A new column from CAUS Chair, Shirley Barg

The Post-Secondary Learning Act, also known as Bill 43, received first reading in legislature last week before being tabled until fall. The Act is an attempt by the government to combine the Universities Act with acts governing other post-secondary institutes in the province. In putting forward Bill 43, the Alberta government seems to have found one more way to undermine democratic process in this province.

Alberta Learning invited students’ groups and post-secondary institutions to submit comments on what should be in the new act; however, Bill 43 contains several clauses that seem to have been written for the sole purpose of raising the eyebrows and ire of the organizations it most affects”?post-secondary institutes and their students’ organizations. For example, one section of the Act gives the Learning Minister the power to dissolve any students’ council at any college, technical institute, or university.

Here’s how Bill 43 says that can happen: students’ associations will have to provide audited financial statements to their institutes’ governing board or council. If any “irregularities” are noticed, the school can call upon the Learning Minister to appoint an investigator. If the investigator confirms the appearance of “irregularities,” the Minister can oust an entire Council. The Minister will then appoint an administrator to handle all the affairs of the students’ association until another Council can be elected. The administrator’s costs must be paid from students’ association funds. The Act omits any guidelines on what would constitute an “irregularity.”

The Learning Minister, as quoted in The Edmonton Journal (May 15, 2003) said this process was proposed to protect students in case their membership fees are misappropriated. Premier Ralph Klein suggested that the government might need to step in if students’ organizations act irresponsibly or use students’ membership fees in inappropriate ways (The Edmonton Journal, May 16, 2003). Perhaps the government does not trust that we, as post-secondary students, have the maturity or ability to responsibly manage our own affairs and our own funds. Do we need government intervention to protect us from student representatives we have elected and whom we have the right and power to impeach if they’re not doing their jobs? Who protects the tax payers in this province if the government acts irresponsibly or uses our tax dollars in irresponsible ways?

If students’ associations received funding from the provincial government, I could better understand the need to provide proof of fiduciary responsibility to Alberta Learning. But students’ associations do not get funding from the government, nor do they get funding from the universities. Students can access their associations’ financial records at any time and have the right to question whether or not funds were used appropriately. As not-for-profit organizations, students’ associations already submit annual financial statements to the government. Why, then, is it necessary to implement such draconian measures on students’ associations?

It’s been suggested that this section of the proposed legislation was included to distract students from other aspects of the Act we find quite concerning such as the omission of the Tuition Fee Policy. The Government’s intent, in taking the Tuition Fee Policy out of legislation, is to bring it forward as regulation; however, regulations can be changed without discussion in the House, without input from opposition, and ostensibly behind closed doors.

The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) will be submitting amendments to Bill 43 on these two issues and on other sections of the Act that concern us. We intend to fight hard to ensure that democratic processes are maintained, and that tuition policies remain in a position to be publicly debated. Students are one of the greatest renewable resources of Alberta, and student leaders work hard to make sure that all post-secondary students get the best treatment possible by the provincial government. We won’t let Bill 43 undermine our efforts.

Shirley Barg, Chair
Council of Alberta University Students

The Council of Alberta University Students provides a combined provincial voice for all students of the four Alberta universities: University of Alberta, Athabasca University, University of Calgary, and University of Lethbridge. Post-secondary education decisions made by the Alberta government affect all Athabasca University students. Shirley Barg, Chair of CAUS, is the Vice-President of the Athabasca University Students’ Union