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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2000

Roundtable Calls for PSE Act

The federal government must redesign the way it funds post-secondary education in order to ensure the continuing accessibility and quality of the system, concluded a CAUT-sponsored roundtable discussion held last month.

"It's clearer now than ever before that the current way Ottawa transfers health and education funds to the provinces through the Canada Health and Social Transfer is fundamentally flawed," said CAUT president Bill Graham.

Graham noted the one-time $2.5 billion increase in the CHST announced in the 2000 federal budget does not make up for past cuts and provides no guarantee the extra funding will actually be spent by the provinces.

"Ontario's premier has already indicated his province will not spend one red cent of the CHST supplement on post-secondary education," added Graham.

The roundtable discussion, held on Parliament Hill and televised by the CPAC cable network, brought together a number of economists and policy analysts to critically assess the impact of the federal budget on Canada's post-secondary education system.

The national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, Michael Conlon, warned that Ottawa's failure to use its ballooning surplus to invest in post-secondary education means "students and their families will be shouldering an even greater financial burden as tuition fees continue to skyrocket."

Robert Chernomas, an economist with the University of Manitoba and president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, was particularly critical of the budget's focus on tax cuts at the expense of reinvesting in public services and programs.

"Tax cuts will have the perverse effect of tying the hands of government from making the badly needed reinvestment in social programs," Chernomas said. "An equivalent dollar investment in post-secondary education would actually give the government a bigger bang for its buck in the productivity returns it would generate."

Howard Pawley, former premier of Manitoba and current president of the University of Windsor Faculty Association, called on Ottawa and the provinces to work cooperatively to develop a new funding mechanism governed by a national post-secondary education act that would enshrine basic principles across the country.

Pawley said the principles informing such an act should include "accessibility and affordability, comprehensiveness, public and not-for-profit administration, and the protection of academic freedom."

Arpi Hamalian, president of the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d'université, noted that there is support for such an act in the province of Quebec.

"In principle, if this legislation was modelled on the Canada Health Act and applied to higher education, there would be support in Quebec," stated Hamalian.

"The crisis facing post-secondary education in our province is just as great if not greater than in other provinces."

Donald Savage, former executive director of CAUT, noted the CHST was introduced by Ottawa as a way of offloading social program cuts onto the provinces.

"Now that the federal government's finances have moved from a deficit to a surplus situation," Savage said, "there may be more political will for Ottawa to play a larger role in post-secondary education while still respecting the jurisdictional rights of provinces."