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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 1997

United Lobby Forces Changes to Manitoba’s PSE Act

Ed Byard

Manitoba’s Bill 32

A concerted lobbying effort organized by the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA) and supported by academics across the province has convinced the Manitoba government to make significant amendments to its recently adopted Council on Post-Secondary Education Act (Bill 32).

Almost 100 presentations were made — over 25 hours of hearings — to the Law Amendments Committee of the Manitoba Legislature. Presenters included faculty from member associations, representatives of the senates of the Universities of Winnipeg and Brandon, the presidents of the three Manitoba universities, students, and even a few private citizens. CAUT was represented by its president, Bill Bruneau.

Bill 32 as proposed in the original draft legislation was designed to dissolve the current Universities Grants Commission and provide for the establishment of a new Council on Post-Secondary Education that would oversee funding and programs in the province’s universities and colleges.

The powers the council and Education Minister Linda McIntosh were to be given in the new act were sweeping and appeared to undermine the traditional arm’s-length relationship between the government and the universities.

To quote a legal opinion commissioned by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association: "the Act, as proposed could interfere with the autonomy of the universities and allow government, indirectly through the Minister and Council, to cause the elimination of programs and people."

The original draft of Bill 32 contained several provisions which seemed to allow direct government intrusions and micromanagement of the universities, but the concerted lobbying resulted in some 13 amendments to the bill which explicitly recognize academic freedom, provide for consultation with the universities, recognize the principle of an accessible university system, and recognize the right of the universities to formulate academic policies and standards.

In addition, the powers of the minister of education, originally broad enough that she could have dictated the mandate of the council, were explicitly softened to read that the Minister is "an intermediary between post-secondary institutions and government."

Despite these changes, the legislation represents a significant centralization of power and authority in the 11-member council which is entirely appointed by the government and subject to considerable ministerial direction.

Of particular concern to faculty associations in Manitoba is that the council could recommend program rationalization or could identify program redundancy within the universities and whether such pronouncements would force the universities to act on these before funding allocations are made.

In addition, the question of the status of collective agreement protections for faculty in the event of a government-imposed financial exigency remains extant.

The successful efforts that MOFA and the entire university community undertook to force changes to the act are only a beginning. We await with interest the announcement of the membership of the council and intend to monitor closely the direction the council takes in its work.

Ed Byard is the Vice -President of MOFA, and a member of the CAUT Collective Bargaining & Economic Benefits Committee.

He acknowledges summaries written by freelance writer Doug Smith, and University of Winnipeg Faculty Association President Alden Turner in the preparation of this article.