Open Letter on Pallister Gutting Post-Secondary

May 29, 2020

Dear Premier Pallister and Minister Eichler,

We are writing to express our concern about the strong-arm tactics your government is taking towards forcing cuts and policy changes to post-secondary institutions through the so-called "Transitional Support Fund."

Not a shred of evidence has been offered to justify the measures that are being demanded, other than to cite that 40 US governors have tried to do the same.

The fact that right-wing zealots from Alabama, Texas or Oklahoma have tried to undermine the independence of post-secondary institutions is no reason to follow the same model in Manitoba. "Everyone else is doing it," is not a legitimate justification for anything.

This is a reckless, pointless and destructive act of economic vandalism that will damage these institutions that are critical to the economic future of our province.

As it happens, Manitoba Liberals MLAs have direct knowledge and experience of post-secondary education. Dr. Jon Gerrard was a distinguished researcher who taught at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine. Dougald Lamont was on the Board of Governors of the University of Manitoba, has a graduate degree from U of M, and was a lecturer at U of M and U of W, and developed original research that was presented at international conferences. Cindy Lamoureux is currently enrolled in a Master's program at the University of Winnipeg.

Your government appears to be making decisions without any understanding of how colleges and universities work, and complete ignorance of the value that post-secondary institutions create for individuals and for society as a whole-including business.

Here are just some of the reasons your plan to make funding contingent on massive program changes is completely unacceptable.

  1. Post-Secondary Education Already Delivers the Most Important Skills for Success

    In the middle of a global pandemic and the worst recession in decades, both of which could massively reshape the economy, you are asking institutions to retool in a couple of months to better meet "labour market" supply and demand.

    What is this based on? We have no confidence that this is based on anything but personal opinions of what members of the governing party and their supporters think is important.

    In 2013, Google ran an extensive data-based survey of hiring, firing and success of all its employees. "Among the eight most important qualities of Google's top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one's colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas. After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain."

    These are skills that are usually cut because their real value is overlooked for political reasons.

  2. Post-Secondary Education Doesn't Just Pass On Existing Knowledge, It Makes New Discoveries

    The research is crystal clear that for a century, advances in technology and growth have overwhelmingly been driven by public research that allowed for private use. As Mariana Mazzucatto wrote in her landmark study The Entrepreneurial State, every piece of technology in the iPhone and in the most valuable companies in the world - Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon - were developed at public expense.

    There are obvious examples from Canada - insulin, for one. The entire settlement of the Canadian prairies was made possible by the breeding of Marquis Wheat at the government-financed experimental farm in Ottawa. This untold billions for farmers, and made Canada's wheat the envy of the world.

    Canola was developed at the U of M - another crop that has been worth billions. There are projects that can take years and only pay off big after decades.

    That is quite aside from all the other intellectual discoveries in mathematics, science, medicine, technology, engineering, psychology, history, communications, and economics.

    This is work that is done over the long-term at research institutions. If Manitoba is unwilling to invest in these ideas here, another jurisdiction will and they will reap the rewards.

  3. Post-Secondary Education Should Not Be Corporate Welfare

    Your proposal appears to be rooted in the false belief that post-secondary education, and government in general, exist for one reason, which is provide corporate welfare to business so that taxpayers and students will foot the bill for training that should be done by the employer who will benefit.

    Post-secondary education is not a factory whose job is to stamp out perfectly finished and identical drones for short-term job market needs.

    Post-secondary education should prepare people for more than a job: it teaches people to understand each other and the world, and prepare them for life and citizenship.

    For many years, businesses have retreated from training and education. The costs of that training have fallen more and more on governments and on students who are expected to shoulder the costs of education and training while businesses shirk their responsibility.

    If a business wants to dictate education and training, they need to pay for it themselves.

  4. Post-Secondary Education was Frozen and Underfunded Under the NDP

    As those who work in post-secondary education know, there were times the NDP froze funding to the universities and colleges. Brandon University has not seen an increase in its capital funding since 1978.

    There is no question the NDP had problems managing their budgets, but spending doubled in CFS and justice, while leaving many other PC policies government has falsely claimed that the provincial deficit was due entirely to "NDP overspending." As the government should know, the Doer-Selinger NDP left many PC policies on autopilot. The "tuition freeze" only applied to undergraduate courses because professional faculties' tuition was allowed to go up by as much as 400%, along with student debt.

    An enormous amount of teaching at universities is done by highly qualified, degreed individuals who have no job security and few benefits-sessional lecturers.

    There is no question the NDP mismanaged budgets, because they made exactly the same mistakes this government is making. In "good times" the NDP reduced revenues by cutting taxes by $1-billion. A Global Financial Crisis struck, and the Federal Conservatives froze transfers to Manitoba for six full years. The result was a $1-billion deficit.

    Since that time, the Federal Government has increased transfers by $1-billion. Manitoba could have had a balanced budget - and the Auditor General argued it did.

    Today, Manitoba faces a deficit because of a global economic crisis and pandemic, and you chose to run deficits and increase debt in order to finance politically convenient but fiscally reckless tax cuts. Instead of balancing the budget or investing, the PC government decided to cut, freeze, and borrow in order to finance tax cuts that have further exploded the deficit and debt.

  5. Forcing Future Generations Into Much Deeper and Riskier Personal Debt

    First, let's be absolutely clear about what you are doing: you are cutting funding to institutions while forcing students to take on more debt. That means that you are forcing the younger generation to pay more while undermining the quality of their education.

    This is not the first time the PCs have done this.

    In the 1990s, the PC Government of Manitoba changed student loan rules. Tuition was allowed to go up at a rate of 10% a year, bursaries were completely eliminated, and loans were quadrupled in size. In a single year, students could go from borrowing a maximum of about $3,500 to $13,000. The debt associated with a degree went from $14,000 to about $40,000 overnight.

    In the name of sparing future generations, you are decimating the institutions that will support them, while giving them no choice but to take on huge amounts of personal debt.

    Your decision to strip health care away from international students is equally indefensible. One of Manitoba's greatest sources of immigrants from the provincial nominee program are international students. You are turning away talented, educated people who want to stay in Manitoba.

    The same is true for your decision to cancel the tuition rebate.

  6. Post-Secondary Institutions have their own Leadership

    There are reasons for the checks and balances in our system, for arm's-length governance, and for freedom and independence. One is to protect the institutions in question from damaging political interference by politicians who want to silence political opponents or just silence ideas that are politically inconvenient.

    The other is that it protects politicians from themselves.

    In 2016, your government interfered in negotiations at the U of M to catastrophic effect. The University was found guilty of violating labour law which resulted in a $2-million fine.

    This takes that mistake and amplifies it.

All of these decisions are indefensible - economically, morally and politically. You are eating our young. You are undermining the capacity of post-secondary institutions to develop knowledge, new ideas, and products.

We are facing a massive economic crisis. Thousands of young people who are out of work will be returning to school with the hope of getting more education and a better job when this crisis is past.

If this government persists with this scheme, it will hobble Manitoba's economic recovery while undermining post-secondary institutions.

We will quote Clive James, who was a brilliant writer and commentator on the 20th century, "Intellectuals weren't always right, but the people who opposed them were always wrong".

The Government of Manitoba must reverse this wrong-headed policy and support post-secondary education. It is not a cost. It is an investment in the future.


Dougald Lamont, MLA St. Boniface

Jon Gerrard, MLA River Heights

Cindy Lamoureux, MLA Tyndall Park


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