NB Green Party Leader questions political involvement in SEED program

Telegraph Journal
June 3, 2015
by Karissa Donkin

Patronage shouldn’t play a role in summer employment for students, says David Coon

FREDERICTON • Green Party Leader David Co on is calling on the government to eliminate political interference in handing out grants for summer jobs, arguing students should have a fair shot at a summer job no matter where they live. 

Non-profit organizations located in a riding represented by a Liberal MLA will have a chance to access a minimum of 160 weeks of government-funded student employment under the Student Employment Experience Development (SEED) program. But non-profits in a riding represented by Coon or an opposition MLA will vie for only 80 weeks of paid summer employment for students. 

While MLAs don’t get to choose who gets the jobs, they must recommend which non-profit organizations receive the funding. Coon would rather see those decisions made by the department, and not by politicians. 

“This is a program the way it’s set up that’s ripe for patronage,”Coon said on Tuesday. 

Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Francine Landry said her department is administering the program the way it’s always been done. This year, she said the SEED program will fund 1,015 summer jobs. She promised they will be distributed across the province’s ridings. 

But the minister, who was not available to speak to reporters on Tuesday, stopped short of committing to changing the process to remove the involvement of MLAs. 

“Certainly, we will look at various programs through the strategic program review,” Landry said in the Legislature. “All the programs are being examined at the present time (including) the SEED program.” 

In addition to the 160 weeks Liberal MLAs will have to distribute, another 80 weeks of summer employment will be divided between regional cabinet ministers and Landry. 

Trevor Holder, the Tory critic for Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, said Coon has raised some valid points. 

“We’re certainly of the opinion that now is the time to review that process,” Holder said. 

Holder said the process means some regions won’t receiving an even distribution of funding because there’s a cluster of opposition MLAs. Holder, who represents Portland-Simonds in Saint John, is one of five opposition MLAs representing greater Saint John. 

“The system is the system,” Hédard Albert, the Liberal MLA for Caraquet, told reporters. “I don’t know when the system was put in place. I don’t remember the date. It’s always working the same way. Maybe we have to look at that, I don’t know.” 

Coon said he was “f labbergasted” when he learned he would have to choose who receives the 80 weeks of summer employment in his riding of Fredericton South when a brown enveloped was handed to him in the Legislature chambers. He decided on 10 organizations, with each nonprofit receiving eight weeks of funding. He received requests from 49 organizations, for a total of 1,900 weeks of summer employment. 

But with only 80 weeks of funding to give out, Coon said the process of choosing was “terrible.” 

“There’s no way you can do it in a way you’re going to feel good about it afterwards when you have such a huge demand,” Coon said. 

Coon doesn’t believe he isn’t alone in calling for changes. He said the minister’s own staff have recommended the responsibility for next year’s SEED funding be transferred to the department’s regional officers.

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