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University of Alberta faces more than half of budget's post-secondary cuts

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University of Alberta campus. Image credit: Janusz Sliwinski/Flickr

University of Alberta President William Flanagan's mildly worded protest Friday that nearly half of the massive $126-million cut to post-secondary education in Alberta will be borne by the University of Alberta is certain to fall on deaf ears within Premier Jason Kenney's governing United Conservative Party.

"In Budget 2021, the University of Alberta's provincial grant has been decreased by a further 11 per cent, or $60.1 million, almost one-half of the total $126 million cut to the post-secondary sector in this year's budget," Flanagan wrote.

"This 11 per cent reduction, combined with cuts in 2020-21, totals a $170-million reduction in our provincial funding over the last two and a half years," he said. "Twenty-five per cent of Alberta's post-secondary students attend the University of Alberta, yet the province has required us to bear nearly 50 per cent of the reduction in provincial funding." (Emphasis added.)

"This disproportionate cut is especially disappointing considering the extraordinary efforts the university has undertaken to reduce our expenditures," he continued, illustrating the conciliatory tone that suggests Flanagan imagines he can still somehow mollify the UCP.

This is the kind of brutal effort to starve a public institution of funds that can do real lasting damage to what has up-to-now been one of the most prestigious public Canadian universities. It is clearly intended to do damage.

At least 750 support employees are expected to be laid off and programs not part of the UCP's petrocentric worldview are bound to be badly damaged or eliminated.

The recent UCP-appointed additions to the U of A board of governors need to be asked by citizens in their own community just what they have to say about this.

Albertans who believe in post-secondary education are busily crunching numbers as this is written and a complete list is not available, but some of the comparative cuts that have been calculated are interesting.

The University of Calgary will face cuts of about six per cent -- also serious, but not quite as devastating given the cuts at the U of A.

Cuts at the University of Lethbridge are in the same ballpark, 5.8 per cent. But Athabasca University will face a cut of only one per cent, and Edmonton's MacEwan University will see no cuts at all.

These are preliminary numbers and presumably by later this week we will have a complete list in hand.

It will be interesting to see what has happened to public funding for private religious universities -- if it is has increased while funding to public institutions is slashed. Full information -- there was no mention of the post-secondary cuts in Finance Minister Travis Toews's budget speech -- may help us sort out what the UCP's strategy on this is, if any.

To speculate on why the focus is on the U of A right now risks engaging in amateur psychologizing, but it's pretty clear the UCP has it in for the U of A in particular.

It's unlikely that it's simply because the U of A lies behind the electoral orange wall of Edmonton, since MacEwan U does too. It may just be that the deep anti-intellectualism and resentment in UCP ranks is particularly fired up when contemplating a prestigious institution that is something more than community college or tech school training fossil fuel industry functionaries. Or maybe it's because it refused to be bullied by Kenney into withdrawing environmentalist David Suzuki's honorary degree in 2018.

It undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that the UCP, forced by pandemic-induced public pressure to moderate its war on public health care and dealing with Premier Kenney's plummeting popularity with voters, saw post-secondary education as one of the few targets for which crippling cuts were still possible.

Still, there's almost certainly something more about this peculiar animus. Something about the U of A that particularly gets UCP shorts in a knot.

Pandemic-paranoia-pandering pastor leads another tiki-torch parade

Tiki-torch-bearing COVID deniers were at it again yesterday afternoon, parading unmasked through downtown Calgary with Artur Pawlowski, Alberta's pandemic-paranoia-pandering pastor, in the lead.

Nazi-style torches, Trump flags and "all lives matter" signs were popular accoutrements of the crowd, which was estimated by Calgary media to number about 400, including the counter-protesters who turned up to jeer from the sidelines.

One sign proclaimed that masks cause tooth decay -- an easy mistake to make, I suppose, if you're someone who doesn't regularly brush your teeth in fluoride-free Calgary.

Meanwhile, in Edmonton overnight Friday, a local tiki-torch type spray-painted "Antifa liar" on the window of Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin, a New Democrat.

"Good morning to everyone who continues to denounce racism and white supremacy, no matter how angry or uncomfortable it makes some people," Irwin tweeted when the mess was discovered.

"I condemn the vandalism of MLA Janis Irwin's office today," tweeted Premier Jason Kenney, huffing darkly, "many other MLA offices have been vandalized in recent months."

They have? Surely Kenney wasn't referring to the sidewalk chalk drawings that sometimes appear in front of UCP constituency offices to protest his government's policies?

It's embarrassing that Alberta's right wing -- anti-maskers and premiers alike -- seem to get all their messaging inspiration from Donald Trump's supporters south of the 49th parallel as the MAGA-virus continues to spread into Alberta.

Janice Sarich, former Progressive-Conservative MLA, dead at 62

Janice Sarich, two-term Progressive-Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Decore, died Friday just weeks after a cancer diagnosis. She was 62.

Sarich was appointed to cabinet as parliamentary assistant to the minister of education in 2008 by premier Ed Stelmach. Between 2001 and 2006 she served two terms as a trustee on the Edmonton Catholic School District.

Although a conservative, Sarich was capable of reaching across the political aisle, joining the progressive group Public Interest Alberta in 2004 and sticking with it even as she ran for the PCs. "It's all about civic engagement," she told the Edmonton Journal in 2007. "It's just a great dialogue, a very open organization." She was a member of PIA's Democracy Task Force, which examined potential areas of democratic reform in Alberta.

Sarich held bachelor's and master's degrees in education from the University of Alberta. She was appointed to the board of MacEwan University in 2019.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image credit: Janusz Sliwinski/Flickr

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