If the era of cuts returns to post-secondary education, what’s Stephen Mandel going to say?

Posted on February 02, 2015, 11:22 pm
6 mins

PHOTOS: Best Friends Forever? Stephen Mandel looks at his BFF Jim Prentice. Will he be as forthright stranding up for the University of Alberta and other post-secondary institutions as when he was mayor and Alison Redford was premier? Below: Former advanced education minister Thomas Lukaszuk, the object of Mr. Mandel’s wrath back in 2013, and former premier Redford.

With a 5-per-cent cut to post secondary education institutions rumoured to be looming as part of Premier Jim Prentice’s share-the-pain solution to the recent drop in oil prices, one wonders what Thomas Lukaszuk will have to say to Stephen Mandel in the privacy of the Tory caucus room.

Alert readers will recall that back in April 2013, Mr. Mandel, then the mayor of Edmonton, excoriated Mr. Lukaszuk, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Castle Down and then the minister of advanced education, for the massive cuts to post-secondary education announced by the Redford Government the month before in response to the so-called “Bitumen Bubble,” which soon popped harmlessly.

Lukaszuk-LIn early March 2013, then-premier Alison Redford had announced that overall spending within the Advanced Education Ministry would immediately drop 3.6 per cent and be cut another 6.8 per cent in the next year. Later, in response to a public outcry, the government gave about $50-million back, about a third of the cuts.

Now, according to what is being whispered in government circles, the government plans to go after another 5 per cent from the so-called MUSH Sector – municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals.

The stated reason this time is the “oil price trough,” which, much public drumbeating to the contrary, is also likely to be short-lived. The federal Conservative Government obviously believes this is so, else it would not have delayed its budget while it awaits a rebound. The real reason, of course, is the desire of Conservative politicians like Mr. Prentice never to let a good crisis go to waste to advance the cause of neoliberalism.

Back in 2013, speaking at his pretentiously titled “State of the City Address” at the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Mandel ripped into Tory ministers from the city for betraying Edmonton’s interests, comparing their actions unfavourably to the relationship of their PC counterparts in Calgary to that city.

“These institutions are too important to the city of Edmonton, and we need to defend them and I’m disappointed that the government doesn’t see the importance of those institutions to the city of Edmonton as well,” Mr. Mandel said. “We also would expect a minister of the crown, and/or MLAs that represent this city would also stand up for the city’s interest.”

Mr. Mandel’s reaction to premier Redford’s post-secondary cuts and the obedient support for them by Edmonton Tory MLAs won many accolades from Edmonton-area citizens and supporters of public post-secondary education.

For his part, the mayor’s principal target, Mr. Lukaszuk, famously responded: “I don’t know who pissed into his cornflakes, and you can quote me on that. I guess the mayor was in one of his moods and feels that Edmonton was somehow hard done by.”Redfiord-R

Now, while the shoe is not exactly on the other foot, things have certainly changed: Mr. Mandel is the minister of health in another Tory government run by a Calgary MLA, Jim Prentice. The plain-spoken Mr. Lukaszuk announced last Friday he intends to run again as a PC candidate, despite being banished from cabinet by Mr. Prentice.

Well, we can hardly expect a campaigning PC candidate to go nuclear on a minister in his own government, so don’t suppose we’ll hear very much from Mr. Lukaszuk on this. But Mr. Mandel’s remarks will remain remarkably appropriate if they are directed back at him by the rest of us in the event big post-secondary cuts really do happen all over again and he doesn’t speak up about them, passionately and relentlessly.

“The U of A alone achieves $12.3 billion in impact every single year – 5 per cent of our total provincial GDP – just one institution,” he told the Chamber back in ’13. “Edmonton is Alberta’s education leader. And this is of no less significance to our city than the energy industry is to downtown Calgary – and we all know how much political clout that carries.

“Our post-secondary institutions are fundamental to Edmonton and of tremendous value to Alberta. We should expect nothing less than passionate, relentless defence of this sector from our provincial representatives who should know better than to just stand by.” (Emphasis added.)

I wonder if we can expect a passionate, relentless defence from the Member for Edmonton-Whitemud in the event the Prentice Government follows through on these reports now that he has a comfortable seat in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet? After all, 2013 was then and 2015 is now.

Let’s give the last word to Mr. Mandel, since it seems startlingly apropos: “When I think about our post-secondary sector, I worry short-term thinking will win. It is sometimes the easy political path, but it is not real leadership.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

7 Comments to: If the era of cuts returns to post-secondary education, what’s Stephen Mandel going to say?

  1. CalgaryProf

    February 3rd, 2015

    Everyone in Alberta PSE fully expects another cut as in 2013.
    It’s harder to recruit new people, including PhD students, since then.
    Profs I know are consulting financial advisors already on an expected early retirement incentive.
    Alberta could have been building an enviable university sector over the past decade.
    Instead . . . Pppphhhhhtttt.
    A leaky ship doing what leaky ships do.

  2. February 3rd, 2015

    Nearly #20 years ago the Conservatives *took advice that Alberta could not “grow big business” because it could graduate enough degrees. Being #Conservativave they chose to hire their needed degrees from overseas and the US #delegating Alberta kids futures to that of blue collar workers or trades people.

    Now the time has passed all of our senior company managers in industry are #Foreign Born. At the same time they cut funding to universities to the 1986 level and there it has stayed.

  3. jerrymacgp

    February 3rd, 2015

    “…IF THE ERA OF CUTS RETURNS TO POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION…” I don’t accept the premise of the question… The era of PSE cuts never really left. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…

  4. workers advocate2

    February 3rd, 2015

    There is no constituency named Edmonton Riverside.

    • David Climenhaga

      February 4th, 2015

      Thanks for this WorkerAdvocate. Not only is there no such riding, but the name bears no resemblance to Mr. Mandel’s Edmonton-Whitemud riding. Presumably this was the product of hallucinatory late-night blog writing. AlbertaPolitcs.ca regrets the error. Yadda-yadda.

  5. Ryan

    February 3rd, 2015

    Presumably the same thing he said in response to the four crap ‘box’ designs submitted for the RAM several years after decrying crap architecture downtown.

  6. Athabascan

    February 3rd, 2015

    Mandel will say nothing and simply toe the line.

    Who needs universities anyway? This is Alberta. God forbid we should use tax dollars to educate young minds who might actually think for themselves. Let the oil companies educate HS dropouts to drive trucks in the tar sands.

    As for those lazy overpaid pointy-head dope-smoking liberal profs, we can just replace them by importing TFW with PhDs from India and pay them a generous Alberta minimum wage. Better yet, get rid of all Alberta universities and replace them with driving schools for uneducated rednecks. Problem solved.


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