Opinion Editorial

HRC decision should come before election

It’s been three years since Charles Pachter’s ambitious and innovative concept to transform the disused portion of the former Huronia Regional Centre (HRC) into a cultural hub came to light. As details of a proposed Huronia Cultural Campus (HCC) leaked out, his plan became the subject of numerous articles in major national media that catapulted his idea into the consciousness of provincial decision makers.

But time is a relative concept when politics and bureaucracy are at play. And in the case of the HCC, it seems those with the power to pave the way for progress can drag their feet with the best of them. A few weeks ago, the province finally released its summary report from a public consultation process held in 2016 and earlier this year, around the use of surplus land at the HRC. The report gave a concise snapshot of the property, which comprises about 260 acres of government-owned and -managed land that skirts Lake Simcoe. From 1876 to 2009, it was the site of the HRC. Since then, the land has been used as a courthouse, public health lab and the site of OPP training facilities and trainee residences. The question is what to do with the almost 175 acres of land not being used.

The report outlined limitations related to wetlands — it says about 132 of the 175 acres should be under permanent protection — and stressed the property should remain in the public domain, should be accessible year-round and should somehow recognize the pain of the HRC residents through a memorial.

When you factor in the protected portion of the land, the question becomes: Is 30-plus acres enough for the HCC? Or will the province go in a different direction? The OPP wants to acquire more of the property as a potential new home for its Orillia detachment, while the County of Simcoe desires to create affordable housing at the site. Georgian College and Lakehead University have both said they are interested in the land to expand their campuses.

The province will use the feedback it received during the consultation process — input summarized in the report — to guide its decision around the unused land. “The ball is now in the province’s court,” said Fred Larsen, chair of the HCC’s board of directors. “I’m optimistic they will act relatively quickly and make a decision about what is going to be their course of action going forward. We’re optimistic we can work with both the city and other stakeholder groups.”

There is reason for optimism, to be sure. But, frankly, it’s hard to imagine the province not turning over some part of the land to the OPP — that only makes sense from the government’s perspective. Of course, it’s not clear how much land the OPP desires and how that might impact the HCC.

Here’s what we do know: The next provincial election is set for June 7, 2018. Considering how long this process has dragged on since the HRC was shuttered in 2009, we implore the government to make its decision soon so an election and, potentially, a change in government doesn’t derail progress for another decade. It’s time to make a decision.

— The Packet & Times 

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