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The UCP’s postsecondary shell game in Grande Prairie

The UCP recently announced $342,000 in funding for Northwestern Polytechnic. But that’s after cutting their grant funding by millions of dollars since taking power.

Last month, the Alberta government announced that they were increasing funding to Northwestern Polytechnic in order to add an additional 80 apprenticeship seats than originally planned.

The new funding amounts to $341,800 and will allow the postsecondary institution to provide the additional spaces to students at their Grande Prairie and Fairview campuses during the 2022–2023 academic year.

Kaycee Madu, the minister of skilled trades and professions, had this to say.

We are pleased to help Northwestern Polytechnic meet the increased demand for apprenticeship education. These 80 additional seats will allow more Albertans to fulfil their potential in a rewarding career and help meet the needs of Alberta’s booming economy.

Demetrios Nicolaides, the minister of advanced education, chimed in as well.

Apprenticeship education remains a cornerstone of our post-secondary system. Making sure there are opportunities for students to pursue this type of training in all corners of the province is key to developing a world-class workforce and growing our economy.

Finally, Brian Jean, the minister of northern development, also framed this spending as a great thing.

Northwestern Alberta is poised to be an economic driver of Alberta’s prosperity. Investing in more apprenticeship training spaces will ensure that we have the labour ready to handle the opportunities that are coming to Grande Prairie and area.

But every one of these three ministers, as well as the media release in general, forgot one important detail.

Check what Northwestern’s 2021–2022 annual report had to say:

Government of Alberta grants are the most significant source of revenue for NWP, with $45.2 million recognized in 2021-22, a decrease of $3.4 million from the prior year and $0.9 million less than budgeted.

And from their 2020–2021 annual report, back when they were still the Grande Prairie Regional College:

Government of Alberta grants are the most significant source of revenue for GPRC, with $48.6 million recognized in 2020-21, a decrease of $5.3 million from the prior year and $0.5 million more than budgeted.

And again in the 2019–2020 annual report:

Government of Alberta grants are the most significant source of revenue for GPRC, with $53.9 million recognized in 2019-2020, a decrease of $2.1 million from the prior year and $0.8 million less than budgeted.

So, let’s get this straight.

During their first year in office, the United Conservative government cut funding to Northwestern’s predecessor by $2.1 million. The following year, they cut it by $5.3 million. And during the most recent school year, the UCP cut a further $3.4 million.

That’s a total of $10.8 million. And that’s not counting effective reductions through inflation.

If $342,000 can pay for 80 apprenticeships, I wonder how many $11 million could’ve created.

I guess it’s a good thing that the UCP are giving Northwestern $342,000, but given that they’re short by nearly $11 million, is it really something to be getting excited about?

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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