THUNDER BAY — Thunder Bay’s city council has given the green light to a $500,000 contribution in a bid to help Lakehead University secure a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program.
The funding, delivered through the city’s economic development agency the Thunder Bay CEDC, is intended to leverage provincial and federal dollars for an estimated $12-million new building to host the program.
The CEDC funding is conditional on approval of applications to other sources including the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) and FedNor, something at least one councillor said was critical to winning their approval.
Jamie Taylor, CEO of the CEDC, told council the program would support new jobs and hopefully help tackle a serious veterinarian shortage that has implications for the local agricultural sector.
“It’s definitely going to support economic growth in our community,” she said. “There are high-paying jobs for people.… It will add additional capacity, so we’ll see new businesses or expanded businesses in the community.”
Lakehead estimates the program, if approved, would create 70 to 80 temporary jobs associated with building a new facility and eight to 10 permanent full-time jobs at the university, including instructors and support staff.
The CEDC’s board of directors had recommended funding the project from its project reserve fund, but the arm's length municipal agency needs approval from city council for project spending over $100,000. Council voted unanimously to approve the contribution on Jan. 16.
Lakehead has proposed a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program in partnership with the University of Guelph, currently home to Ontario’s only professional veterinary program.
A proposed 20 students a year would complete their first two years of study in Thunder Bay, moving to Guelph for the final two years.
School officials told council the program will be designed to recruit students from the region and entice graduates to set up practices here. The program’s placements, beginning in the first year, would take place exclusively in Northern Ontario, including Indigenous communities.
“We have lots of experience in this area,” said university president Moira McPherson. “We want to recruit students from the north that will return to the North.”
Some councillors suggested that impact could be blunted by the fact that students would spend the final two years of the program in Guelph, but generally voiced enthusiasm for the project.
McPherson told city council last year Lakehead was targeting fall 2024 to launch the program, but had not yet secured provincial approvals. On Monday, Michael den Haan, vice-president of external relations, said the timeline will depend on securing funding.
The university’s plan to finance the launch of the program includes a projected $3.7 million in philanthropic contributions. Den Haan reported encouraging fundraising indications, saying “people have already stepped forward” with conditional commitments.
The CEDC has said the program could make a meaningful difference in veterinarian capacity on a provincial scale, “almost [doubling] the number of new Ontario veterinarians from 30 to 50” per year.
The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) has also expressed support for Lakehead’s proposal.