For months, a senior colleague has been telling me that it is a waste of time and energy to attempt to reason with the Government of Alberta. No rational government would have delivered the cuts to postsecondary education that this Government has. No rational government would display such an utter lack of vision in regard to the autonomy of academic research and academic programs. No rational government would have the audacity to make the choices this one has in regard to postsecondary education and claim that it is “building Alberta.” Stop trying to reason with them, Carolyn.
The most recent statements from the Minister of Enterprise & Advanced Education Thomas Lukaszuk make it clear that my dear colleague is, woefully, too right. In Tuesday’s Journal, commenting on the University of Alberta’s draft Memorandum of Understanding with the Government, the latest in a tradition of such documents, the Minister declares, “There is no memorandum of understanding. There is no such document at all. I issued a mandate letter to every school. That’s the only letter issued and that’s the only one that will be signed.”
With this statement, the Minister directly contradicts earlier statements he has made about his “letter.” Let’s hope the mainstream media do their job of noting these contradictions for Albertans. In the meantime it must be asked: Has the Progressive Conservative party of Alberta been in power so long that its leader can permit one of its ministers to privilege his own “mandate” over any form of “understanding”?
What exactly is the “mandate” to which the Minister is so committed, anyway?
It seems from one of his recent tweets (pictured above) that the Minister wants Albertans finding trade jobs the old-fashioned way. Apparently the Progressive Conservatives deem this a good enough situation for Albertans. The best we can afford, you know, given the price of bitumen last winter. No matter that bitumen prices have radically changed. Dollars recuperated from that will need to go to recovering from certain events in Calgary almost certainly precipitated by certain activities in the province’s north. And so under this Government’s policies (cough), a good many Albertans won’t have much choice but to look for trade jobs. Academic programming in Alberta is to be subject, the Minister declares in the Journal, to what “the economy requires and . . . the labour force demands.”
So much for one of the primary goals of postsecondary education, which is to liberate students from the “demands” of the “labour force” so that they can help shape the culture to ends more bright, more imaginative, more just than anything that “the economy” would impose.
We understand that conservatives have a difficult time with liberal ideas, never mind more social ones. But why on earth is this conservative government so committed to slamming the pedal-to-the-metal with the Delorean in reverse? This Government would have a generation of workers build Alberta for oil company executives and the venture capitalists of Big Pharma — with all postsecondary institutions in Alberta compelled to collaborate. Fully. We understand that this is what conservative governments do — create wealth for the already wealthy — but it is startling to see any conservative government so brazenly reveal its agenda to turn the population it was elected to serve into workers. This is hardly the time for a nation such as Canada to be pursuing the disastrous policies of unenlightened nations of the early twentieth century. Has no one given the Minister a brief on the uses of the rhetoric of “collaboration” in world history by regimes inimical to humanity?
All right, then, I concede: there can be only one rational response to a Government that authorizes a minister of Advanced Education to act as this Minister is doing. Let Albertans commit to that response, with speed.