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Advice going east
By Mark Brown
Dianne Cunningham, Ontario's minister of intergovernmental affairs, will take advice provided from the University Students' Council to the social union talks early next week in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The minister and member of parliament from London North, met yesterday with USC President Ian Armour and VP-education Nick Iozzo to highlight three important issues affecting post secondary education.
The issues discussed included the formation of national standards of education, the harmonization of student loans and mobility between provinces, Armour said.
"The purpose of these social union framework agreement negotiations is to find a process within existing constitutional boundaries that will provide a way for all levels of government to work cooperatively and in a partnership in areas that are under exclusive provincial jurisdiction such as health care, social assistance and post secondary education, where federal funding is involved," said Georgette Sheridan, spokesperson for Canadian Minister of Justice Anne McLellan, who is heading up the social union talks.
"Their timing couldn't have been better," Cunningham said, referring to the proximity of yesterday's meeting to her upcoming meeting in Halifax.
She added she was happy to see just how close the ideas presented by the USC were with what the provincial government hopes to accomplish through the ongoing discussions. "I am happy to have this kind of support."
Currently the provinces are working on the wording of a joint draft of the agreement, Cunningham said.
Although there is no deadline set, Cunningham said the provincial government wants to conclude an agreement as soon as possible. "There are billions of dollars in waste across the country," she said.
"The prime minister has made it very clear that there would be no arbitrary deadline," Sheridan explained. The federal government would rather take the time to see a good agreement, she added.
Armour said Cunningham set up the meeting after she received information from the USC regarding the Pan-Canadian Agreement on Education.
Cunningham is very interested in bringing education to the social unity talks, Armour explained, based on his impression of this meeting and previous ones with the minister.
The provincial government is strongly against differential tuition, Iozzo said. "There is a lot of anger at the provincial level [over differential tuition]."
Iozzo said both he and Armour were told by Cunningham that her talks with British Columbia suggest they are going to back down on the idea of charging differential tuition. Similarly, he added, everyone is watching the McGill lawsuit against Quebec over differential tuition.
"We have to have inter-provincial mobility," Cunningham said. "Everyone likes to think that they can move freely across the country."
One of the first effects of the talks students will see will be harmonization. "Harmonization [of student loans] is already being negotiated," Iozzo said.
Some of the work on student loans will be done by March although full implementation of this project will not occur until September 2000 to avoid any problems with the computer millennium bug.
Representatives from each of the provinces will meet in Halifax on Monday to prepare for Tuesday's meeting with McLellan, Sheridan said.