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THE BLACK HOLE

Federal response to academic priorities – the Bloc Québécois weighs in

By JONATHAN THON | JAN 13 2014

It’s a new year, and with it come renewed efforts to improve the status of academic funding in Canada. While our reader feedback  has been phenomenal this last year, our government’s has been less so. Back in June 2013 I wrote a series of open letters on the status of science funding in Canada which I addressed to the Honourable Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the New Democratic Party), the Honourable Daniel Paillé (Chef du Bloc Québécois), the Honourable Elizabeth May (Leader of the Green Party of Canada) and the Honourable Justin Trudeau (Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada), culminating in an open letter I posted on this site to the Right Honourable Stephen Harper.

I received my first response within weeks from M. Paillé, and had been hoping to run a follow-up article comparing the priorities and vision of our members of Parliament and their respective parties regarding the future of Canadian academic science. Surprisingly, this first response was also the only one I received as of this writing, and I share it with you here both in commendation of Daniel Paillé, who stepped down as leader of the Bloc Québécois on December 16 due to health reasons, and in riposte to our other representatives from whom I am still interested in hearing.

As the letter is in French, I have transcribed it below for the benefit of our extended readership and included the original response for reference. Please excuse any errors in translation, after nearly 5 years in Boston my French is a bit rusty.

Mr. Noah Thon

Thank you for taking the time to write about the importance of investing financial and human resources for academic research and higher education.

50 years ago, Quebec had the lowest school enrolment in North America. In 1960, only 63% of students who entered primary school finished their seventh year. Barely 13% of Francophones finished Grade 11 and only 3% had attended university. To address this major gap, the Government of Quebec has made ​​the shift toward accessibility. Result: the level of school attainment in Quebec has almost reached that of the rest of Canada in certain areas and exceeded it in others.

Unfortunately, while it is more necessary than ever to invest resources to ensure that our society remains at the forefront of the knowledge economy, Quebec’s efforts to ensure a high level of education are checked by the financial resource decisions of the federal government.

In the mid-1990s, the federal government made drastic cuts in transfers to Quebec and the provinces to fight against the deficit, which had the effect of causing significant financial pressure on the Quebec system’s postsecondary education.

One way to overcome this lack of funding for postsecondary education lies in adequate support from the federal government.

The Bloc Québécois is asking the federal government to first restore the financing of postsecondary education indexed to 1994-1995 levels, that is to say before Ottawa slashed transfers. For Quebec alone, this represents $ 800 million annually. The Bloc Québécois believes that this amount will then have to be revised according to the growing number of students attending the Quebec university network.

This money would empower Quebec to attract more teachers and researchers of international caliber and to preserve access to postsecondary education to address once and for all the historic deficit of schooling.

Be assured that the Bloc Québécois will continue to demand that the federal government improves its financing of postsecondary education by increasing its contribution to the transfer for education and social programs in Quebec.

Please accept, Mr. Noah Thon, my best regards.

(The letter in its original French is here, in PDF).

ABOUT JONATHAN THON
Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is an assistant professor in the hematology division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
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