Prime Minister’s Western visit all about funding
holds round-table at Great Hall
By Marshall Bellamy
“I WANT TO HELP STUDENTS” “OH YEAH? THEN
HOW ’BOUT SOME BLING?” At left, Prime Minister
Paul Martin talks to roundtable members from the corporate
and academic intelligentsia. University Students’ Council
VP-education Dave Ford poses questions (right).
Prime Minister Paul Martin visited The Great Hall at Western
yesterday to sit on a roundtable discussion — made up
of community leaders, Western academic members and student
representatives — dealing with issues such as student
accessibility to post-secondary education, research funding
and university-community relations.
Western President Paul Davenport, the roundtable host, credited
Martin with the investments made by the federal government
over the last 10 years for university research. “All
of us here are greatly honoured by your visit; all of us here
at the table are your friends.”
Student accessibility rose to the forefront of the discussion
when University Students’ Council VP-education Dave Ford
thanked Martin for the reforms made to financial assistance,
but expressed a need for changes to Registered Education Savings
Plans, which he said tend to benefit middle income families
rather than lower income families.
“We’re going to do that, we accept you’re
right — where you are wrong is the RESPs,” Martin
said, explaining lower income families often do not have the
money to contribute to saving plans, while middle class families
are capable of spending the money.
“When we’re talking about access, we’re
talking about accessibility and retention,” Ford said,
referring to the need for present grants for first-year students
to be expanded to upper year students, as well as the need
to reassess the efficiency of available student loans. “Twenty-nine
per cent of students drop out after first year — for
financial reasons,” he added.
“About restructuring the loans, I absolutely agree with
you and we’re going to do it,” Martin replied.
Ford also cited the need for Martin to increase funding to
universities. “We need a dedicated transfer from the
federal government to the provinces in the form of an enveloped
transfer,” he said.
“I’m not sure I agree with you about the transfer
payments,” Martin said. “We’ve assumed they
will go into education — but some of the provinces have
scooped it up.”
Daryl White, president of the Society of Graduate Students,
suggested that the Canada Student Loans Program should be revised,
since students are not finishing their programs in the three
years allotted for funding, but rather taking four years to
complete their doctorate degrees.
Martin replied by saying he would look at the graduate funding
Funding for research into the social sciences and humanities
also became a topic of discussion, when Western political science
professor Robert Young stressed the need for the government
to continue to fund research through the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council. “Individual, curiosity-driven
research is fundamental if we are going to maintain innovation
in this country,” he said.
“But we’re still deep in our own end on the five
yard line and moving slowly,” he said referring to the
prevalence of excellent project proposals, but not enough funds.
“When we set up the [Canada Foundation for Innovation]
we put a lot of money into physical sciences,” Martin
said, admitting the social sciences and humanities were largely
“I agree with the benefits of curiosity in research,” he
said, pointing out there are greater issues affecting Canada
that could be possibilities for other practical areas of research.
After the roundtable, Martin met with members of the media
to answer questions.
Concerning alternative direct federal funding for universities
beyond envelope transfers, which he admitted could be used
by some provinces, citing the example of the Canada Millenium
Scholarship Fund, Martin said the current federal strategy
has been largely successful.
The federal government has already directly funded universities
through research grant programs, rather than through transfers
given to the provinces, the prime minister pointed out.
“I do think direct funding is a good way to go — student
loans are a major aspect,” he added.
“It is our intention to act reasonably quickly on the
whole issue of student grants and student loans,” Martin
explained. “I am telling you there are a number of issues
in the current system that [are] deficient.
“We really do believe the Student Loan Program has to
be revised,” he added, expressing the need to deal with
accessibility in post-secondary education.
He said the discussion highlighted issues he was not aware
of, such as the financial limitations experienced by graduate
Martin also answered questions concerning Vancouver Canuck
hockey player Todd Bertuzzi’s hit on Colorado Avalanche
player Steve Moore. “I don’t think it’s given
Canada a black eye, but certainly hockey.
“I think Canadians feel there’s a problem with
hockey and violence in sports,” he said, hinting at the
possibility the authorities may take an interest in the incident. “No
sport is above the law of the land.”
Martin was also asked to respond to a memo that surfaced revealing
that his closest advisor was implicated in the sponsorship
scandal. “I think it shows the desperation of the opposition — read
the memo and it will say the opposite,” he replied. “We
want to see the process opened up.”
—with files from
Ben Fine and Sarah Prickett
and Matt Prince/Gazette
STUDENTS ARE NICE, BUT UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS GIVE FREE
LEATHER JACKETS... Martin is greeted by a throng of students
outside Somerville House (left). Western President Paul
Davenport presents Martin with a snazzy Western jacket