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.
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 prejudices—on 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 relations—a constituency consisting, one presumes, of scholars and artists who particularly enjoy foreign travel—and 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 ones—of 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