By Rob South
Students are upset by the exclusive focus on health issues after an announcement Mon., Sept. 11 by the Prime Minister and the 10 premiers that declared transfer payments to the provinces will increase from $15.5 billion this year to $18.3 billion next year and $21 billion by 2005/06. Specifically, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations is worried that post-secondary education was not a topic of conversation at the meeting.
"What the government seems to be forgetting is that all social issues in Canada are inseparably linked," said CASA National Director Mark Kissel. "They want to target [the transfer payments] to health and seem to be leaving post-secondary education in the dust."
According to Alberta Premier Ralph Klein’s Communication Director Gordon Turtle, the agenda for the first ministers’ meeting is set by the PM, and he decided this meeting was solely about health care.
"It wasn’t a regular meeting," said Turtle. "That’s not to say a meeting on post-secondary education was not necessary."
The PM’s press office did not respond to any of the Gauntlet’s interview requests.
Council of Alberta University Students Chair and University of Alberta Students’ Union President Leslie Church believes both the provincial and federal governments should pay more attention to university funding.
"Absolutely [post-secondary education] should be on the agenda," said Church. "It is disappointing health has dominated so much of the discussion about transfer payments."
According to CASA in the 1981/82 fiscal year government contributions made 74 per cent of university revenues as compared to 55 per cent in 1998/99. According to Ministry of Learning Spokesman Randy Kilburn, it is too early to say if post-secondary education in Alberta will get any of the money from the increase in transfer payments.
"While health care is an incredibly important issue, we have to remember that when the federal government slashed Canadian Health and Social Transfers payments to the provinces in 1995, all social programs suffered," said U of C SU President Toby White. "In post-secondary education, the shortfall in government funding was passed on to students through higher tuition fees."
According to Alberta New Democrat Leader Raj Pannu, post-secondary education was not on the agenda at the first ministers’ meeting because students have not exerted enough political pressure on the government.
"Students have been strangely quiescent over the past decade," said Pannu. "Students and their organizations need to get together and exert pressure. Students have to organize a strong political voice."
U of C SU Vice-president External Duncan Wojtaszek believes Pannu is ignoring some of the advantages students get from having separate organizations, including the ability to represent a diversity of views and try a number of different lobbying techniques, while still voicing student concerns.
In the next few weeks, the U of C SU will take part in CASA’s national lobby campaign, which will include a postcard campaign to local MPs. CASA delegates are planning to lobby Parliament Hill in early November.