ULSU Mayoral Forum: Weighing in On PSE Cuts

This past week ULSU held an information forum for the six mayoral candidates to speak about their respective platforms to support students and education in our city. As a part of this forum, ULFA asked the candidates their thoughts on the Province’s $20 million budget reduction at U of L, the consequent loss of jobs and proposed wage cuts and the ripple effects of these reductions on the Lethbridge Community and economy. Not all mayoral candidates were able to attend the forum, however, it is clear that our own concerns were mirrored in the Mayoral Candidate’s responses which included (shown in order of presentation at the forum):

“Lethbridge is undoubtedly a university town and a mayor can directly influence the provincial government by supporting the efforts of the executive at the Lethbridge College and the university through direct lobbying. But really, it boils down to having a mayor and council that firmly supports the university population and the university executive and going to bat to the provincial government with the understanding that this is a community that supports post-secondaries and that we are standing united.” – Bridget Mearns

“I don’t think there’s a magic bullet for this really, it does come down to making sure that we are continually advocating with the province, making sure that they understand our needs down here. It really involves having good relationships with not only our university community and our college community, but also with Edmonton. Frankly, we need to always make sure that we are educating people who aren’t here in Lethbridge, about exactly how much [U of L and Lethbridge College] students, faculty, staff contribute to our economy and how that creates a draw from the surrounding areas. It’s really vital to us and therefore should be vital to the province and we need to make sure that we are constantly moving that message forward to Edmonton.” – Stephen Mogdan

“This is a very interesting question. The students and the faculty at the University of Lethbridge [represent] the second largest employer in Lethbridge. You have got to help them out to make sure that they can afford to buy housing and that students can get adequate housing so they can afford to go to the schools. I don’t have the exact answer for this, but the students and faculty [make] this a university town… we have to help them.” – Gary Klassen

“It’s all about collaboration and partnerships and healthy relationships. We need to partner with other cities throughout Alberta so that we can pressure the province in reducing the cap for education. Because the university is one of our largest employers here, we need to open venues for our students, not only in the university and the college, but so that we can integrate them into our community and give them avenues for work experience and give them opportunities in businesses, both professional and in trades so that students can find niches so that they can begin their careers here in the city of Lethbridge.” – Sheldon Day Chief

ULFA also invited all six mayoral candidates to provide further written responses to concerns over PSE cuts in Lethbridge. Complete text of the questions issued to candidates, and the written responses received from three mayoral candidates are provided below. The full ULSU Mayoral Forum including the responses above and other important student matters can be found here. ULFA looks forward to a strong voter turnout at the Lethbridge Municipal Election on October 18th and working with our future Mayor to keep Lethbridge’s PSE sector strong. 

Written questions to candidates

Dear Lethbridge Mayoral Candidates,

I am writing to you as a member of the University of Lethbridge faculty association on behalf of the membership, with a request for comment on an issue very important to the University community.

The University of Lethbridge faculty members, instructors, staff, and students contribute over $250 million to the local economy each year and the U of L is the second largest employer in the city. The U of L contributes importantly to jobs, retail sales, and real estate and significantly enhances the quality of life of our community in many ways. The U of L is currently facing down-sizing by the provincial government, with more than 20% budget cuts from 2019 to 2023 amounting to over $20M in budget reductions and loss of jobs and wages, including over 100 jobs lost at the U of L since the cuts started. These cuts are despite the fact that people at U of L are paid less than at other Universities in Alberta and in other provinces.

How would you support the U of L in creating and supporting a strong and diverse local economy? 

What is your opinion on the provincial cuts to the U of L?

How do you think these cuts will affect our community?

What are you going to do to address this crisis?

Your response, or lack of response, will be shared in its entirety with the faculty association membership through a public facing webpage (www.ulfa.ca). I request that you respond by Oct. 13th if possible. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Candidate responses are provided on the following pages, in the order they were received.

Sheldon Day Chief (received 2021/10/08)


I’m emailing you directly to my responses to your questions and to let you know that this is a huge concern for me as well. The devastation and the potential damage of this GOA decision will have to our university and our city can be irreversible and that we can ill afford. 

The following are my responses to your questions:

How would you support the U of L in creating and supporting a strong and diverse local economy?  
Firstly, as the city’s next potential mayor, I would reach out to the U of L to get fully informed of this situation and to see how the city’s elected can help. Consulting directly with the people out the organization that is being effected of such decisions of our provincial government ought to be the first step, always. Secondly, as mayor, I would instruct our senior executive officer and others, along with myself, to form a committee to work closely with the university to put together a plan of approach. Along with this process, I would be reaching out to other city’s and universities in ongoing discussions to develop ongoing collaboration for a United approach to lobby against such disastrous cut backs. When the committee feels that it has a concrete plan put together, a time and date to have all universities and mayors hold a press conference to show solidarity and a United approach to lobby or provincial government.

What is your opinion on the provincial cuts to the U of L? 

How do you think these cuts will affect our community? 
With my answer that I will give will hopefully answer both the two questions above. Devastating to say the least because of the damage it will cause. In today’s Covid pandemic, opioid epidemic and the hardships of so many that are struggling just to make it through this unprecedented time, it will most definitely effect the economy of our city and area. The overall effect from the reduction of student enrollment to individuals being terminated, there’s no words to describe the devastation this type of governmental decision would cause the universities and various local economies.

What are you going to do to address this crisis?
As I mentioned, our first approach needs to be one that is carefully strategized and needs to be approached through collaboration with other universities effected. Without a united front, the provincial government will not be motivated to change its decision. With a well strategize, collaborative and united approach, the effect of our lobbying with our provincial counterparts will have a great chance of being successful to deter this devastating decision to take place.

Finally, thank you for your questions and your concern of the devastating outcome of such a political decision on our local economy and many citizens and their families’ welfare.
If I’m elected, from Day one, I will move to start the process needed to start the planning process with the least amount of red tape from the city to ensure the support needed is secured. From Day one, I will be phoning and talking other city mayors to gain support and to find out what they are planning to stop this devastating governmental decision. After all, I believe that educating our youth ensures our future is strong and the strength of our community depends on the strength of our youth.

My final thoughts:
Since the beginning of my mayoral run, I’ve had a campaign that is all about collaboration, partnership and with a regional approach regarding advancing and protecting all aspects of our community. It is no different of how I will approach this issue but in a provincial collaborative approach. 
The university already has my full support as a grassroots citizen and as the next mayor it will continue to have my support. The youth today are much more informed regarding politics than in the past and the youth are our future and the strength of our community depends on the strength of our youth. Because of that, I feel that we need to include them in the planning process to lobby against this policy.
I believe that anything done in collaboration and partnership increases the possibility of success because a collective voice is louder and stronger. Our city can ill afford to lose such a huge economic source to our economy so the importance of having a strong plan is a must. 

Finally, I want to let the city and all its citizens, existing educational institutions, support agencies, not for profit organizations and local businesses to know that as your next mayor, I will work diligently and be there to support and stand firm with them to advance and protect our interests…. TOGETHER WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL…. Sorry for the cliché but I know it to be true.

Thank you again for your questions,

Mayoral candidate for the City of Lethbridge 

Stephen Mogdan (received 2021/10/12)

Thanks for your email. At least of those questions found its way into our ULSU debate online for a one-minute response, but I’m happy to answer them all, in greater detail, here.

1. How would you support the University of Lethbridge in creating and supporting a strong and diverse local economy?
A: We need to start from the position that post-secondary education is crucial to the future of a province like Alberta. If we fail to invest appropriately in post-secondary education, we fail to keep up with neighbouring and other jurisdictions for talent, energy and growth. The immediate result of that is sensed more than it is seen, but those who cannot see where that will get us in the next few years and beyond are doing a disservice to Alberta and its residents.
Past that initial recognition, we need to advocate for continued support for our post-secondary institutions here. We will bring all of the necessary arguments to bear, but the ones that should resonate most with our current provincial government are those that illustrate the dangers of our province falling behind (as above), and that these cuts will have twice the impact, locally, because the City loses out on the revenue and property tax support that spins off of our post-secondary community’s involvement in our local economy.
We also should also look at ways to stretch our existing funding for the U of L and the College, in part by relying on the innovative spirit of our student body, its professors and instructors and administration. Although I haven’t investigated this, I cannot imagine that our local institutions would not be able to continue to thrive in spite of our current funding challenges.

2. What is your opinion on the provincial cuts to the University of Lethbridge?
A: You can likely infer from my answer, above, that I am not in favour of the province’s current approach to post-secondary funding. I understand that our provincial government is facing some difficult issues with its revenues and expenditures in the time of COVID – most governments right now are in a similar boat. However, cuts to post-secondary education are generally short-sighted and self-defeating. I cannot believe that a province that prides itself on excellence in innovation, entrepreneurship, economic development and leading western Canada forward would allow itself to restrict its own growth capacity with such an approach to funding.

3. How do you think these cuts will affect our community?
A: Initially, I have no doubt that we will deal with these cuts like we deal with any other challenge: meeting this head-on, and not allowing it to get us down or slow our momentum. In the longer-term, though, cuts like this will make Alberta a less competitive jurisdiction, not only in terms of educational excellence but also overall market competitiveness. We need to address this now, in the short term, not try to reverse the effects once they’ve already rifled through our communities.

4. What are you going to do to address this crisis?
A: Everything I can. That starts with partnering with the U of L and Lethbridge College communities in order to ensure everyone understands the scope of the problem in the same way, and to ensure that the ideas and concerns of those on that front line are known and shared. From there, we can start to make a plan to address the advocacy component of the response. Advocacy in this type of situation requires more than a single prong, and that in turn requires coordination in order to ensure effectiveness. It also requires dogged determination, and unrelenting follow-up and follow-through.

Thanks again for reaching out. If any of your membership has additional questions or comments on these responses, I would welcome them to reach out to me directly, or through your assistance.

Kind regards,

Stephen Mogdan
Mayoral Candidate – Lethbridge

Bridget Mearns (received 2021/10/13)

Thank you for the opportunity to reply to your questions and capture the importance of UofL to our economy and quality of life. Please find my answers below.

How would you support the U of L in creating and supporting a strong and diverse local economy? 
As you have highlighted, the University of Lethbridge is a key driver of our local economy and whether it is the housing and rental market or the contribution to the arts community, the university community is integral to Lethbridge.  A city council can support that by ensuring that we keep the excellent quality of life here and we keep life here affordable. One of the perks that the university can offer when attracting top faculty, staff, and students is the city’s affordability and access to excellent arts, culture, and recreational opportunities. By providing a variety of greenspaces and parks, quality and accessible recreational opportunities, excellent arts’ facilities, accessible transit, and a commitment to our cultural diversity, while keeping the cost of home ownership competitive, we can continue to be a community of choice for the world’s best.

What is your opinion on the provincial cuts to the U of L?
I am very concerned about the cuts to post-secondary but especially how it will affect the UofL because the cuts have already meant a loss of staff members. With each person who has been laid off there is a personal loss for that employee but there is also a loss to Lethbridge. Every person who works for the University is part of the Lethbridge community and brings their skills to us, as well as their economic input. So, a loss to one institution is a loss to our whole community.

How do you think these cuts will affect our community?
As mentioned above, the loss of each position at the university means the loss of work to a community member and that has both economic and social implications to it. I hate to see anyone lose work but I also worry about the loss of so many positions in the community because it can mean that talented people move away.
As well, cuts to post-secondary could have implications for future students and their willingness to choose Lethbridge for their education. With up to 80% of the student body being from outside of the region, when we fail to attract students to our community, we lose a strong base for our rental housing market and our service industry. We value and depend on the student population so cuts to the university may have trickle down effects on our whole community.

What are you going to do to address this crisis?
Before I entered municipal politics in 2010, I had already worked at both the provincial and federal levels of government. My previous work has helped me to understand how to skillfully advocate with each order of government, since it is key to understand the provincial role in post-secondary education and advocate with them. If the provincial government is making cuts to post-secondary funding it can have a disproportionate impact on smaller cities like ours, for whom the post-secondary institutions represent a significant economic role in our community. I would advocate for the University and College to the province and seek ways to raise our city’s profile across the country. As a proud alumnus of the UofL I can speak very honestly about the important role a liberal arts university can play in opening a student’s world to them and in bringing the world to a community.  I participated on several Team Lethbridge missions to the legislature alongside Mike Mahon and Paula Burns and members of their teams to educate and promote Lethbridge as a singular community that has demonstrated strength, commitment, and success with our graduating students and academic staff. I would be proud to continue in this effort from the position of Mayor. 

Thank you again.

Photo by Graham Ruttan on Unsplash