Guest Post By Amy Kaler (Sociology): Why Lukaszuk’s Budget Cuts Matter for Women

By now, almost everyone in Alberta knows that higher education in this province is under the gun. In March, despite vocal opposition from Albertans, Minister for Education and Advanced Enterprise Thomas Lukaszuk announced a cut of $147 million to the provincial budget for postsecondary education, knocking out years of progress in our universities and colleges. What many may not realize, however, is that women will be the main victims of Lukaszuk’s slashing. Here’s how it works.

Alberta has Canada’s biggest wage gap between men and women. In terms of hourly wages, men in Alberta earn an astonishing $6.04 per hour more than women (compared with a national gap of $3.57, and a gap of only $3.73 next door in Saskatchewan). [1] This gap is the result of Alberta’s economic tilt towards oil and gas extraction, which yields thousands of high-paying jobs at all skill levels, in occupations dominated by men. In Edmonton alone, the “trades, transport and equipment operations” sector – Statistics Canada’s term for all the jobs that service oil and gas extraction – is 93% male. [2] This one sector accounts for one third of all male workers, but only 3% of female workers. [3]

One of the few forces which offset the gender-skew of the oil and gas economy is postsecondary education. In Alberta, as elsewhere in Canada, the returns to higher education are higher for women than for men, when measured in annual earnings. Across Canada, women with no education beyond high school earn only 67 cents for every dollar their similarly-uneducated male peers earn. [4] When women have a bachelor’s degree, diploma or certificate, however, they earn 89 cents for every dollar a man with a similar education earns; and when women get master’s or doctoral-level degrees, their earnings rise to 96 cents on the male dollar. [5] Education thus is a powerful driver of women’s equality, and nowhere is it more important than in Alberta, where it partially counterbalances the powerful advantage that the resource economy gives to men.

And so, when higher education gets the axe, the financial implications for women are worse than for men. The economic hit to Alberta’s women is made even painful by the specific program cuts which have been announced by colleges and universities. With few exceptions, the programmes bearing the brunt of the budget cuts are ones in which the majority of students are female. The University of Calgary has cut 200 spaces in its arts programs. Red Deer College has eliminated its programmes in early learning and child care, hospitality and tourism, and virtual assistance (a form of home-based administrative support). Mount Royal University has suspended diplomas in performance, theatre arts and disability studies, as well as certificates in aging studies and neonatal nursing. Medicine Hat College has stopped the intake to its nursing program. Lethbridge College has halted its marketing and design programme, as well as its office administration offerings. Lakeland College will no longer admit students to study nursing, emergency services, office administration of events management. And the list goes on, with new hits on the programmes that have supported working women being announced every day.

Some may argue that the programmes which are being eliminated don’t lead to the big-money resource economy jobs that have come to characterize the Albertan dream. Why be a nurse, or an early childhood educator, or a musician, when you could scramble for the spots that train you to become a petroleum technician, an energy geologist, or whatever the industry dictates is needed this year? In an ideal world, perhaps these opportunities would be distributed equally between men and women. But in the real world, for many good reasons, women have sought to better their lives not only through “nontraditional” resource economy jobs but also through improving their education in the fields which have historically been most hospitable to women. When the doors to these fields slam shut, women will be left in the cold, and their economic disadvantage will increase.

Alberta politics is often not dissimilar from what happens south of the border. In 2012, American voters saw a flurry of policy statements and proposals which would have severely disadvantaged women relative to men, from interference with women’s health care to attacks on equal pay. What the political pundits dubbed the “war on women” was ended with a decisive loss for the hapless Republican candidates who put forward these ideas, thanks in large part to voters who insisted that women’s equality was not a political football (or hockey puck, to Canadianize the metaphor a bit).

We can do the same in Alberta. We can identify the education cuts for what they are – attacks which will intensify the already extreme disparity between the genders in Alberta. We can defend postsecondary education as a means to bring about greater social equality and economic security for both men and women. And we can remember what kind of province we want when the next election rolls around.

Amy Kaler, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta

Lise Gotell, Chair, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Alberta

Sara Dorow, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta

Stephanie Hayman, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta

[1] Statistics Canada, “Labour Force Survey Estimates 2012.”

[2] Statistics Canada, “2011 Census.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Statistics Canada, “Women and Education 2009.”

[5] Ibid.  

This entry was posted in alberta funding for post-secondary education and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Guest Post By Amy Kaler (Sociology): Why Lukaszuk’s Budget Cuts Matter for Women

  1. Nicely put and something that (as a parent of a pre-teen girl) I find very concerning.

  2. Julie Rak says:

    This is an excellent post. I think I’ll tweet it to Minister Lukaszuk.

  3. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    SO informative! Thank you all!

  4. Laurie Adkin says:

    An excellent example of the value and necessity of social science research and analysis! Thank-you, dear colleagues.

  5. LJ says:

    Very interesting analysis. I agree with Laurie…an excellent example of social science research and analysis.

  6. cet3091 says:

    These findings are a good example of why the Tories (provincially & federally) & the Wildrose want to shut down pure research. Without valid data that proves need, the government(s) can put their money where their ideology tells them to instead of where it is actually needed without fear that anyone can call them on it.

  7. The government’s “economic tilt towards oil and natural gas extraction” got another boost today. Mr Lukaszuk announced a series of R&D agreements and commercial partnerships with Boreal Laser, a German company, to develop new lasers for gas detection applications and Sercel, a French company, to develop advanced sensor fabrication for use in hydrocarbon exploration, pipeline leak detection and infrastructure monitoring. Mr Lukaszuk will also be speaking at the World Economic Forum and the UK Chamber of Commerce Energy Forum “to promote the province as a global energy financial centre”.

    Clearly Mr Lukaszuk’s title is a sham. The words “Advanced Education” should be deleted so that he can focus on his true priority—“Enterprise”–which (as Ms Kaler so eloquently points out) cripples Alberta’s post secondary institutions and smothers the ability of Alberta’s girls and women to assume their rightful place in the workforce. The fact that Ms Redford has allowed Mr Lukaszuk to proceed with this plan is shocking.

  8. Amy, gender inequality concerns me very much, as a husband, father of two girls, and as a citizen. Shedding light on important statistics and putting forth articles such as this one help in the ongoing work to close the wage gap between men and women. Of course, this type of challenge requires all members of society to work together. You mention that jobs in the oil and gas sector are quite male dominated. In Alberta, we are lucky that learners can pursue their educational goals in a wide variety of fields, and they are all important for our economy and society. Something which you do not mention, and this government recognizes, is that more and more women are choosing to go into typically male-dominated fields. We are seeing more women in science, engineering and technology in Alberta than ever before. In fact, nearly 40 percent of Alberta’s science, engineering and tech students are female. The Alberta Government has made strong commitments to support women in occupations where they are under-represented. We work with groups that promote women in the trades, including the Construction Owners Association of Alberta, Women Building Futures in Edmonton, and Trades Work for Women in Grande Prairie. We are helping women pursue their educational goals, and will continue to do so. The budget does not change that.


    • cet3091 says:

      Dear Mr. Lukaszuk,

      Given that the budget cuts down the opportunities for women to be educated in such fields as well as in more traditional ones, how can you say, “We are helping women pursue their educational goals, and will continue to do so. The budget does not change that.” I teach in an Alberta university. Next year, my department will lose 4 out of 12 faculty, and they will not be replaced. This means that 22 courses that would normally be offered, will not be, and whole areas of our curriculum will be cut, making it harder for students to find enough required courses in the major to complete their degrees. I have students complaining that they can’t take courses in their major next fall because all the courses we are offering are full. I have already provided the University of Victoria with information needed to permit one of my better students to transfer her credits there, & I know other students who have said they will not be returning. How is eliminating the courses students need to graduate “helping women pursue their educational goals”?

      • Arts Squared says:

        Dear Cet3091,

        You may have compelling reasons for choosing anonymity, but would you consider signing your name? The choice is of course yours, but it is my strong feeling that discussions such as these tend to get further where all parties involved identify themselves.


      • cet3091 says:

        Dear Carolyn,

        Of course, I will identify myself. I didn’t know I had that option. My name is Maureen S. G. Hawkins. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Lethbridge.

      • Arts Squared says:

        Thanks, Maureen. It’s wonderful to have your contributions.

      • cet3091 says:

        You’re welcome.

  9. Amy Kaler says:

    Thomas, thanks for your detailed response. As the mother of a daughter, I too have a personal stake in gender equity. I am glad to hear that your government is committed to addressing the wage gap between men and women in Alberta – the most extreme in the country – and I hope you will recognize the contribution that diverse forms of postsecondary education can make. The increase in the proportion of women in science and engineering is heartening, but what is more important is the health of the institutions in which they undertake these courses of study. The evidence is clear on this point: strong universities are engines of gender equality, in addition to the other social, economic and cultural benefits they provide. The current budget, unfortunately, will undermine gender equality through undermining the universities.

    I am pleased that you support women in construction and trades, and hope your government will show the same support for women in the occupational sectors which have historically been “feminine” and in which the majority of working women are employed, such as teaching, nursing, and the service sector. The economic disparity between men and women cannot be addressed just by concentrating on the needs of the resource and development sectors of the economy, although you’re right that they play an important role. As you say, all elements of society need to work together on this one.

    Best wishes, Amy

  10. Hi Amy, very much enjoyed the post. Alberta Views magazine publishes in each issue a miscellany section called Eye on Alberta, where we gather short items from various media around the province, and sometimes beyond, that respond to that month’s full-length feature stories. In our September issue we’ll be talking about education, and we’d love to include an excerpt from this post. If we have your permission to reprint the post, please let me know.

    Best, Miranda Martini @ Alberta Views

  11. Amy Kaler says:


    You’re welcome to use the piece in Alberta Views. I sent you an email saying the same thing, but I’m not sure I have your correct address. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do. Best, Amy Kaler

  12. Having worked at an Alberta college I did see quite a gender mix in those students studying for employment opportunities in the petroleum industry. Significantly, females and male/female couples studying together for the higher paying skilled jobs away from urban areas all seemed to agree that between shifts they would not actually live in Alberta, preferring to convert their high pay into establishing a “home” elsewhere. This says to me that in the imaginations of people who could stabilize Alberta into a living community the place lacks a fairly significant quality–being where someone would WANT to live.
    Can a place actually exist in such an imbalanced state where so many of the population are just visiting? I doubt it. If the idea of a life led in Alberta is worth avoiding by working long arduous hours under trying conditions then maybe the cut-backs make sense to education. If no one wants to live here why endure high prices, back-wood politics and poorly funded public schooling when we can train affordably somewhere else and just visit for the cash?
    Resources run deeper and wider than the rush to empty Alberta of oil as quickly as possible Mr. Lukaszuk. They exist in people building communities and caring about a place. They exist in working and playing dedicated community members who make a place livable. I trained female apprentices in BC years ago and they have stayed where they work because they can be complete persons in a whole economy. Not a work camp like Alberta.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s