Universities need more public funding, not divestment, according to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
Following the release of a new report by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation—“Pay Hikes at Alberta’s Universities and Colleges During the Downturn,” which purports to show that workers at higher education are overpaid—the largest union in Western Canada is looking to correct the record.
“Higher education in Alberta definitely does have a problem, but that problem is austerity, not overspending,” says AUPE vice-president Bobby-Joe Borodey. “The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation can continue to peddle discredited economics all it wants, but the reality is that universities need more investment.”
Since the UCP took power in 2019, it has enacted a series of savage cuts to the postsecondary system, including a $72 million cut in the 2021 provincial budget. In 2021 alone, postsecondary institutions expect to eliminate at least 750 jobs across the province, largely concentrated in the University of Alberta network.
“Universities are our way out of this economic crisis,” Borodey says. “They will train the next generation of skilled workers, help diversify our economy, and help solve the problems that Alberta is facing. And postsecondary workers are the ones who make that all happen. They deserve every cent they’re paid, and more.”
In its report, the CTF attempts to create a scandal out of the fact that university workers have not received pay cuts during the economic downturn which has plagued Alberta since 2015. It does not mention the widespread layoffs that have occurred in the sector, such as the 400 jobs that the University of Alberta eliminated in the 2019-2020 school year alone.
“Shadowy organizations receiving their funding from pools of corporate dark money shouldn’t be trusted to provide economic advice,” Borodey says. “Despite their constant demands for total transparency from the education and healthcare systems, the CTF has never revealed who its funders are. Why is that? What are they trying to hide?”
The Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation is listed as a “Canadian Partner” on the website of the Atlas Network, a Koch Brothers-funded American think tank accused of meddling in the affairs of foreign countries to make the business environment more friendly to American corporations. Jason Kenney is a former leader of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
It’s ironic that Jason Kenney, who has put so much energy into investigating the so-called “foreign-funded radicals” in the environmental movement, has “so little to say about foreign-funded organizations that want to dismantle our schools,” says Borodey.
But reports like this one by the CTF, Borodey says, are a distraction from the real issue—the workers who feel the pain of government austerity, and the communities that they live in.
“When workers lose pay, that money is no longer circulating in the community,” Borodey says. “That’s less money buying groceries, going to restaurants, and supporting the local economy. That’s how you turn an economic downturn into an economic depression.”
“The UCP’s cuts in education are an attack on Alberta’s future,” Borodey says. “Postsecondary institutions—and the workers that make them run—have a key role to play in building a future that works for all Albertans.”
Bobby-Joe Borodey is available for comment. Contact Jon Milton, Communications Officer, at email@example.com