So, we’ve all heard about the budget, either from a friend, from a relative, or from passing through the halls and happening to overhear someone talking about how their father or mother got laid off because of the cuts. The Newfoundland Liquor Corporation’s “fat” was trimmed, losing nine positions; public library funding was cut by over a million dollars; and the Department of Education was castrated.
Education has always played a pivotal role in advancing both industry and society as a whole in this province. Under the reign of King Da—, sorry, I mean former premier Danny Williams, our education system was injected with money that was used to renovate infrastructure in dilapidated schools, to hire more teachers for rural Newfoundland, to provide free textbooks to high school students, to invest in anti-bullying programs and to give our deserving teachers a 21 per cent compounded salary raise over four years starting in 2008. Yes, education has historically been a high priority for the PC government of Newfoundland and Labrador, so what happened with the budget?
We all knew that the government would tighten its belt, but I don’t think anyone could have even imagined the destructive cuts that were made to education across the province. To start, four English school boards are being amalgamated into one, leaving urban eyes and minds to interpret and create “solutions” for rural issues. It reminds me of when someone from a fish merchant family closed the inshore cod fishery…
The new centralized, gutted school board will not be able to adequately understand the educational needs of this province. Will St. John’s bureaucrats really be able to tell how bad the weather is in Labrador City and know whether schools should be closed? Will they understand the detrimental and frankly dangerous consequences that having children from Bayview Regional Collegiate in St. Lunaire-Griquet bused over an hour and a half away for schooling?
The job cuts to the boards and teaching units speak for themselves — 160 retired positions will be absorbed into the duties of existing teachers, putting even more stress on already overworked and under-paid professionals. What were they thinking? We’ll probably never know until Clyde Jackman comes out with an autobiography, perhaps titled “My Time as a Puppet: She Sure had a Cold Hand.”
Our minister of finance also mentioned that, next year, our government will review its funding of Memorial University. Stop right there. Review of funding to MUN? That could have any number of implications for the almost 15,000 students here at our university. Right now, everyone should be thinking what about the tuition freeze?
Last year, the Charest government in Quebec tried to raise tuition fees just before the election, and students rose up. The Quebec student strike was the most political action I have witnessed in the student movement; however, it certainly didn’t do anything other than get one rebel boy, Léo Bureau-Blouin, elected as a member of the Parti Québécois government — a government that has implemented the tuition hikes formulated by former Premier Charest.
What would we do if a tuition hike happened here? Have a “strike” where students storm the streets, impede traffic and business, destroy property, assault other students and prevent students and professors who don’t want to participate from attending classes? Like in Quebec, would our students’ union sidestep democracy in order to get their way and do this?
I certainly hope Memorial University Students’ Union (MUNSU) would not be as irresponsible as the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, but when it formally endorsed the strike in Quebec while many of its members sported red squares around campus, a response here to a possible tuition hike is uncertain. No contingency plan has been formulated. I certainly hope MUNSU would require more than 10 per cent voter turnout to give the thumbs up to a strike, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.
Let’s have the discussions no one wants to have and say the words no one wants to say. Talk about tuition hikes, talk about budget cuts and let’s talk about what we are going to do to protect the students if it should happen. Being proactive is much better than being reactive and holding a childish strike — the only people that would lose from a strike are the students, who would forfeit their already-paid tuition and the opportunity to learn.
So, MUNSU, inform, engage, and take action. Make sure we are protected pre-emptively, but please, no strikes.
Noah Davis-Power is president of MUN NDP.