Over the last seven years, Canada Health and Social Transfer payments suffered large cuts, putting the government’s priorities regarding health care, social services and post-secondary education in question. Many lobby groups called for increases both before and during the recent election and the Liberals (obviously knowing an election was imminent) responded with their infamous mini-budget, promising an extra $21.1 billion in transfer payments to the provinces. Whether or not these promises are realized following this election remains unknown, but what does remain clear are serious flaws in the CHST program.
Currently, the federal government allocates CHST for post-secondary education, health care and social services–a broad catch-all of areas if ever there was one. They have little control over this money once it arrives in the hands of the provincial government.
For example, if a province normally allocates $10 billion to these areas in a year and receives a CHST payment of $2 billion, it doesn’t mean that the amount of money going into these three areas increases automatically to $12 billion. In some cases, a province may choose not to increase their spending and will instead simply use the transfer money to cover part of the total they already allocate to these areas. That is, the province continues to contribute $10 billion, but only actually kicks in $8 billion of its own money while using the federal government’s $2 billion to make up the difference. Not really the desperately-needed infusion of money students, doctors and social workers wanted, is it?
As well, even if provinces decide to put all CHST money into these three areas above and beyond what they normally provide, there’s still a glitch. The federal government has no say where this money goes. It’s up to the provinces to decide who gets what. Premiers and provincial treasurers could flip to their books, listen closely to doctors screaming about work-to-rule campaigns, and completely ignore post-secondary education requests for funding. So, universities and colleges could sit with operating budgets equivalent to a 1990 level but with year 2000 costs, stewing about their inability to provide quality education to the next generation of leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and social activists. There is no balance between the needy areas; no reconciliation perhaps between the needs of doctors and medical students.
Student organizations lobby hard for post-secondary’s piece of the CHST pie. For example, CASA–to which the U of C Students’ Union belongs–lobbies "that a portion of CHST be earmarked for post-secondary education" in their Pan-Canadian Agreement on Education. But even with these lobby groups hard at work, universities across the country will not necessarily benefit from future CHST infusions unless changes like CASA’s proposed "Education Act" occur.
Maybe universities don’t need as much money as the health care sector, but they can’t be completely abandoned, left to sink or swim based on their insufficient operating budgets and narrowly-defoned corporate funding.