University associations ask PC leader candidates to meet
Glover expresses interest, Stefanson yet to respond

The Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA) and the Canadian Federation of Students Manitoba extended an open invitation to the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba leadership candidates to discuss the critical role of universities in the province.

A Sept. 15 open letter signed by both MOFA and the federation — representing more than 1,800 academic staff and over 45,000 students respectively — calls for commitments to “affordable, accessible and high-quality public education in our post-secondary system.”

The organizations raised concerns about the controversial Bill 33, which they view as “far too similar to the now-withdrawn Bill 64,” calling for a repeal of the bill, an abandonment of outcomes-based funding — known popularly as the Tennessee model — as well as the restoration of public health care for international students.

In March of this year, MOFA and the New Democratic Party of Manitoba (NDP) called for the bill to be withdrawn, citing concerns about similarities with the Ontario provincial government’s failed Student Choice Initiative which was struck down by courts in 2019.

A month later, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration Wayne Ewasko announced that the legislation would be amended to address concerns that it would grant the minister powers to set student fees, potentially threatening the ability of student unions to collect fees from their members.

In a Twitter post March 11, Ewasko called the accusations of similarity with the Student Choice Initiative “categorically false.”

The bill received assent on May 20.

“The Pallister era was characterized by steadily shrinking resources, with cuts to the funding of post-secondary education year after year and a planning environment that can only be described as chaos,” read the letter, citing an incident in early 2020 when universities were called on by the provincial government to provide budget scenarios including an up to 30 per cent cut to expenditures within a five-day window.

“Given the importance of our universities to the economic well-being of our province, we call upon you [to] provide a new direction for advanced education and that would start by making it a senior cabinet portfolio, not the entry-level position it is now,” the letter continued.

“Students want to meet with their elected officials in a meaningful way that creates dialogue and consultation, ensuring the collective concerns of post-secondary stakeholders are implemented into policy,” wrote Canadian Federation of Students Manitoba chairperson Alexandra Koslock in an emailed statement.

“The concerns in Manitoba from post-secondary students, faculty and staff are long-standing as the current government continues to dismantle our province’s colleges and universities while ignoring voices from within the sector.”

She continued, “Students, faculty and staff across the province feel like they have been failed and want to see a new leader that isn’t afraid to create policy change that reflects the needs of constituents.”

“I would love to come,” said Progressive Conservative (PC) leadership candidate Shelly Glover in a Sept. 20 interview with the Manitoban, after admitting to having not heard about the open letter due to campaigning beforehand.

PC leadership candidate Heather Stefanson did not respond to request for comment.

The election to select a new leader of the PCs — by default to select Manitoba’s next premier — will take place Oct. 30.

— with files from Liam Forrester