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Federal budget questioned
By Paul-Mark Rendon
Monday's federal budget announcement is being described as a good start by university administrators and student officials who, despite being satisfied with the overall picture, claim the budget may have spread itself a little too thin.
The 350 page budget was read by Federal Finance Minister Paul Martin and included several spending initiatives of benefit to the post-secondary education sector, said Scott Reid, spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance.
Reid explained a big highlight for students was an increase in the limit on tax-free scholarship, bursary and fellowship money, from $500 to $3,000. "I think that's one of the most important things for post-secondary students because [the limit] hasn't been raised since 1972."
Over five years, $900 million was tagged for the creation of 2,000 research chairs at universities across the country and another $900 million was set aside for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which will be reserved for research material and equipment, Reid explained.
Western president Paul Davenport said he applauded the funding, but added it was too early to tell exactly how much Western would receive. He explained a $2.5 billion injection into the Canadian Health and Social Transfer payment, slated towards health care and education, was also welcome news. "We feel it's important we be seen as an important partner in that transfer," he said.
However, Jason Aebig, national director for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said he was not too impressed with the budget's outcome. "This was supposed to be the millennium budget because of that, I thought we would see a rather large increase in funding," he said.
"The rhetoric was all there. I thought for sure we would see a major increase, but there was nothing."
Aebig said although the general consensus was that the budget seemed to address every major issue on the Canadian horizon, he was still skeptical. "This is an election year and this is an election budget," he said. "What they're saying is 'If you want all of this, you have to re-elect us.'"
CASA's lobbying efforts to get their ideas included in the budget started last October, when their national campaign, Education Builds a Nation, was launched, Aebig said. He added he was disappointed their goals were not completely realized. "I'm shocked it didn't translate into something better," he said.
But Mark Kissel, VP-education for the University Students' Council and CASA's regional chair for Ontario, said he felt the budget was reasonable. "We didn't get everything, but we weren't going for everything. But I'm not going to kick a gift horse in the mouth," he said.