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[First published in the University of Guelph's weekly newspaper, At Guelph (3 February 1993): 2.

This letter
formed one small part of a widespread campaign against the Mulroney government's proposal to merge the
Canada Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the international academic and
cultural programs of the Department of External Affairs. Against all odds, the campaign succeeded: the
government's legislation passed in the House of Commons, but was rejected in the Senate by a single vote.]

[Index: Canadian politics, higher education]


[Date: February 1993]

Merger Law Unnecessary

Michael Keefer

The press release that formed the basis for At Guelph's January 13 account of the
proposed merger of the Canada Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council (SSHRC) and the international academic and cultural programs of the
Department of External Affairs is in at least two respects grossly misleading.
Far from strengthening the traditional arm's-length relationship between
government and cultural or research agencies, the merger legislation (Part 3 of Bill C-93)
actively subverts it by requiring the new council to take into consideration the foreign
policy of the government of Canada.
Equally dubious is the claim that the new council's governing council can be
trusted to protect the interests of the arts and research communities. Bill C-93 says
council members should be broadly representative of the new Canada Council's goals.
But there is no requirement that they have any special expertise or reputation in the
humanities, social sciences, or arts.
Against SSHRC's advice, the legislation says council members will be paid for the
meetings they attend, which raises the interesting possibility that our present government
regards this council as an instrument of political patronage. The likelihood that, before
the next election, this council will become a dumping ground for superannuated party
bagmen and belly scratchers is increased by the fact that Bill C-93 makes no provision for
parliamentary oversight or approval of council appointments.

There is nothing, then, to prevent the government from stacking the council (as
the Reagan and Bush administrations did in a quite scandalous manner with the advisory
council of the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities) with people whose opinions
or rather prejudiceson cultural matters happen to coincide with its own.
In addition, according to senior Ottawa sources, the social sciences and the
humanities will be represented by only six members of the 21-member council. (Six other
members will represent the arts, three or four more will represent the domain of
international relationsa constituency consisting, one presumes, of scholars and artists
who particularly enjoy foreign traveland the remaining five or six members will
represent the public.)
The prospect of a council where only 12 of 21 members are to be representatives
and not necessarily distinguished onesof the productive areas the council serves in
the arts, humanities and social sciences is not encouraging.
One last point. Bill C-93 says the new council is to foster, promote, sponsor and
assist the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts and to
promote, sponsor and assist research and scholarship in the social sciences and
humanities. Omission of the word foster in that second clause is presumably one sign
(there have been others) that the federal government intends to withdraw support from
doctoral fellowship programs.
The government is pushing its merger legislation through in the face of vehement
opposition from the Social Sciences Federation of Canada, the Canadian Federation for
the Humanities and many scholarly associations that are members of these umbrella
groups. This legislation is both ill-conceived and unnecessary. The government's
determination to pass it in the current session of Parliament is one more expression of its
contempt for the research functions of our university system.
Prof. Michael Keefer, English
President, Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English