André Lésvesque, senior director for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (from left), Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Anna-Mary Schmidt, head of grapevine diagnostics during the April 3 announcement of $80 million for the Centre for Plant Health in North Saanich. (Steven Heywood/News Staff)

André Lésvesque, senior director for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (from left), Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Anna-Mary Schmidt, head of grapevine diagnostics during the April 3 announcement of $80 million for the Centre for Plant Health in North Saanich. (Steven Heywood/News Staff)

North Saanich plant health centre replacement welcome, says mayor

Funding is an about-face from plans to close the facility in 2012.

The Mayor of North Saanich says she was excited to hear that the federal government is going to spend $80 million to replace some of the aging buildings at the Centre for Plant Health.

On April 3, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and federal Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced the government will spend $80 million between this year and 2022, and replace the Centre for Plant Health. The plan is to build a new laboratory for diagnostic testing, research and plant quarantine on the site, and replace some of the buildings there that are between 50 and 70 years old.

RELATED: Feds to pay $80 million for new lab in North Saanich.

Mayor Alice Finall said the announcement was a far cry from what happened in 2012, when the Centre faced staff cuts and the threat of outright closure under the then-Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

RELATED: 35 jobs affected by cuts at Centre for Plant Health.

“I’m not accepting we’re losing this battle,” said Elizabeth May Green Party leader and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands at the time. “One of the reasons they selected Vancouver Island as a quarantine centre [is]… if there should ever be a mistake and a slip up and a [virus] were to slip through you could wipe out an industry. … If you’re in the Okanagan that’s devastating.”

At the time, local municipal politicians spoke against the Centre’s closure, as well as against cuts in jobs with Parks Canada and other federal government scientific bodies, like North Saanich’s Institute of Ocean Sciences.

By October, 2012, the Centre was saved from closure.

RELATED: Local Centre for Plant Health has a healthy future.

Finall said this week that she’d heard there was some money from Ottawa planned for the Centre, “but this was a good surprise.”

She said the Centre has been a valuable part of the Saanich Peninsula for 100 years and its research is important to local agricultural operators — and to growing in general on the Peninsula. She said the re-investment in the Centre will help attract new researchers to the region and support is exiting staff. Finall added the Centre is one of the unique facilities within North Saanich — including the Institute of Ocean Sciences and Pat Bay Coast Guard Station.

Finall added she expects many of the older buildings at the Centre could be replaced in this project. When construction begins, she said the District will work with contractors and the federal government to co-ordinate road closures and traffic interruptions on East Saanich Road near Panorama Recreation.

“It is exciting,” she said. “It will be a good addition to the community.”