The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has begun the hiring process for a new staff position: the Austerity Measures Researcher (AMR). The AMR will examine how measures imposed by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal provincial government to reduce public expenditures have impacted McGill students and employees. The AMR will work under Vice-President (VP) External Affairs Connor Spencer for up to five hours per week for 12 weeks.
In order to achieve a balanced budget, the Liberal provincial government decided in 2014 to reduce spending in public sectors like health and education. These measures were very poorly-received by students, who took to the streets in 2015 to protest the Couillard government’s decisions.
According to Spencer, the AMR will determine which segments of the McGill student body have been most affected by these cuts and make recommendations regarding which programs need additional financial support.
“We are hoping that with this research we will be able to see exactly the effects of the Couillard government’s austerity mentality on our campus and what must be done in order to restore it to where it was before the cuts,” Spencer wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune.
Although the position has only just been established this year, there have been repeated motions from the SSMU Legislative Council for solidarity against austerity measures as well as motions for policies that support accessible education. However, according to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, the administration continues to devote significant sums to student aid, bursary, and scholarship programs.
“Those efforts have not stopped as government funding has begun to return to previous levels,” Dyens wrote in an email to the Tribune. “In addition, we received $7.8 million as part of the Plan d’action pour la réussite en enseignement supérieur, money we’ve put to increase students’ mobility.”
Dyens also noted that the Fonds de Recherche du Québec (FRQ), the province’s primary research funding organization, provided an average of $29.6 million of funding to McGill between the 2014 and 2016 fiscal years.
Although the amount of money the Quebec government has granted to the University for research each year has remained consistent since 2014, austerity measures had considerable effects on the university’s employees immediately after their implementation. Aside from massive layoffs, many full-time staff positions at McGill were reduced to part-time in response to austerity, and the University began to hire new staff on 3 month contracts. These employees are unionized under the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), which has been strongly critical of austerity. In 2015, the union issued a newsletter demanding more responsible hiring processes in response to the $45 million in budget cuts between 2014 and 2016.
Understanding the effects of austerity on casual employees at McGill is one of the many topics the AMR will explore. They will also have to ensure that this information is made accessible to the McGill community, which according to Saeesh Mangwani, U1 Arts and casual employee at the university, previous anti-austerity campaigns have failed to do.
“The little information that I have about austerity measures has been because I have actively sought it out,” Mangwani said. “As a student having some sort of research of what the exact impacts of austerity have been would be helpful in terms of knowing the issues that need to be addressed. I think having that knowledge would be a good starting point to then be able to find solutions.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 2015 provincial austerity measures led to layoffs and a reduction in job security in the following years. In fact, though measures were implemented by the University to mitigate the impacts of these austerity measures, employment conditions have since improved. The Tribune regrets these errors.