NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Post-Secondary Education /
Appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving (Chairman)
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Mr. David Wilton
Ms. Joyce Treen
Mr. Stephen Gough
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Ms. Karla MacFarlane
Hon. Maureen MacDonald
Hon. Denise Peterson-Rafuse
[Mr. David Wilton was replaced by Mr. Joachim Stroink]
[Ms. Joyce Treen was replaced by Ms. Margaret Miller]
[Hon. Denise Peterson-Rafuse was replaced by Hon. David Wilson]
Ms. Monica Morrison
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition
Ms. Michaela Sam - Chairperson
Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia
Mr. Darren Abramson - Member-at-Large
Dalhousie Faculty Association
Mr. Matthew Furlong - Communications Officer
Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers
Mr. Steve Cloutier - President
CUPE Local 3912
Mr. Colin Sutton - President, NSGEU Local 79 /
Member, NSGEU PSE Occupation Council
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2015
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’m Keith Irving and I’m the new chairman of this committee, so bear with me as I get my bearings. I’d like to welcome everyone, in particular our delegation here this morning.
This is the Standing Committee on Human Resources. In addition to reviewing appointments of ABCs, we will be receiving a presentation today from the Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition.
I would like to ask everyone to go around the table and introduce themselves.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, all. I’d like to remind everyone to have your phones off or on vibrate and I would also like to welcome you to our new committee room. This is our first meeting in this room and I would like to thank the staff for getting this all set up and organized, a bit of renovations have happened here. The washrooms are just out the door to the left and, as well, the coffee and water can be found in the anteroom. In case of an emergency you will exit through the Granville Street entrance and proceed to the Grand Parade Square by St. Paul’s Church. Because we’re so handy to the media room we are asking that scrums after the meeting be held in the media room just across the hallway.
My role as chairman is to keep order at the meeting so I will ask you all to ask your questions and wait to be acknowledged to respond to the questions through the Chair. I will do my best to keep a speaking list through the meeting and keep us on time. In addition, we have some committee business to deal with so I’m hoping we can wrap up the presentation and questioning of the delegation here by 11:30 a.m. for us to deal with the committee business that’s on the agenda.
In terms of the agenda, we do have three issues under Committee Business, including the three appointments to the agencies, boards and commissions; a deferred motion from the last meeting; and I’ve also added as the new chairman, to give a bit of a run-through of committee procedures. I understand there have been some frustrations at times and I thought it would be a good time, with a new chairman, to discuss a few. We’re going to keep Mr. Orrell happy at the end of the day here today.
With that I would like to move to the officials from the Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition, and ask them to introduce themselves and begin their presentation.
MS. MICHAELA SAM: Collectively, on behalf of the Nova Scotia Post- Secondary Education Coalition, I want to thank you for letting us present to you this morning. Collectively, the coalition represents faculty, students, and support staff across the province. My name is Michaela Sam and I’m chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia. Alongside me we have Matthew Furlong of the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers; Steve Cloutier of CUPE 3912; Colin Sutton of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union; and Darren Abramson of the Dalhousie Faculty Association. As well, in the room we also have members of the Dalhousie Student Union and other members of the coalition.
The Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia represents students from across Yarmouth to Sydney and the document that you see today was compiled by students, as well as the coalition, but also in association with the Dalhousie Student Union.
Students in Nova Scotia face a tough reality when considering their future prospects. Our post-secondary education system continues to have the second-lowest levels of per-student funding in the country, and the academic integrity and stability of our institutions have been undermined by the Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act. The provincial government has decided, after a decade of tuition fee controls, to completely deregulate tuition fees at our universities.
Tuition fees in Nova Scotia are the third-highest in Canada at $6,817 for the coming year, compared to the national average of $6,191. That figure marks a 5.2 per cent increase since 2014-15, compared to a 3.2 per cent increase nationally, a rate four times that of inflation and the fastest increase in Canada for 2015-16 - that was the first year since 2007 where universities could set whatever tuition amount they wanted. Students are bracing for 10 per cent to 20 per cent increases across the province in the coming two to three years as universities scramble to take advantage of the deregulation that they misguidedly hope will make up for underfunding in the province.
As the Statistics Canada numbers indicate, the policy of deregulation will have the direct result of pushing Nova Scotia back to the top of the tuition pack in Canada, back where we were a decade ago.
High tuition fees mean higher student debt, a fact compounded by the fact that since coming to office, this government has cut over $50 million from student assistance in Nova Scotia. High levels of student debt are a drag on economic growth as indebted graduates have less available funds with which to begin their lives, coupled with the fact that recent graduates face incredibly tight labour markets. It is against the best interests of our province to have indebted university and college students. At a time when the province needs to encourage our graduates to buy a home, start a family, and pursue entrepreneurship, high student debt stands in direct opposition to all these things.
Higher fees, cuts to student assistance, skyrocketing student debt, and staggering youth out-migration - that is the picture for Nova Scotia students today and it doesn’t have to be that way. The Nova Scotia Post-Secondary Education Coalition is ready to work with all Parties to overcome these challenges facing our province. Our solutions are evidence- based and take into account public opinion in Nova Scotia. They include modest proposals, like investing $12 million to convert provincial student loans to grants, which would eliminate student debt in Nova Scotia. They include listening to the 60 per cent of Nova Scotians who, in consultation conducted by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education last year, said they did not oppose increasing taxes if that meant reduced tuition fees in Nova Scotia.
That same survey showed that only 9 per cent of Nova Scotians supported tuition fee deregulation yet we saw which policy the government inexplicably went with. With that, I’m going to pass it on to other members of the coalition to continue to present on the state of post-secondary education in Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Furlong.
MR. MATTHEW FURLONG: Thank you everyone for meeting with us today. Just to tell you a bit about ANSUT, because I’m tired of saying the full name, we represent about 1,400 professorial faculty, contract academic staff, and librarians in the province. I’m going to talk a little bit about the topic of funding and quality in provincial post-secondary education.
I think we would all agree that Nova Scotia’s universities are amongst our most important public institutions. Indeed, when Premier McNeil championed them as such - in Sydney, I believe, in February of last year - it resonated around the province. I remember many of my former students celebrating this remark from Premier McNeil as though the cavalry was about to arrive. Recent events since then seem to demonstrate that we have a serious disconnect among various constituencies in the post-secondary sphere about why our universities are such an important component of Nova Scotian society.
I think in order to clarify where groups like ours stand relative to maybe where the government stands, we should just have a basic clarification, and that is that in a modern society universities have a dual function. Nobody can deny their economic function is very important, and that is a natural side-effect of a publicly-funded system dependent on taxes. They also have a much older function: to help people grow in thoughtfulness and in understanding with respect to figuring out what is actually true and what is actually false, and with respect to questions of good and bad and right and wrong; in other words, to teach people how to think.
This balance is essential to universities and university education, yet it’s no secret that that balance is under constant threat simply because it is perceived to be too expensive. So if expense is increasingly marginalizing areas of study, like the pure sciences and humanities - and they are indeed being marginalized - then we need to consider the manner of funding relative to Nova Scotia’s economic situation.
Nova Scotia universities and the NSCC system have a significant impact on the provincial economy. There are 11 universities and 13 NSCC campuses across the province. In 2013-14, there were over 36,000 full-time and over 7,000 part-time students enrolled in our universities. A 2013 report on the economic impact of universities in Atlantic Canada found that universities contribute $1.12 billion to Nova Scotia’s economy and yet over the past 20 years tuition fees have rapidly outpaced inflation and between 1991 and 2009, fees almost tripled and this has taken place despite our improving financial situation. Our debt-to-GDP ratio has fallen from 48.7 per cent in 2000, to 36.7 per cent today, so clearly we have a problem.
I think we need to look at the ways that decisions are fundamentally made inside our post-secondary institutions before we can properly address the question of funding. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Furlong. Mr. Cloutier.
MR. STEVE CLOUTIER: I’m just going to talk a little bit about the precarious nature of part-time faculty. CUPE 3912 represents part-time faculty at all three universities. We also represent the teaching assistants at Dalhousie University, including the new group at Truro, the amalgamation with the Agricultural College.
Increasingly, universities are reliant on part-time faculty. We only have estimates on just how much because nobody is actually tracking that information. We try, but we don’t have the necessary resources to do a full one. Estimates suggest that across Canada 50 per cent of faculty at universities are part-time faculty. It goes up to 75 per cent at universities and this is the increasing trend.
Just to give a sense of where I’ve been, I’ve been teaching - largely at Saint Mary’s, although I teach occasionally at the Mount when I can get work there - and I’ve been teaching at Saint Mary’s for 15 years. I’ve been working at Saint Mary’s for 15 years and I have no benefits, I have no pension, I have no health benefits. Occasionally, if I don’t work enough I do not qualify for employment insurance benefits when I go out, and largely we lose work over the summer, obviously, because we work on a four-month contract. I know four months ahead of time what I’m going to do.
As it stands, in January, I have no work; I may get work, I do not know. This current semester in September, I knew two weeks before the classes started whether I had work or not. What this does, of course, is this creates a problem for job security, but it’s far more wide-ranging than that. For example, if I’m trying to get a loan for a house, I’m not going to get a house loan because no bank is going to give me a loan on a four-month contract.
Similarly, we also do much of the same work as the full-time staff. A joke that the part-timers make is when you get a full-time job you get more money but less work, because we’re also required to keep up on all of our research and stuff like that because ultimately we want to get full-time work for those few full-time positions that are there. We have to work at our research, we have to keep up within all of our areas of expertise, but at the same time many of us are working at multiple universities. I know people who are working at three universities teaching six courses a semester, which is a lot of work, but it’s the only way they can maintain a livable wage.
On top of all that, with all of this, we have no access to decision making, we have no representation on boards of governors, and we have no representations on senate. The only representation we have is our union, CUPE 3912 is the only representation we have. The only thing that prevents us from being truly and completely exploited are what labour laws exist and what collective agreements we can negotiate with the different universities. What we’re facing now, with certain legislation - and not necessarily just here, but across the country as well - is that those protections are even going to be taken away from us.
A strong, secure workforce benefits all of society - not just me personally, not just my family. I’m trying to raise a family. Many of us are trying to do this for a living. Part-time is actually a little bit of a misnomer, because it’s our full-time work. There are people who are legitimately part-time who have full-time jobs and teach part-time, but largely the majority of our members do this for their livelihood, to support their families, and they’re just not able to make it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Cloutier. We have Mr. Sutton now.
MR. COLIN SUTTON: A few years ago an American company attempted to outsource the campus bookstore at a Nova Scotia university. The company promised to keep the current staff at their current wages and benefits, and promised to invest substantially in the bookstore’s technology and infrastructure.
As far as the university was concerned, it was a done deal. The staff union responded by pressing for successor rights to protect the unionized employees in the bookstore and the outsourcer immediately lost all interest in the deal. That is because the outsourcer’s business model works best when they can exploit their workers. This company’s modus operandi is to carve off job functions like purchasing and send those functions to their American head office. Hours are reduced, benefits are eliminated and the outsourcer then asserts that they can no longer pay the promised salaries for these reduced jobs. The good, full-time, full-salary job is turned into precarious employment.
The effects of outsourcing do not end there. Once these jobs are gone, they do not come back. Job functions, procedures, and technologies become proprietary to the outsourcer. Services degrade, revenues to the university diminish, and costs increase, and even if the university later wants to pull it back in-house, it is far too cost prohibitive to do so.
Support staff are dedicated employees who work hard to ensure the students’ success. Cuts to this group impact faculty, administration, and students. I know most of the members of this committee have a post-secondary education. It was support staff that processed your applications. It was support staff that handed you your cap and gown. It was support staff that worked hard to make sure everything in between went as smoothly as possible.
Recently, NSCAD laid off half its unionized staff in one fell swoop by outsourcing some jobs and simply axing the rest. The outsourced jobs will likely be turned into precarious employment and the faculty, administration, and students will suffer from the downsizing of their support staff.
The staff cuts at NSCAD are only the most recent example of the impact of Bill No. 100. As Bill No. 100 was being discussed in the Legislature in April of this year, Cape Breton University announced the layoff of 10 per cent of their staff, trying to get out ahead of Bill No. 100. At the same time, the University of King’s College was warning of 10 per cent wage cuts for its staff because of Bill No. 100. Bill No. 100 wasn’t even law yet and it was already affecting Nova Scotia universities.
Universities are accountable to their own boards of governors and are already under extreme budgetary pressure from multiple sources - not the least of which is a decade of continued choking off of investment from the province. The heavy-handed, ham-fisted, and untested nature of the Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act only means additional pressure on the universities to resort to extreme and cannibalistic measures such as layoffs, downsizing, outsourcing, and contracting out. When you hear announcements of more layoffs at Nova Scotia’s universities in the coming months, remember our presentation today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Sutton. Mr. Abramson.
MR. DARREN ABRAMSON: Thank you. I have a simple message. This committee is responsible by law for appointing boards of governors at universities in this province, and is therefore responsible for the slow but sure destruction of Nova Scotia universities. I’ll illustrate this with my own example, Dalhousie University.
Universities are places where professors teach students and do research with students. That’s what a university is. Over the past 15 years, the Dalhousie Board of Governors has steadily diverted more and more money away from that function. My faculty association has spent considerable time understanding the budget situation at Dalhousie. We used public documents and performed a forensic analysis. The result of this analysis can be found at our website: dfa.ns.ca - click on “Publications” and then “Review of University Finances.” I’ve updated a key figure from that analysis up to 2015 and it’s in the written document that you have.
If Dalhousie allocated as large a percentage of its operating budget on teaching and research now as it did in 2002-03, it would have an additional $56 million this year alone for hiring tenure-track faculty and supporting academic activities.
In my department one of our retired faculty was just made a member of the Order of Canada; a current faculty member was just made a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada. When people in my department die of breast cancer, get hired away by other universities, or retire, we are told there isn’t any money to replace them.
Dalhousie is being ground down. Dalhousie has money, I can tell you all about the surpluses that Dalhousie generates each year, but it is being slowly but surely bled to death by a board that is allowing resources to be sucked up by administrators building little empires inside Dalhousie.
Success in the private sector, as many of you know, means lowering costs and increasing revenues. At a university the private sector model means higher tuition and larger classes, taught by part-time workers. Eventually, though, students start to understand that they will get better value at a university that is managed instead towards academic success. A first-year student from Tantallon just last Thursday told me this, totally unprovoked.
A great university can survive being bled for a little while but will eventually die. Standing committee, Dalhousie is being eaten from within, on your watch. The death of Dalhousie as a university would be a tragedy for Halifax, for Nova Scotians, and for the academic world. I call on you to ensure that boards of Nova Scotia universities return funding to the academic mission of universities.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Abramson. We now can move to a period of questions. Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Mr. Chairman, just on the last note, can you just quote again the $56 million and how you came up with that number?
MR. ABRAMSON: I’d love to. Please turn to your report, there should be a nice picture with a red line, if it was colour-copied. What this shows you is within the operating budget we have a number of funds. (Interruptions) This is the executive summary, it’s in the full document and I can give you pointers to the supporting Excel spreadsheets, if you like. It’s all at the website that I mentioned.
Here’s how I calculate this number: I go to the operating budget and I go to the funds that are within the operating budget and I look at the percentage just of the operating budget spent on the academic fund, compared to other things like administration, for example, and I multiply the percentage that we used in 2002 by that operating budget, compared to the percentage of the operating budget that we are spending now. So this is totally - I mean take away the diversion of funds to capital costs and other things and just look within the operating fund. The board of governors is saying let’s spend 12 per cent more on administration of that fund than we did in 2002. I hope that answers your question.
MS. MACFARLANE: Yes, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I guess I have a couple of questions. The first question is, Mr. Furlong, you mentioned there are ways to address the funding issues from the inside; can you explain that for me, please?
MR. FURLONG: I think what Dr. Abramson was just talking about is probably sort of a key way into it. I think there was an effort made to go there with the last budget. I’m of the view that it didn’t really hit the proper target. There were measures for sort of standard financial reporting and all that stuff, but that was very generic, sort of like bringing in a balanced budget kind of stuff.
What we are interested in seeing are oversight measures and decision-making bodies within the institution that allow faculty, students, and staff - in conjunction with administrations, if they are willing to play ball - to make sure that money is not diverted away from the academic mission toward other things.
MR. ORRELL: What other things are they being diverted away for, other than the academics? I mean that’s what you mentioned in your presentation and I’m interested to see that if we’re not spending it on academics and students, where are we spending it? Is it salaries? Is it research? Is it keeping up the buildings? Is it heating? Can you explain to me - and then you talk about the surpluses that are going somewhere other than that. If you could explain that to me, I’d appreciate it.
MR. FURLONG: Capital investment, like build new buildings, a lot goes there. But unfortunately - what was this? Oh, yes, this is great. This is from the review of finances of Dalhousie - nearly $0.25 billion has been diverted from every funding envelope into the capital fund and $95 million has ended up flowing from operating budgets to acquire capital assets; that’s a huge part of it. Also, administrative compensation and expenses are very opaque, there’s not a lot of super-clear reporting done about that, but I’m sure that you read about Minister Regan criticizing Tom Traves’ post-retirement salary of a figure I’ll never make in my entire whole life.
It just seems like the finances are very opaque. It’s one thing to turn in what you can call a balanced budget; it’s another thing to be able to show that you’re actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing and not siphoning. Wasn’t there a budget line in one of the budgets that you analyzed and the title of the budget line was undetermined, something like that? So board secrecy is a big problem, secrecy about finances is a big problem, opaqueness is a big problem.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’m wondering if there’s a possibility of tabling that document and sharing it with the committee.
MR. ABRAMSON: The forensic analysis?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The document you were just referring to.
MR. ABRAMSON: Sure, once again if you go to dfa.ns.ca - are you asking about the forensic analysis that I keep referring to?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, I was referring to the document you were just quoting from.
MR. ABRAMSON: Yes, this is the forensic analysis of the finances of Dalhousie University and we were just quoting from the executive summary of that document. I strongly encourage you all to take a look at this and once again, if you go to dfa.ns.ca, click on “Publications” and then “Review of University Finances.” We ask, where is the money going? We hired an accounting firm, we used public documentation and we clearly show where the money is going at Dalhousie University. We suspect this is happening at other universities in the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, all I was asking is if the clerk, or the assistant who is there, could make some copies for the committee.
MR. ABRAMSON: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you. I have Mr. Wilson next, please.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Thank you all very much, it’s very interesting to hear your commentary on this. Personally, I can say I understand and I feel for a lot of the things you’ve been bringing forward here. It hasn’t been easy for the Province of Nova Scotia in the last 10 years and you’ve certainly brought some numbers forward of what we’ve seen since 1991 to 2009, some of the numbers when you’re talking about tuition tripling back in those previous years. Certainly, we in Nova Scotia are all facing some hard decisions.
I’m kind of curious, Michaela Sam, in regard to some of the comments you made. You realize the first four years of tuition loans, if a graduate graduates here they are waived, so tuition loans for the first four years are waived and after that there’s a zero per cent, plus we have a bursary program that the Province of Nova Scotia puts in $1,283, I believe. I’m assuming and I’d like to know, the $12 million you suggested, is that above what we’re currently investing? Right now, per capita in Nova Scotia, we’re the second largest per capita supporting universities in Canada. I would assume you were aware of those things that we have in place, but is this up and beyond that?
MS. SAM: Yes, we are very aware of the student assistance programs that are available in Nova Scotia right now; we hear from students every day that are trying to work through those programs. Ultimately what we have though is a system that is leaving our students further in debt, and particularly those that are most marginalized in our communities - our racialized students, our students with disabilities, our indigenous students - are being left further in debt as they try to take on these loans.
Ultimately what we are asking for is a conversion, taking the lead of our neighbour of Newfoundland and Labrador, to convert all student loans to a system of up-front grants. It’s the most equitable form of student assistance and it’s a strong form of student assistance that makes sense and has been celebrated by students across this country. That $12 million figure would be an additional investment.
What we’d like to see is programs like the Loan Forgiveness Program - the funding that already goes into that - converted to student grants, to provide the most equitable form of access to students up front. It’s the strongest form of student assistance that we’ve identified across the country.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Newfoundland and Labrador, actually just for statistics, is number one per capita in financial assistance in Canada and we’re number two, so praise Newfoundland, too, I love the Newfoundlanders.
Would you simply be suggesting then that instead of the grant happening after and waiving that, which it is now, that it happened just at the very start, is it as simple as that?
MS. SAM: Up-front grants are the way that students who don’t have the money up front to be able to get in the doors of a post-secondary institution can imagine themselves doing so. I give tours to students at the University of King’s College sometimes, trying to talk through parents and telling them about why their students might want to come to King’s, and consistently we hear from parents who would love for their students to attend the institution. They can only assume that’s similar for institutions across the province but they realize that their student cannot afford those tuition fee dollars because there is no up-front assistance, because they do not receive the bursaries that they need in time, and because they basically can’t afford their rent and other costs of living, so up-front grants are what we’re asking for, it’s a much stronger form of student assistance.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacDonald.
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Thanks very much for being here today. You know I sit here and I think back to my former life before I was elected. I was one of those very fortunate people who had a tenure-track position at Dalhousie at the School of Social Work and a proud member of DFA. Actually the day after I was elected the faculty union went out on strike, back in 1998 if I remember correctly.
You know we really have, I think, an incredible asset in our university system. It’s a gift to the province in many respects, and it’s not only for people who live and want to continue to live in Nova Scotia but we attract an awful lot of people from outside the province. To me this gives us an advantage, particularly at a time when our population is aging, our indigenous population is aging, and we see depopulation.
One of the things I am very concerned about is the lack of attention to the universities in terms of helping us turn this situation around, both in terms of bringing students from other parts of the country and outside of the country, beyond our borders, here.
I’m wondering, in your conversations with the administration at the universities, do they engage the faculty and student bodies in discussions around how to maximize our opportunities, I guess, to attract and retain students and what the barriers are? That’s the first question.
The second is around Bill No. 100. We have this bill, Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act and I’m wondering whether or not you think that piece of legislation gives us the accountability we require of our university administration and what impact that bill will have on the sustainability of our universities long-term.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacDonald, I’m not sure if I know who you were directing the question to. I think it was Mr. Furlong you were looking at but . . .
MS. MACDONALD: Any of the members - more than one, if they wish.
MR. FURLONG: I watched the final debate over Bill No. 100 as it went to the vote and I agreed with a remark that I think a Progressive Conservative MLA made, which is that this legislation seems to hold within it a framework for fomenting a crisis. I think Bill No. 100 is one of the most irrational pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen and I think the latitude of what constitutes a trigger for a revitalization plan is so broad that it barely even makes sense as a law. I think it’s a recipe for further instability and chaos inside our system.
MR. ABRAMSON: Let me talk a little bit about graduate students. We have graduate students coming to my department across the university who win national awards, grants. They’re bringing in funds. They’re building families and they’re trying to begin a research career. This cannot be done with part-time faculty. Part-time faculty will be gone in a year and so if you find that you’ve taken a course with them and they help you in a subject area, you cannot have them supervise your Ph.D. thesis, your master’s thesis - they’ll be gone.
On top of which, the workload, as we heard from Mr. Cloutier, is too high to support these research activities. So graduate students are keenly aware of these facts and will avoid universities where they see that there is not hiring of tenure or tenure-track faculty. So that’s a huge resource. It’s a group of students that will very quickly understand this is not the place to go and will go elsewhere.
My understanding of Bill No. 100 is that if there is a serious deficit position in the operating budget, then this allows you to trigger the various mechanisms for receiving additional provincial funds, but as we see, boards and administrators have the ability to dictate not only the structure of the operating fund, but the size of the operating fund. So we’re already in crisis mode and yet the university has a surplus. Bill No. 100, as far as I understand it, does nothing to look at the internal finances of the university and ensure that the money is being directed to the core functioning of the university.
MR. CLOUTIER: I’ll just make some comments about part-time faculty and from our position. Again, this is also my understanding of Bill No. 100; I’m quite happy to be proven wrong. Our concern is that through the idea of sustainability and accountability, the way that I certainly read the law and interpreted the law - and I teach English so interpreting things is kind of what I do - the things that we’re concerned about is that suddenly, without any kind of justification, we could lose our jobs because we are the precariat ones. We are the ones who could be easily gotten rid of quickly.
This is our main concern - we could find ourselves in a position where our jobs are suddenly gone and I, as a union leader, cannot do anything because the university has acted within the law, and any grievance that we may file as a result of that - as per our collective agreement - could also be interpreted as undermining the university and undermining the sustainability.
So we find ourselves possibly in a situation - again, as I said, this is my understanding of the bill - that not only is it possible that we could suddenly lose our positions without any reason, but also questioning the reasons for those job losses could then be considered undermining the sustainability and accountability of the university. So as a union rep, just by asking the question, I could be theoretically breaking the law.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe Mr. Sutton also wanted to respond to this and then we’ll go to Mr. Furlong.
MR. SUTTON: I believe there were two parts to that question. One was on engagement and the other was on Bill No. 100 sustainability - how we can do better. On the engagement side, I can speak to the experience of the university where I work and that is that the administration is very interested in the engagement of the students because we see a large drop-off from first-year enrolment to second-year enrolment. Every university sees this. There is anywhere from a 20 to 40 per cent drop-off in enrolment rates. That kind of practice is not good for the sustainability of any kind of business venture, let alone a university.
So in order to keep the students engaged, they recognized that there were a lot of services that students needed. They’re arriving at university unprepared for the city, unprepared for living alone, unprepared for holding a job while going to school, unprepared for a lot of things. So what used to be when I first started working at the university 15 years ago, the student services department was one office with two people. Now it is an entire umbrella of services offered to students for everything from assistance with getting food, to assistance with getting money, to assistance with anything you want - psychological help, anything that you could offer.
What that has done - and the universities have had to do this - in a period when funding was being cut to universities, so they’re adding costs to give these services to students which are necessary services in order to keep the students in the school, these costs are adding to the universities’ bottom line when the funding is being choked off. That has created another one of the pressures on universities.
Bill No. 100, does it address sustainability and how can we do better? No, Bill No. 100 doesn’t address anything like that. Bill No. 100 is oversight - I agree that some sort of accountability is required for universities, to the taxpayers who are sending the money to the universities. The taxpayers want to see that their money is being spent wisely, our surveys have shown that.
The oversight in Bill No. 100 is entirely negative, there is no positive aspect to Bill No. 100. For example, there is no recognition of universities that consistently perform well and there are universities in Nova Scotia that consistently perform well, financially speaking. There is nothing in Bill No. 100 that addresses that, there is no positive incentive in Bill No. 100.
MR. FURLONG: I just wanted to follow up on a point that Mr. Cloutier made and a point that Dr. Abramson made. Mr. Cloutier - I mean this is a perfect example of how bizarre Bill No. 100 really is; when he is talking about being held responsible for undermining the university, he is referring to measures in Bill No. 100, according to which if you are an individual and a revitalization plan is triggered and you criticize it publicly, you are liable to a $1,000 fine the first day you do it and a $100 fine every day after that. If you are an organization that does that, you are liable to a $10,000 fine and I believe a $1,000 fine every day after that.
With respect to or to follow up on Dr. Abramson’s comment, this is a perfect example of how the growth of casual academic employment is going to hurt students. I was a contract teacher, I had to help some of my students get into graduate programs that didn’t want to recognize their application because they by and large had had no professorial teachers at all. I had to phone up U of T and I had to phone - I can’t remember which other university it was - and argue with their registrar about, well, this is an outstanding student and if he’s not going to get in on the word of people like me then he’s not going to get in because he has no other options.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Ms. Sam would also like to respond, so one question, five answers. Go ahead, Ms. Sam.
MS. SAM: Maureen, on your question about engagement and whether or not our institutions are listening when students are identifying what we need and the kind of supports we need to be able to attract students and also retain them in the province, the ultimate answer across the board is that students have identified that tuition fees are the greatest barrier to accessing a post-secondary education. By and large there is no other way around it.
Consistently our institutions have had to increase tuition fees every year for the same education that these students received the years before. As they have done that, as our students have been forced to pay increasing tuition fees by at least 3 per cent increases every year - if you are a Canadian student; if you are an international student it’s much more than that - we’ve seen our services decline in quality, we’ve seen our education decline in quality, whether that’s because of the reliance on part-time faculty or because our libraries are being cut. We’re seeing the number of databases that we have access to being cut and counselling lines. Our counselling services at many of our institutions are unable to support our students in the way that we need.
We know that mental health is such a pressing issue for our students across the board. We have systems that are set up to put students into a state of crisis before they can actually get the help they need - all of that while we are still trying to work with our administration, sitting on boards of governors, sitting on university senates and other committees, trying to identify the supports we need and consistently being shot down because there is no funding available for those very crucial services for our students.
So while there is certainly a need and a very persistent one among administrators to want to keep and retain students, the solutions we all know that we need to be able to support are not being supported amongst our administrators because their hands are tied, the funding isn’t there and our students are being left behind or are leaving the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Sam. The next question goes to Ms. Miller, please.
MS. MARGARET MILLER: Thank you very much for coming in today, a lot of information coming. I want to change the tone a little bit because we’ve heard a lot about the One Nova Scotia Report and we’ve heard often again that the system is not sustainable as it is, that something has to change. I think you’ve identified a lot of that too.
We all have a role to play, whether it is us as legislators or you in the roles that you play. How can universities help Nova Scotia meet the goals of the One Nova Scotia Report?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would you like to speak to that, Mr. Furlong?
MR. FURLONG: I’ve read quite a lot of the Ivany Report, I’m not actually sure that there are any identifiable goals going on there at all, so that’s the extent of my answer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Sam.
MS. SAM: I think that our institutions actually, as Maureen said earlier, present an incredible opportunity here in Nova Scotia. We have an incredible opportunity to attract students to this province, yet we are squandering that opportunity by making headlines of being the institutions that are increasing tuition fees higher than any other institutions across the country. We are not being competitive with other institutions across the country and that’s the reality. Consistently, we are losing hundreds of students every year, when they could be here and creating long-lasting roots here in Nova Scotia, but they are unable to do that, as I mentioned earlier, because of the debt loads that our students find themselves in. To imagine myself buying a car, or buying a home, or starting a family are unimaginable at this point and I’m quite an average student in this province right now. I’m hoping to complete my degree this year.
Our institutions present an amazing opportunity, particularly with our graduate students, yet funding continues to be cut there as well. I think that if we want to really pursue entrepreneurial activities, if those are the opportunities that we want our graduates to have, then we need to find a legitimate way to take our students out of debt. I think it’s fair to say that our province does not have any kind of strong strategy on retaining students or really post-secondary education in general right now in Nova Scotia, and that is a widespread belief for students across this province right now.
MR. ABRAMSON: Let me just say that I strongly support the spirit of the Ivany report. I would like to see business entrepreneurship succeed, grow, and thrive in Nova Scotia.
During a sabbatical, I was at the University of Waterloo, I got grants from the Ontario Centre of Excellence for commercializing research and I saw many faculty there at the various research parts taking academic work and trying to spin it off into commercial successes. I support that and I think it’s a useful goal for universities. I think that if you have a place where research can be done for its own sake, then commercial innovation will follow. We’re missing the first part and we’re diminishing the capacity for core research in this province. I think that sometimes it’s a hard route to see that if you support peer research the innovation follows. I’m here to try to tell you about that connection and see if we can promote core research at universities in the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: Earlier we heard the member for Clare-Digby talk about student assistance. We know that Ms. Sam said earlier that $50 million has been cut in student assistance in the last number of years. I’m assuming one of them was the graduate retention program. I know there are students that I speak to who cannot qualify for a student loan because of family situations, families can’t afford the up-front money after the fact. We know that in order to keep young grads here in the province we need jobs and we need to make sure that our young people coming out have jobs which would be able to put more money back in the system.
Can you describe the cuts to our student assistance and what would have been a better use to them if the graduate retention program was to be cut? What would have been a better use for that money? I think it was up to $50 million in that alone to maintain students here in the province.
MS. SAM: Yes, we’ve seen cuts to the graduate retention rebate before it was eliminated, as well as cuts to Nova Scotia students studying outside of Nova Scotia that depended on other student assistance programs, several hundred students work off assistance through those programs. Ultimately, even if the entire graduate retention rebate, the funds dedicated to that program, were not all redirected to up-front grants, we could still see a modest investment of the government in up-front grants and still have funding left over for other programs or for other additional funding for post-secondary education, it is a viable option to convert all student loans to grants in Nova Scotia right now.
As I said - and thank you for touching on it, Eddie - student loans leave our students in such a precarious position when they are attempting to complete their degrees. Sitting in class wondering whether or not your tuition cheque is going to bounce, whether your rent cheques are going to bounce is not a fair way to ask a student to pursue their post- secondary education, on top of all the added pressures that we are facing in the classroom, as well as outside of it.
MR. ORRELL: I know in our own case, my daughter wasn’t entitled to a student loan. She completed her degree this year, went on to further her degree and she again wasn’t entitled to a student loan. She has gone out of the country actually to study. She had to get a personal line of credit to do that, which is a huge thing for her. She’d love to come back here to this country, but I fear that’s not going to be the case, and that’s a personal thing on my part.
So what do we do for the kids or the students who can’t qualify for a student loan? Should we open it up so that all students qualify for some form of assistance and something to keep them here in the province? I guess the question I’m asking is, why do we limit certain kids or certain students to the amount of money they can receive because of certain financial situations that their family may be in?
MS. SAM: Ultimately when it comes to both student assistance and tuition fees, across-the-board measures that support students are the most effective way to administer those programs and to administer funding. For example, the tuition fee deregulation for out-of-province students, for graduate students, for international students, all make it very difficult for students across the board to be able to attend our institutions. Likewise with student assistance.
We need to be investing in programs that will keep students here in the province, and as I’ve said, that is an up-front grants program. Across-the-board programs are ones that are the most attractive to students and are ones that will allow our students to imagine themselves not only attending Nova Scotia’s institutions, but also staying here after they’ve graduated. That is a key priority, I think, for all of us around the table.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
HON. DAVID WILSON: Thank you. I’m extremely concerned about the picture that you’ve all painted for us on the state of the post-secondary education system here in Nova Scotia. I sincerely hope it’s a wake-up call for the members of the committee and for government. The ramifications of some of the decisions that have been made over the last two years are going to be far-reaching. It brings us right back to just prior to my initiation of becoming an elected MLA over 12 years ago. The argument at the time was, let’s just get tuition at the national average. Now we see that we’re going to see the largest increase in the country, which is detrimental.
We know our province has had challenges economically as a small province and our university system - our 11 universities/colleges, our community college system - is one that I think we can have as something that will improve our economic system here in the province.
Two questions, if I could quickly - they’ll be directed at individuals so it may not take as long. Mr. Cloutier first - how many members do you represent? You had mentioned - I guess it’s two questions in one - that you don’t have benefits so are wages comparable to full-time staff since you’re not getting those benefits as pensions and medical?
MR. CLOUTIER: First of all, it’s always tough to say how many members you represent because it depends because sometimes we’re working and sometimes we’re not. Luckily for most of our members, there are members for three years after their last course. So we represent about 1,200. A lot of them - for example, at Dalhousie - are teaching assistants, but in terms of full-time members, there are between 900 and 1,000 at the three universities. We also represent - it’s now The Language Centre, it used to be the TESL Centre, and the people teaching English as a Second Language at Saint Mary’s as well. There are about 50 of them.
We always say between 1,000 and 1,200 members, roughly. No, our wages are not comparable. For example, last year I was lucky because I taught in the summer as well. I made $35,000 a year; starting wages at Saint Mary’s for a full-time member of staff is $50,000, just to give you a rough estimate.
MR. DAVID WILSON: That’s unbelievable and it’s something that needs to be addressed, and hopefully the attention will be given to your members. My second question would be to Ms. Sam. I know of a lot of initiatives that your organization has been working on. If you were given the opportunity, I know this is a difficult question, what would be the first initiative you or your organization feels that needs to be changed? I know you’ve mentioned a few here today, but I’m wondering if you could prioritize it. What would be the first thing you’d do, if you were able, to support the students that you represent?
MS. SAM: Difficult to answer, but ultimately the tuition fee deregulation and the market adjustment that we’re seeing, that our students have to fight tooth and nail every day now for the upcoming weeks, are the most detrimental changes that I think we’re going to see in the post-secondary education system here in Nova Scotia, the ramifications of which we are going to have to struggle to deal with for years to come, as students are being asked whether or not they would support a $1,000 increase on certain programs. As I said earlier, the percentages of increase for the next two to three years that they’re going to be fighting against are just absurd. Ultimately, the tuition fee deregulation for all of our students, as well as the market adjustment, are measures that we would like to see repealed immediately.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Sam. Mr. Stroink.
MR. JOACHIM STROINK: Thanks for coming today. I know you guys are quite passionate about this and it’s great to hear all the information that’s coming.
I do have some questions about Bill No. 100 and I guess my understanding and clear in the legislation is that, the options are for a university, if Bill No. 100 is erected, that you go bankrupt or you get bailout from government to continue the school. From what I’ve heard today a lot of the money and subsidies that the administration have, it sounds like there is money there. From Bill No. 100 coming into play it allows for a third-party audit that has no connection to the university and no connection to the government, to find a solution between government and university to create a stable platform.
If the university went on strike at that time, the following year’s tuition usually drops 3 per cent to 4 per cent - is that a fair, accurate number? (Interruption) I’ll let you answer that.
So my question is, isn’t this an appropriate third option in sort of to find a solution for the university? Either you go bankrupt and everybody is out of a job, or you’re knocking on taxpayers’ doors to ask for more money to stay afloat - whoever wants to answer it.
MR. ABRAMSON: My understanding is the revitalization has to be triggered by some sort of declaration by the board that the finances are not stable at the university. What I’ve tried to show you, and what I think this executive summary of our audit of the university’s finances shows, is that crises can be manufactured inside of operating budgets. What happens when that crisis is declared? We lose collective bargaining rights, we lose the ability to have a voice, as Dr. Furlong mentioned, criticizing how the university conducts its finances.
So the problem is, when we get to this point decision making will be very, very difficult to do in any kind of transparent, co-operative fashion. We have to ask, under Bill No. 100, when and why would this situation arise? How would it be triggered by boards and what would the process look like in terms of getting to the heart of what needs to be done? I just don’t think the facts suggest that we should be optimistic about boards being quite forward about identifying those problems and then acting accordingly.
MR. STROINK: So having a third-party person who has no affiliation to the university or government would be able to find those solutions, right? Also - this one is for Mr. Furlong - would you be able to provide us with the documentation of where these fines come from? I’m not clear on understanding because I don’t think they’re in Bill No. 100, so I need to understand where they’re coming from.
MR. FURLONG: They are in Bill No. 100. I prepared a primer for Bill No. 100 that I shared with the Canadian Association of University Teachers and they all enjoyed finding out about the bill. It is available online, I believe it’s on our website, and I think the DFA posted it.
MR. STROINK: Would you be able to submit that to the committee?
MR. FURLONG: Absolutely.
MR. STROINK: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to ask a question outside of money. All we’ve been talking about here today is money, and it probably might be my last chance to ask a question so I would like to change it a little bit. Just a note also, we’re talking about money here - the 2012-15 MOU with the Province of Nova Scotia saw a decrease in $35 million in operating grants to universities. We are changing that trend and we have a 1 per cent increase. I know that’s not cost of living, but I’ll just make that statement on where we’re at today as our government.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment - we haven’t even used the words yet today and we’re quite a way into this. I do want to first off really commend, not only the students especially for bringing this forward as an issue, but faculty and everybody. It is something I think that could be seen as a symptom. Some of our challenges that we see in university could be seen as a symptom of some of our challenges that we have in society, but certainly it’s foremost in the world of protecting students who come into these - you talk about $30,000-something.
So I think there are some good-news things there moving forward. I would like to at least give each and every one of you an opportunity to tell us some of the stories about what you are doing as an organization to help promote and move us out of that world that we’re in right now.
MS. SAM: Sure. Students have been at the forefront of combatting sexualized violence for over 20 years. Most recently, we were very encouraged to see Bill No. 114 brought forward - the Safer Universities and Colleges Act. It is one that we’ve actually been collecting support for across the province because it is one that would require that all of our institutions have sexual assault policies on campus. That is not the end to sexualized violence when we know that one in five women will be sexually assaulted while attending their institution, but it is a start.
It’s those kinds of protections that we need to ensure that our institutions are safe and that our students feel safe on their campuses. So beyond that, we would like to see part of the bill also requires that institutions will report publicly on the incidence and number of sexual assaults so that we can better name the issue.
On top of that, encourage the institutions to support resource centres, many of which are doing the on-the-ground work to support survivors of sexualized violence and gender-based violence. One thing that we would like to see is that bill passed unanimously when it is debated. It’s something that would mean a lot to our students who, quite frankly, have been struggling in the rape culture that pervades our campuses across Nova Scotia. That’s one of our postcards there actually. That’s a start. It’s certainly not the be-all and end-all. We have a lot of work to do to work towards a culture of consent, but that is what students across the province are working on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I enjoyed that question. There is a postcard you could probably sign it and I’ll give it to you after the committee. I appreciate you bringing up that topic, it’s an important one. Definitely as an MLA and as a father of a Grade 12 young lady, I want to make sure when she decides to go to university that I’ve done everything I can to make sure that it’s a safer place for her. I appreciate the work that student groups have done to push that agenda forward.
We’ve heard recently - I just saw today in the paper that the University of King’s College is looking at contemplating a $1,000 increase over a couple of years. We’ve heard CBU has, for example, I think it’s up to about 20 per cent increase. Are any of you aware of other universities of the potential increases that we’re going to see over the next number of years? I know those figures will start to come out now because they’re getting ready to publish what the tuition will be next year. Are any of you able to give us any insight on what you’re hearing on other institutions on the sheer increase that we’ll see for students?
MR. FURLONG: Well just within ANSUT, none of the member universities have come out and made an announcement in the way that King’s has. I imagine we’ll start hearing soon.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We’ll go to Mr. Orrell, please. Just hold on one second. Ms. Sam, would you like to respond to the last question?
MS. SAM: I would, yes. We have heard from students that their boards - unfortunately because the boards were not required to share their proposals, mainly Labour and Advanced Education, with their students, it has been difficult to get that information. In some cases institutions have been forthright with it. We have heard of a $1,100 increase for the Agricultural Campus and an even higher increase for pharmacy students, as well as at the institution of NSCAD we’ve heard that a very high increase could be on the table. These are just the kinds of increases that our students are facing with the market adjustment in place.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Sam. I was over to Mr. Orrell, sorry to interrupt.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I guess my question is kind of - I’ll just ask it. I notice that with your committee, your coalition here, you have no university officials on your committee - or are there people on that committee? If there are not, have they been asked? If they have been asked or if they haven’t been asked, what officials would you like to see on this coalition so that working with universities would be a lot easier if you had a board of governors person or a president or a high-ranking university official, to be able to discuss this with them at the table instead of struggling with everything that’s going on?
I think it would make a lot more sense if we had university officials talking to you guys, like we are now, on your committee, on your coalition, to make things happen in a nice manner, I guess, if I could.
MR. FURLONG: That perhaps would be nice if boards weren’t so thoroughly secretive. Just to give you an example, a former student of mine at King’s College actually went to the board there and said, you know it would be really great if students could attend, just that they were open. She was hauled into the President’s Office and told that you can’t ask that kind of thing anymore because if we tried to make the board meetings open, a lot of our members would quit.
Speaking of the $1,000 tuition hike, why does a school with about 1,000 students have 33 members on its board of governors whereas Dalhousie has only 26?
MR. ABRAMSON: I think university governance is a more complicated thing than simply unions and boards . . .
MR. ORRELL: That’s why I’m asking the question.
MR. ABRAMSON: It’s a great question. I should mention that I ran my notes past members of the Dalhousie University Senate before coming here today, I am in constant close contact with members of the senate. One thing we’re now asking at Dalhousie University is, why is it that boards that are really tasked, if you look at the language of what the job of the board of governors is, it is to take the recommendation from the Dalhousie Senate on what the academic mission of the university is and then to find the money to enact that mission.
We have this reversal taking place where senates are simply told there isn’t any money for that, there isn’t any money for that, while we see capital construction and administrative bloat. I hope that gives you a sense of maybe a fuller picture of some of the dysfunction in university governance.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you.
MR. CLOUTIER: Just to give you an idea, not necessarily as part of this coalition, I am in constant contact with members of the university administrations, at Dalhousie, Mount Saint Vincent and Saint Mary’s, for example. I have been at regular meetings with David Gauthier, the Vice-President Academic at Saint Mary’s, trying to find ways of bringing us more into it because as I said, we have about 1,000 to 1,200 members, all of whom are very engaged, energetic, a group of people who have sort of specialties. For example, I can do a course on the music of Bruce Springsteen, for example. We’ve been trying to find ways of sort of bringing those kinds of things in.
I’ve had discussions with him on this but the problem is because we, as a group, lack so much representation that it just ends up with me talking to him and him doing what he can, and he can’t always do as much. What we’ve been trying to do - and not through collective bargaining, I mean we’ve used it in collective bargaining, but we’ve also done it at all the other universities - is try to find ways, sort of less antagonistic ways because, as you know, collective bargaining is often antagonistic, find less antagonistic ways of dealing with not just our issues, but also with ways of helping us improve the lives of students. As I said, they hire us largely because our area of expertise is something that the full-time members don’t have because if the full-time members had that area of expertise they wouldn’t need to hire us, so we’ve been trying to find ways.
As I said, the problem with us as part-time faculty is that our representation is so low, like literally this is the first time anybody official has asked me what I thought, apart from certain university administrators, who had very little - I mean they had some influence, but very little and that’s our problem. So once I leave a meeting with him it goes off to whichever committee, it goes off to senate, but I’m not there to answer questions, I’m not there to do what I’m doing here, I’m not there to give that information because our role outside of collective bargaining is informal.
The only reason I meet with these university officials, the only reason that David Gauthier met with me is because he decided that he wanted to meet with me because he and I, in discussions at grievance meetings, came to the same conclusion, that we needed a better way of dealing with these issues rather than grievances. By the time you have a grievance you already have a problem. That’s the problem that we have. Once I leave a meeting with him there is no representation, I have no representation, I can’t take that any further.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Cloutier. Mr. Stroink.
MR. STROINK: Last night I had the great opportunity to come to your debate with the federal candidates and I think a lot of great information was shared with that and a lot of these members weren’t there, so let me ask you, the federal government has a role here in the universities, it’s not just the province and we’re up to a federal election coming. What are your thoughts on the recommendation of the best course of action for the feds to play a role in this so that Nova Scotia, specifically, doesn’t carry all of the burden of the universities?
MS. SAM: I could talk all day about this federal election, I’ve been registering students to vote for weeks. Ultimately we know that student debt in this country has never been higher. We know that we need answers to tackling the issue of youth under-unemployment and unemployment. We know that a federal plan to combat sexualized violence is something we need to see put forward by our federal government. We know that our graduate students need to feel more supported. We know that our indigenous students need to see fewer barriers to access, when we have both a moral right as well as a treaty right to fund those students’ education as well and yet in the past six years, I believe, 18,500 students have been cut from being able to receive assistance for indigenous students to be able to attend post-secondary education.
When it comes to the connection between the federal government and provincial governments, one of the things we need to see is a post-secondary education Act in this country, it’s one that students across this country, united through the Canadian Federation of Students, have been calling for for years, to ensure that provinces like ours get the dedicated funding that they need with strings attached to ensure that the funding goes to support our institutions and goes to support students so we have a strong post-secondary education system here.
We don’t have a federal minister responsible for post-secondary education and that is an atrocity in a country like ours that is consistently seeing its rankings across the board drop for issues that are important to students and youth. So that is one way that we need to see the federal government act, but I can’t think that we can deny the role that provincial governments must act as well, to ensure that when we receive that funding that it is going to support students where they need it most, in terms of strong student assistance and in terms of reducing tuition fees first and foremost.
MR. FURLONG: I think one area in which federal government matters directly connect to the universities, without even necessarily thoroughly going through the provincial government system, is in terms of the federal granting agencies like SSHRC and NSERC. The priorities that have been realized in those agencies in the last 10 or 15 years are problematic. Even in something like SSHRC which is where you get grants for history and philosophy stuff, the parameters of what actually gets funding have been shifted over to, well, what’s really helpful for industry. That’s distorting universities away from their mission, just at the institutional level, regardless of what any provincial government has to say about it. The funding agencies, all that stuff, need to be rejigged at the federal level.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Ms. Miller.
MS. MILLER: Just a couple of quick things here. We’re talking about the agencies, boards and commissions and you said about people being appointed to the boards that don’t really have the expertise they need. I think that one thing we’re hearing is the lack of candidates we have for boards. I believe that’s a role that you could help with: making sure that the people you want to see, who can make positive change on your boards, are applying to those boards. That’s just a comment.
Another thing, a comment on something Dr. Abramson said about the disarray between the governance and the universities - what do you see as a solution with that?
MR. ABRAMSON: I’m not sure I totally understood the last point. You said that I said that there was disarray - oh, so the administrators not serving the core mission of the university.
MS. MILLER: Exactly, yes.
MR. ABRAMSON: Right. So as I said, I think that oversight decision of who to appoint to the boards, knowing that there’s oversight from this committee of how they’re guiding universities forward would be a useful step. I think it has to come from both directions. In collective bargaining we express our concerns. We have had strikes that go back to when the Honourable Ms. MacDonald was there, on things like faculty complement.
Things have gotten so bad that I don’t know if there are simple solutions. I do think that everyone needs accountability and the board’s accountability is to this committee; it appoints members. So things like guidance from you saying, I heard this report, it seems that the core functioning isn’t being met, would this be effective? Has it been tried? I don’t know.
MR. FURLONG: I’m also not sure that there are any simple solutions but I do think that setting that fundamental relationship between the senate and the board right again is essential to getting anywhere with this. So if boards are coming to whomever, saying we’re going to do this, then the first questions should be what did the senate have to say about this and why, and can we see what documentation they have to provide about your decision relative to the academic mission of the university?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I don’t have any more names on my list, except Mr. Wilson’s.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you, it’s maybe not a question but a comment. Interestingly enough, we will be in a few moments appointing three members to the Board of Governors for NSCAD. It’s interesting, your concern there. I’m trying to wrap my head around what we can do and maybe that’s something we’ll definitely reach out to you to see what we could do to improve the system here. As a substitute on the committee, of course I don’t have a lot to do with this, but it’s interesting that we’re going to be doing that in a few moments.
So definitely I look forward to, and hopefully we can reach out and see, where we can move forward. We’re at a position and a time now in the Legislature where there seems to be a commitment to improve the way we run our committees. Whatever you can offer us, and we can offer as a caucus, we’ll do that. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for the comments, Mr. Wilson.
We do have a few minutes left if you’d like to make some few closing statements. You’ve got up to 11 minutes. I’ll turn it over to whoever would like to speak and wrap things up for us.
MR. ABRAMSON: I don’t have any prepared comments, I just want to say that the first time I set foot in Nova Scotia was for my job interview at Dalhousie University, I guess it would have been, in January 2005. I love this province. I love its people. I have connections to many communities all the way from Halifax to Tantallon and in between, and I see such great potential in the students who come from diverse communities, rural backgrounds. I swear I’m not making this up - just last Thursday a student comes to me and says, it’s my first year at Dal, I just came in from Tantallon, I’m paying all this money and I feel like the professors here are just run ragged, they have no time for anything. I wanted to say to him, that’s because most of your professors - as we’ve heard - don’t have the time, money, resources to be invested in their students. So there is all kinds of potential not being realized in this province and I would really love to see that changed.
MR. FURLONG: I’ve been chewing over your question a little bit further about what universities can do relative to the Ivany report. I responded about the report to you with a bit of frustration because as I was reading it I found it very divergent and there was a lot of stuff going on there that doesn’t really get pulled together.
What I would say is - with no disrespect to President Ivany or anyone who worked on it - unfortunately, the goals that they do set out, which seem to emphasize an export economy and the mechanics and techniques whereby they plan to accomplish that, leads me to conclude that if you want a university system that corresponds to that vision and that approach, then Bill No. 100 will have a stand.
MR. CLOUTIER: I just wanted to say that if there is anything that my contribution can take away, like Dr. Abramson, or even more so than Dr. Abramson, I’m from here. I grew up in Lower Sackville. John Holm used to be my MLA. I’ve gone to Saint Mary’s. My undergraduate degree is from Saint Mary’s. I have been involved in some sense with Saint Mary’s since 1985. I’m not only emotionally invested in this province - my family is here, my wife is here, my stepchildren are here - I’m also emotionally involved in its universities, Saint Mary’s in particular.
As I said, 30 years I’ve been involved in some way. I wasn’t there all the time because I’ve gone away to do other stuff, but I’ve been working on behalf of Saint Mary’s University for 30 years. The problem that I’m finding and the one thing that, as I said, I hope you take away from my contribution is that we all know that the universities are facing tough times in a lot of ways - financially, academically, all those ways - but the problem is that not everybody is part of that conversation.
What we need - and I mean part-timers - is because we are emotionally invested in our universities because we are emotionally invested in this province because we are emotionally invested in our students. I want my students to succeed as much as anybody else - sometimes even more after talking to some of the full-timers at Saint Mary’s, but that’s another discussion.
Because of that, I have a lot to contribute. My membership has a lot to contribute, but as I said, we’re not given any way to provide part of that conversation aside from the grievance process, aside from collective bargaining, which as you know is vital. I wouldn’t take away the grievance process. I wouldn’t take away the collective bargaining process, but it’s not necessarily the best solution for some of the issues that are facing it. What we need as part-timers is we need to be part of that.
Like I say, 50 per cent of our members at Saint Mary’s have been at Saint Mary’s more than 10 years. That goes up to 75 per cent if you take in people over 15 years. I’ve been there for 15 years and I need to be involved in things like this.
MS. SAM: I was asked earlier the one thing that could be done for students to support us here in Nova Scotia, but ultimately what we’ve presented as a coalition is a very comprehensive picture of the state of post-secondary education in Nova Scotia right now and it is disappointing. It is disappointing to so many students and that is consistently what I hear being on campuses. We were up at Sainte-Anne last weekend. I was on the Dalhousie campus yesterday. I will be at the NSCAD campus on Thursday and at King’s on Wednesday. Across the board we hear from students that they are disappointed in the way that they have been treated since coming here, that they will choose to not stay here should they see no change.
Ultimately, that’s a failure for our institutions as a whole because our faculty aren’t able to properly support students that don’t have the services that they need to be able to pursue their degrees. As a student on my university’s board of governors, I was fighting for staff who had no voice on that body.
Collectively, we need to be moving to a place where our institutions are supporting our students and supporting this province, which they absolutely can do and should do. It’s an argument that makes sense, it’s an economic argument at the end of the day, but more than anything they are failing to do so right now. We need to see change, we need to see some of these measures, put in place to destroy this system, change for the better so that we are collectively involved in making decisions that are going to improve our universities and colleges here in Nova Scotia for all of us.
MR. SUTTON: One of the questions that was asked, and this was in relation to the Ivany report - what can the government do to improve things for Nova Scotia’s universities? I mentioned before that the universities in Nova Scotia, across the board, have taken on tremendous expenses with providing a lot of services for students aimed at student retention. I’ll simply point to the CEGEP system in Quebec.
CEGEP is a system that bridges the gap between high school and university. It prepares students who are interested in going on to university so that they arrive at university better prepared to do the work academically and also everything else that goes along with that, everything from being prepared for living alone - well, everything that they need. There is a marked difference in the retention rate between first and second year from Quebec and every other province in Canada because of the CEGEP system. That is something the province could do to help, consider something like that.
A lot of it comes to a philosophical change regarding post-secondary education. Post-secondary education is an investment in the future of your province. We’ve heard a lot of talk about how expensive it is, and that’s a philosophical change that has to be made. It has to be regarded as an investment because when you build a better-educated workforce you have better jobs, better salaries, and better taxpayers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Sutton. On behalf of the committee I would like to thank all of you for coming here today. I think we’ve had a wide-ranging, very diverse discussion, and we put a lot of issues on the table with respect to part-timers, tuition levels, and governance in our universities, which is one of the linchpins that seems to come through in the presentations today. Clearly this issue is something that really is challenging at finding the right balance between university autonomy, government financial support, and accountability, and really finding that right balance of support from taxpayers, students, and faculty, so I think we’re all working together to try to resolve that.
As folks have said, our universities are our biggest challenge, they’re unsustainable in the situation we’ve got, but they’re also our biggest opportunity, and I think we’re all working as hard as we can to capitalize on that opportunity. So let’s continue that dialogue - this issue isn’t solved with one bill that’s good or one bill that’s bad, or with one collective agreement or one new idea. This will be a work in progress and I would encourage us all to continue the dialogue going forward.
Finally, I’d like to thank you all in your various roles and your commitment to your universities, our students, and to the future of Nova Scotia which, I believe, is what we’re all looking out for. So thank you very much.
We will now take a five-minute break before we head to Committee Business. Thank you.
[11:29 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:35 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’d like to call the meeting back to order. Thank you all for agreeing to the five minutes and holding true to it - you clearly want to be out before noon.
We’ve got three items under Committee Business here. The first one I just wanted to have a brief discussion or put my thoughts on the table with respect to procedures. I just thought that as the new chairman, it might be a good opportunity to just revisit how we’re going to operate as a committee. I’ll put forward my thoughts, and if there’s any concern or debate, I guess we could look at that. Clearly my role is to try to keep this meeting on agenda, on time, and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak.
These are in no particular order, but I had a brief conversation with a few people that had been in the room in the past to try to understand where some rough points may have been and how I can fulfill that role in smoothing those over.
The first issue that came up, I just want to make clear that motions can come on the floor by anyone at any time - I think that’s a fundamental rule of democracy. Clearly motions may come forward on the spur of the moment, particularly through witnesses. I do also think it’s important that we work collaboratively and not try to show up at the last minute with a motion. So if you have an agenda item I’d like to suggest that either at the previous meeting that you put it on the table and say I’d like to have a discussion at the next meeting, or to contact me as the chairman and suggest an agenda item and a possible motion that would lead that discussion. That might give us an opportunity to have a discussion and determine that it’s best dealt with at this committee or somewhere else. or that some research might be needed before the committee sits down to discuss that.
Obviously there are time-sensitive things that will come up. I’m not suggesting this in any way to prevent anybody from putting a motion on the table at any time. Certainly if there are members of the committee who are uncomfortable with a last-minute motion, they can put forward a motion to defer which, if I understand - this is the question that I had for our counsel here - motions for deferral are not debated, is that correct?
MR. GORDON HEBB: That’s correct.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So those are the tools at our disposal in terms of ensuring that our ideas get on the table and are dealt with in a fair and transparent way.
I’ll go through these and take some notes if you want to suggest alternatives here. My understanding is that the agendas have not been circulated and from talking with the clerk, they’re generally not so complex that they need to be circulated beforehand. If folks would like, we could perhaps change that procedure.
My understanding, although there have been slight variations, is that our monthly meetings are, as you all know, mandatory in this committee, but the practice in most cases is that during the summer, Christmas break, and during House sittings, we don’t entertain witnesses. I don’t think we need to discuss that, but I believe that has been the practice in the past for the most part.
Rules of order - we keep that really to our counsel. We deal with our House Rules, and then the House of Commons Rules follow from that. Do you need to add anything to that?
MR. HEBB: No, I don’t think I’d add anything. I’m here to give advice to the chairman and certainly any member who wishes to ask me for advice on procedure. I and the Clerks and the committee clerks are always available to all of you for advice.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’ve worked with Robert’s Rules of Order in terms of splitting of motions and amendments and things like that so I don’t think it gets too complicated here, but if it does we’ll rely on our counsel here.
In terms of speaking, I would like to keep the preambles as short as possible. I think it was very good today. I thought everyone did a good job and we’ll try to keep to one supplementary, but I’ll use my role as the Chair to try to keep things flowing. If they’re short snappers, we may allow an extra one or two, but if we can stay away from long preambles - I know we’re all politicians and have a lot to say, but with respect to our witnesses in particular, let’s try to hear from them more than from us.
My understanding is we usually don’t go in camera except it can occasionally happen when we are getting into the details of someone’s resumé in terms of the committee appointments. So if we are beginning to delve into someone’s personal information, which will become public once they’re appointed, but if during the debate on the appointments, I would probably ask for a motion to go in camera, and by majority we would go in camera.
I understand there has been a little bit of discussion with respect to those board appointments. My understanding is that normal practice is that you would deal with one motion for all the members of a board and perhaps if there are some problems with one member, we would go in camera and perhaps come out and amend the appointment of one. I’m not hard and fast on that, but that’s what I understand to be the normal practice.
We’ll put motions on the floor before discussion as opposed to a long discussion and then a motion. Meetings are two hours and I need agreement by motion to extend that, and that’s by majority decision, I believe.
The final topic, as I understand, our House Leader has written to other leaders with respect to agenda-setting and some modifications that are being proposed and I think are being well received, that committees would have three topics by the government, two by the PC caucus, and one by the NDP caucus that would rotate in six-topic blocks. There is a proposal in the letter, I noticed, of the order of that. I would suggest that we may need to - depending on witness availability - be somewhat flexible in that.
MR. ORRELL: I guess in light of that decision yesterday and the letter that was sent out by the House Leader, I wonder if we could move a motion that we revisit complying with the new process at the last agenda-setting and go by our new rotation and set our agenda for the next six months.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that, and I was going to deal with that in connection with your motion that was deferred. It was coming on the table so we’ll discuss that at that time. Is there any advice, or suggestions - are people comfortable with those procedures as I’ve outlined them? That’s great - this is an easy job. You’re a good committee.
Let’s move to Mr. Orrell’s motion that was deferred at the last meeting. Mr. Orrell, this motion for the audience states, pursuant to Section 12A(3)(b) of the Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly:
I move that the Committee on Assembly Matters consider and address the rules and conduct, as well as the roles of the Chair, the Clerk and all members of committees at the upcoming meeting in September.
Do you want to speak to the motion that you’ve put on the floor?
MR. ORRELL: The reason I put that motion on the floor was that in the last couple of meetings that we had, it seemed like the rules were unclear on how we were setting agendas and who got to address certain issues at certain times on certain topics. I believe you’ve addressed that here in your preamble this morning, and I believe that the roles of the committee and the setting of the goals had been addressed with the Assembly Matters Committee yesterday. So I’m happy if that is adopted as read, that it has been done, and that we move to the other motion that we talked about earlier.
MR. CHAIRMAN: All right, you are withdrawing that motion and would like to put another motion on the table. Do I have the consent of the committee to withdraw the motion?
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Mr. Orrell, your new motion.
MR. ORRELL: In light of the decision made by the caucuses yesterday, I move that the committee comply with a new process and set the agenda for the next six months of this committee, according to the new rules.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just a clarification on the motion. Are you suggesting that we have a new agenda-setting meeting at our next meeting, is that embodied?
MR. ORRELL: The next meeting or today. I know today is probably not the day, but if we could do it today, we have the witnesses that we had the last time, we would just go about and pick government, PC Party, government, NDP, government, and PC again, in that order, and start afresh.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Just as everybody else here has had a chance to, we read that, and we were hoping that with some of our comments there would be some changes coming, and it looks like there are. We have not had a chance to be briefed by our House Leader on this; all we’ve read is what you’ve read. I think in light of that, personally - and I didn’t realize this motion was coming here today either, but I will speak off the top of my head on it. I think we need to get some further direction from the House of Assembly management group on how we do move forward. There are several committees now and I’d like to see some consistency, if we’re resetting the clock for everybody or if we’re doing it for just one committee. I would suggest that it’s a great suggestion, I think it’s diving deeper down into the weeds of what exactly is changing here. I know that we want to race in, but let’s make sure that we’re doing it in a consistent manner across government.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: I just want to mention that Minister Samson indicated yesterday: We’ve instructed our Chairs to make the change now for committees that we’re chairing. So it’s to take effect now and that was his comment yesterday, I just wanted to share that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Wilson.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I’m a member of the Committee on Assembly Matters and I would hope that it’s not the will of the committee to send it back to that because that committee rarely meets so we may not get together for another six years and I don’t think that’s the intent of Mr. Samson’s letter. I don’t think by any means that we’ve addressed all the issues in committees. I know yesterday in the meeting on Assembly Matters, I think we’re moving in the right direction. There were a couple of suggestions like why are the caucuses bickering over witnesses when maybe the public should have a participation opportunity in that.
I think there’s a will and I see a will by the Government House Leader, but I do think the intention was - and from what I read from the letter - that the Chairs of the committees were instructed and it was from the Liberal caucus meeting of yesterday, I believe, or the day before or last week, in the letter that the Liberal caucus agreed with this moving forward, so I think it’s appropriate to revisit this currently and not have it pushed off into the foreseeable future.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think Mr. Orrell wanted to get in there before Mr. Wilson.
MR. ORRELL: A letter was sent to the Opposition Leaders indicating that the Liberal caucus use the following for agenda-setting committees, chaired by the members of the Liberals and that was the three, two, and one, and instructed the Chairs to make the change for now. To bring it back to caucus after it has already been there and came to us, I think that’s just another step that we don’t need.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I am not inferring that we take this back to caucus. I’m the Chair of a committee and I’ve received no direct direction on how to set my next agenda for the next meeting that we have coming up. I don’t believe our clerks have received anything to date on this. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be doing this, I’m just saying let’s set it for the next meeting to do it and we’ll know better what exactly we’re going to do at that time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Miller.
MS. MILLER: Yes, I agree with Mr. Wilson, as well, on that. I believe we should wait until the next meeting and then proceed with that after we’ve gotten complete direction.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Let’s do it all the same.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Mr. Orrell, we do have a witness lined up for the next meeting so I think it’s fair to say that the next meeting will deal with that witness. I’d like to suggest that we have an agenda-setting meeting. You may have some other topics you want to bring forward. I don’t think there’s anything time-sensitive to deal with it right now. It would seem to me to be reasonable to have that discussion at the next meeting. Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: I’m just going by what was given to us at the caucus from the Liberal House Leader yesterday: that this was to take effect immediately. If we’re going to talk about bringing people in on a timely basis, if we were to set the agenda today we could set the witness for the next meeting and have them put it in their calendar so that they are ready to go, whereas if we go with our next witness and then set the agenda next month and try to set the month after that, then we could be out of sync again and we could not have the people available that we want to present at the committee because it’s too late in their calendar to do that, so that’s all.
I’m just going by what the Liberal House Leader has said and what was supposed to have been instructed to your chairs or your people coming from the Liberal caucus. If that hasn’t been done that’s a communication issue amongst your caucus and that should be addressed, but here in this committee we’ve been instructed that this is what’s going to happen and the changes are to take place now.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Orrell. Are there any other comments? So your motion that’s on the table reads . . .
MR. ORRELL: I move that the committee comply with the new processes to set the agenda for the next six months of this committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, so there is no time frame in that motion. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is passed unanimously. Great, thank you very much.
Our final item is the agency, board and commission appointments. We’re dealing today with appointments to the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design Board of Governors. We have Sean Kelly, David van de Wetering, and Gordon Whittaker. One is a renewal - could you just clarify that for me? (Interruption) Gordon Whittaker is a renewal. Mr. Whittaker sat on the board for three years and is renewing, and then the other two are new board members. Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: If I may, Mr. Chairman, in light of what we just heard in our presentation about members sitting on a board of governors for these universities and so on and so forth, is there some way we can see the background of these people, other than just their name, when they’re being recommended for these boards and committees, or is that something that becomes public after they’ve been nominated to this board? (Interruption) It’s all in the package, we have access to that. Okay, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other questions or comments? Is that a question, a comment, or a motion?
MR. GORDON WILSON: A motion. I move that Sean Kelly, David van de Wetering, and Gordon Whittaker be appointed as members to the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design Board of Governors.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Is there any further discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. Thank you very much.
The next meeting will be Tuesday, October 27th. I’m seeing 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., is that correct?
MS. MONICA MORRISON (Legislative Committee Clerk): The committee agreed to meet between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon during the summer months; 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. is the regular committee meeting time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: All right, I kind of like the ten o’clock start. Go ahead.
MR. ORRELL: We won’t be sitting in the Legislature at that time so is the ten o’clock time still a better time for everybody who has to travel into town and then head back home? It’s different if we’re sitting in the Legislature at the time because we’re here, but if we’re not here, some of the members travel from home to here on the day of and it would allow them that extra hour.
Personally it makes no difference to me - I come the night before because I can’t get in at ten o’clock in the morning from where I come from; Mr. Wilson would be the same way. But for people who live here and are an hour or an hour-and-a-half away, the ten o’clock seems to be a better time. I’m just asking if that’s a consideration.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think that’s a great consideration, at least from my point of view. So we’ll change that to 10:00 a.m., there are no problems with staff on that. The witnesses will be the Department of Labour and Advanced Education and Public Prosecution Service, re: Public Safety Prosecutor. We’ll also have on the agenda the appointments to agencies, boards and commissions, and we will have an agenda-setting session as well.
With that, I’d like to adjourn the meeting. Thank you.
[The committee adjourned at 11:55 a.m.]