rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Government asks Athabasca University to hold off on financial details; new minister to meet president

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Marlin Schmidt

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

What's shakin' at Athabasca University? Something is, for sure.

Yesterday at lunch hour, Athabasca U interim President Peter MacKinnon emailed all staff members of the troubled distance-education university to tell them that earlier in the day he had received an "urgent request for a teleconference" from the assistant deputy minister of advanced education.

When he spoke with Peter Leclaire, MacKinnon said in the email, the senior civil servant requested, "and I have agreed, that AU hold off on sharing any budget details or communications until after a meeting I will be having with Minister Schmidt on March 10."

In normal circumstances, it would hardly be unusual for newly appointed Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt to request a meeting with a public university's president.

But these are not normal times for AU, which is facing financial difficulties so severe a task force appointed in 2014 by President MacKinnon suggested the university could become insolvent in the current fiscal year.

Nor is that the only controversy afflicting the university, what with plans to move some staff from the Town of Athabasca to the Edmonton area, secret negotiations with the City of St. Albert for office space, and the seeming defiance by the university's board and administration of the NDP Government's wishes.

Last month, another disagreement surfaced over whether to award the "Order of Athabasca University" to former Board Chair Barry Walker, a Tory appointee who led the board during the some of the years AU's current difficulties were beginning. He was also chair at the time the University Secretary authorized illegal donations to the campaign of the local Progressive Conservative MLA.

When the AU Faculty Association on Feb. 18 passed a motion by 83 per cent opposing the award and asking the university's awards committee to reverse the decision, it was brushed off by President MacKinnon in a sharply worded email. Accusing the faculty association of incivility, churlishness, and "innuendo and half truths," MacKinnon reminded the association president that Walker is "one of the university's largest individual donors."

"I am disappointed that AUFA has decided, once again, to attempt to damage the reputation of AU (and to embarrass Mr. Walker) by making this issue public. I hope you will refrain from doing so in the future," he concluded.

As this exchange makes clear, relationships between AU's administration and faculty are now reaching a point that can be properly described as dysfunctional.

Even so, the government's request to the president to hold off on budget details until after a meeting with a minister seems unusual.

This has naturally led to speculations that, out of patience and concerned about the economic future of the town 150 kilometres north of Edmonton where AU's main facilities are still located, the government may be about to act. Options could include removing the board and replacing it with an appointed administrator.

Both the town and county of Athabasca have sent letters to the government expressing their grave concern about the future of the university.

MacKinnon has promised to inform employees and faculty of the outcome of his March 10 meeting with Schmidt.

Wildrose finance critic don't care about no stinkin' social issues

It's official! Wildrose Party Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt don't care about no stinkin' social issues! They're just too boring.

Fildebrandt stirred up the Internet yesterday with his impatient retort to a mocking Tweet with the message he's concentrating on important issues, and those don't include social issues. "In all honesty, social issues didnt rank in the top 100 reasons I ran," Fildebrandt snapped. "I find these debates stale."

"Important issues" in the Wildrose lexicon, presumably means "lower taxes for corporations."

I wonder what Wildrose Leader Brian Jean makes of his Shadow Minister of Finance channeling Donald Trump on the part of the party's brand voters are least comfortable with?

Now's your chance to meet Alberta Party Leader … for only $20!

And what are we to make of Alberta Party Leader and sole MLA Greg Clark’s note offering constituents in his Calgary-Elbow Riding a chance to meet him and chat in a friendly Irish pub … if they'll only buy a $20 ticket!

In fairness, Clark may have intended this communication to go to party supporters, not constituents. But find its way to constituents it did, and now they're remarking on how they've never been asked to buy a ticket to meet their MLA before.

As one Calgary-Elbow resident told me: "I was going to go and hear what Clark had to say until I saw that it would cost me $20 for a ticket!"

Hey! Who said Alberta politicians never have any new ideas? And, what are these constituents complaining about?  It's not as if they weren't offered two drink tickets!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.