Welcome to the “New Era”, Stephen Harper Style
There was no press release or briefing document to substantiate what had been decided, just a tersely worded letter to senior administrators that "core" funding would be cut by more than half effective immediately. If any of this sounds like a re-play of what happened in British Columbia throughout the early days of Gordon Campbell's first term as Premier, it's because it comes from the same playbook as Mr. Campbell. The only major difference is that these tersely worded letters are coming from the Harper government and the targets are the hundreds of valuable federal programs that he has decided to cut.
The frontline targets currently are programs within the department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada's mandate. The specifics involve Sector Councils, labour management initiatives first established over twenty years ago to bring together employers and labour representatives within key sectors of the Canadian economy to work collaboratively on their sector's human resource issues. Led by the initial success of the Canadian Steel Trade Congress (CSTC), a steel industry Sector Council launched in the mid-1980s, the federal government realized that by harnessing the collaborative efforts of labour and management within a sector, far more could be accomplished than by having government design and dictate program initiatives for the sector.
However, for a majority Stephen Harper government the idea of government supporting collaboration between labour and management is about as foreign a concept as the rings of Saturn. After all, for Harper the role of government is to be invisible, non-existent if possible, but certainly small and ineffective would be the best holding pattern until more suitable adjectives could be found.
From that perspective Sector Councils had all the wrong attributes. They were effective forums for stakeholders. They ensured that program dollars were effectively targeted in ways that helped both labour and management. They modernized the role of government departments in ways that made them more effective and more relevant. None of the above aligns with Harper's vision for the future, a future in which market free-for-alls will dictate what happens and if that means cutting valuable public programs to allow those free-for-alls to begin, then so be it.
For post-secondary educators, the loss of funding support for Sector Councils has serious and long-term consequences. It has been through Sector Council support programs that various industries have been able to launch and sustain re-training initiatives that helped thousands of adult learners re-engage with our public post-secondary institutions. Developmental education programs were often a first point of contact with these initiatives, but it moved well past that to include apprenticeship programs as well as university transfer programs. For those workers, the opportunity to upgrade their skills or move to new career paths not only ensured their future success in a changing labour market, it also bolstered their confidence in the process of life-long learning, a process that goes to the heart of what we do as post-secondary educators.
The labour movement is already pushing back on the announced cuts. As we know all too well from the experience here in BC, the struggle in front of us is certain to be a long one. However, as Gordon Campbell's political demise demonstrates, the arrogance of power sows its own seeds of defeat. Hopefully, Mr. Harper's defeat won't take a decade to achieve.
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.