Election result gives hope to Canadian universities

June 13, 1997

WHILE Canadians have re-elected Jean Chretien and his Liberal government, they have dropped him into a legislature that looks completely different.

Upon calling the election, the centrist Liberals had a stunning majority. Their members of parliament filled almost two-thirds of the seats in the house. Official opposition Bloc Quebcois, a federal party that champions separation for Quebec, shared most of the other third of the seats with the Reform Party, a right-wing populist party based in western Canada.

The two other parties in the house were without official status of 12 seats: the Conservatives, the party that lost every MP of their majority government except two, and the New Democratic Party, a left-wing party that had only eight seats.

But last week's election evened out the power base and had every party celebrating. The Liberals won a majority, albeit a slim one. The Reform became the official opposition, the Bloc still represented a majority of Quebec seats, the Conservatives shot up to 20 seats, and the NDP rose to 21, taking a majority of the seats in the poorer Atlantic provinces. Five parties had official party status and five carved out chunks of Canada's divergent regions.

Brad Lavigne, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, says the slim Liberal majority should make the government more attentive to organised groups. This week he is sending out some congratulatory messages to opposition MPs who he says will now have a greater influence on education policy.

The 20 seats lost to the governing Liberals will now have a more vocal impact on debate as opposition members, Mr Lavigne says. Although his group is non-partisan, he sees a sympathetic NDP now better able to raise issues of education funding, youth employment and student assistance.

"There is more of an opportunity for leverage and balance," he says. "Before, there was a certain amount of malaise among MPs."

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada sees hope in the Liberal government victory. Spokesman Bob Best saw this year's investments by the Liberals in the areas of facility infrastructure, student assistance and research partnerships as more than just pre-election goodies.

"The Liberal Party recognised those as beginning steps and that more needs to be done," he said, citing strong statements from Mr Chretien and finance minister Paul Martin in support of educational investments by government.

The new cabinet was expected to be announced as The THES went to press. Although only provincial governments appoint education ministers, the two federal ministers most closely associated with education, finance minister Mr Martin and human resources and development minister Pierre Pettigrew, are expected to keep their jobs.

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