On Oct. 24, the newly elected United Conservative Party (UCP) released its first budget, which cuts funding for universities in a number of ways. The Fiscal Plan 2019-23, which is available on the Government of Alberta website, contains a five per cent cut to post-secondary spending, ends the five-year freeze on tuition, increases interest on student loans — with increases limited to the annual maximum of seven per cent per year, or an overall 21 per cent over three years — while also cutting operating grants by up to 7.9 per cent.
MacEwan University estimates the funding cuts will leave it with a $17 million budget shortfall this year, which could lead to layoffs and increased tuition, though tuition cannot be increased until the Fall 2020 term at the earliest.
In the coming academic year, students will have to pay more to receive a post-secondary education and be able to enter the workforce, while the UCP government will also be spending $30 million on an “energy war room,” to counter criticism of the province’s energy sector, $2.5 million on a public inquiry into foreign funding for opponents of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, and will be lowering the corporate tax rate from twelve per cent to eight per cent, which can be found on pages 63 and 102 of the Fiscal Plan. Page 86 does indicate an increase in education enrolment funding by 2.2 per cent, which helps to cover any additional expenses a university takes on as enrolment increases, but does not reduce per student costs.
This is not the first time cuts like this have occurred in Alberta, as former premier Ralph Klein made similar cuts in 1993. According to the Canadian Museum of History, Klein cut funding to healthcare, which caused the elimination of 14,753 positions in the field. Klein, like Kenney, thought that the investments into the oil and gas industry would trickle down and solve the economic issues occurring in Alberta; however, they did not.
Professor David Taras, a political analyst at Mount Royal University, told the Globe and Mail in 2015 that “all of (Klein’s) political capital was spent on eliminating the fiscal debt and declaring victory, but he did so at the expense of hospitals, roads, light rail transit lines, and investing in better health-care services or education.”
With the cuts to services, Klein slashed all spending by 20 per cent and all civil servants took a five per cent pay cut. Kenney also has the goal of balancing the budget; however, the fiscal plan predicts the UCP will be leaving a debt of $93 billion, similar to Rachel Notley and the Alberta New Democratic Party’s $97 billion debt.
The Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) have announced that they are planning a demonstration against the increases in tuition and interest on student loans, after the Government of Alberta failed to listen to the association’s advocacy for MacEwan University students. SAMU says they will be gathering students at the clock tower and marching to the Legislature Building on Nov. 18 at 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Any changes to the time and date will be found on the SAMU Facebook page.
Cole Baker, SAMU’s vice president external says SAMU is “currently working to develop a strategy that student voices are heard with the Council of Alberta University Students and Edmonton Student Alliance. SAMU will advocate internally to make sure students are heard and bring student voices to the table for MacEwan’s upper administration, while maintaining a relationship with the Government of Alberta.”
The president of the MacEwan University NDP, Dominic Ellis-Kelly, says, “this is a blatant attack on students. Our generation is already being priced out of a lot of things, and the tuition hike will surely price a lot of young people out of an education and a good job in the future. The fact that Kenney is pairing his massive cuts with higher taxes mean we actually will be paying more for less, as the premier refers to the situation now.” The MacEwan NDP have shared their support for SAMU and the demonstration.
The griff also reached out to Martina Crory, the former president of the now-inactive MacEwan University Campus Conservatives; however, she was unable to comment in time for publication.