$80-million research facility to rise at Plant Health Centre in North Saanich

Once in danger of closing, Canada’s Centre for Plant Health in North Saanich will get a new $80-million research and quarantine facility, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay confirmed Tuesday.

The project, announced in the 2017 federal budget, is in the planning stages. Construction is slated to begin in 2020 and conclude in 2022.

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“This is not a renovation,” MacAulay said. “This is a new facility that will be built from the ground up.”

It’s a significant reversal of fortune for the 106-year-old centre, which is the only facility in Canada where tree fruit and grapevines are quarantined and tested for viruses after being brought into the country.

The former Conservative government announced plans to close the facility in 2012, but backtracked a few months later in the face of stiff opposition.

Now, the Liberals are citing their investment in the centre as proof of their government’s commitment to science and the agri-food sector.

“In my opinion, this is simply how you have to do it,” MacAulay said. “I am a big supporter of science, research and innovation.”

He said the new facility will include laboratories, greenhouses and the latest technology to identify diseases more quickly and reduce the amount of time that plants spend in quarantine.

“Of course, when the plant comes in, the farmer wants the plant as quick as they can get it,” he said.

“The new quarantine facility will give our scientists the tools they need to safeguard the health of Canada’s crops and other plants from invasive diseases or pests from overseas.”

André Levesque of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which operates the centre, said new DNA technology will allow scientists to reduce testing times from three years to a few months in some cases.

“We’re in the process of making that change,” he said. “By the time the building is ready, that will be fully functional.”

Anna-Mary Schmidt, acting director of the centre, said about 30 staff currently work in different buildings that range in age from 50 to 70 years old.

“It will be great to have this new building and have everyone in one space,” she said.


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