nov. 18, 2009.

Mark Blinch/REUTERS

The presidents of two Ontario universities expressed surprise and disappointment Wednesday at provincial funding being pulled from proposed satellite campuses, one of which was set to begin construction in December.

Rhonda Lenton, president of York University, said the postsecondary institution had already made a “tremendous investment” of time and resources into a new campus in the Toronto area.

“Given how far along our project was, we did not think Markham would be cancelled at this late stage,” she said. "So it was unexpected, for sure.”

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Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, stood by the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to cancel $305-million in promised funding for three satellite campuses in the Toronto area, citing the province’s poor finances. She also hinted at further cuts to come.

“We need to make sure that we are addressing the tough financial situation in Ontario," she told reporters on Wednesday. "We are making hard choices.”

The provincial government announced on Tuesday that it was cancelling funding for the planned campuses in Brampton, Milton and Markham.

The former Liberal government had promised $90-million for a Brampton campus of Ryerson University, in partnership with Sheridan College; $90-million for a Milton campus of Wilfrid Laurier University, in partnership with Conestoga College; and $127-million for a Markham campus of York University, in partnership with Seneca College.

The Ministry couldn’t say how much of the money promised by the previous Liberal government was already spent. “The Ministry is working with the institutions to understand total expenditures, what has been completed, and if there are termination wind-down costs,” spokeswoman Tanya Blazina said.

The facilities were set to open between 2021 and 2022, and serve about 8,000 students. Funding for the Laurier and Ryerson campuses was announced in April, 2018, while the York funding was announced in June, 2017.

York University is crunching the numbers as to how much money was already spent, but Ms. Lenton estimated it’s “certainly in the millions.”

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She said the province had flowed $11-million to the project and York Region committed $25-million, while Markham donated the land. She added donors committed another $17-million. She said she hoped the project can continue.

Ms. Lenton said she got a call from a deputy minister on Wednesday afternoon, about an hour-and-a-half before the decision to cancel the funding was announced in a news release.

“He said he was very sorry to give me this bad news,” she said. “I talked about my concern that we were very far along, that construction was due to start in December, that there’s already been a significant investment of time and money and resources over the last two and a half years.”

Deborah MacLatchy, president of Wilfrid Laurier University,​ said she also got a call from a deputy minister on Tuesday afternoon. Ms. MacLatchy said she responded “with significant disappointment that this was the decision the government had made.”

The project had been discussed for 10 years. Laurier was looking at 2019 for opening in a temporary leased space, with construction to begin later. Ms. MacLatchy said the costs at this point were mostly related to the time employees spent in consultations.

“There’s more to a university than physical infrastructure,” she said. “In the short-term, we’ll be working with our partners to figure out if there is a new path. I’m optimistic.”

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Ryerson University president Mohamed Lachemi was not available for an interview. In a statement on the university’s website, he said the expansion “was the result of countless hours of hard work and dedication." Mr. Lachemi said more details about the project’s future would be announced in the coming weeks.

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