The system is the system
Each year the government of New Brunswick provides Summer Employment and Experience Development (SEED) grants to non-profit organizations. These organizations apply for SEED funding to hire students over the summer. Each spring, the MLAs are given a list of organisations within their ridings that have applied for this funding. They are also assigned a certain number of weeks to allocate to organizations in their ridings. Last spring, opposition MLAs were granted 80 weeks to distribute while government MLAs received 200 weeks. In addition, regional ministers were granted an extra 250 weeks to distribute within their own and adjacent ridings, and the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour received an additional 546 weeks to distribute.
In Fredericton South, 49 organizations applied for SEED funding, requesting 1,900 weeks of work for summer students. With 80 weeks of summer work funding allocated to non-profits in the riding, that meant only 10 organisations could receive 8 weeks worth of funding.
“I made my recommendations to the Department based on the greatest need, and to reflect the diversity of our community: groups that work with children and youth, groups that work with seniors, groups that represent our cultural diversity, and groups that contribute to strengthening our community,” said David Coon, MLA Fredericton South and Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick.
However, with the small amount of funding available, there still were many groups that fit these criteria that could not receive support. “It’s not fair, and it’s not right,” said David.
“This is a throwback to the time before equal opportunity, when MLAs handed out welfare cheques,” said David. “The potential for patronage in this system is astounding.”
The distribution of SEED funding could be administered within the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour where political considerations wouldn’t play a role in determining how much funding is provided in a riding and which organizations receive support.
“I brought my concerns to the Legislature and asked the Minister responsible in Question Period to take politicians out of the system,” said Coon.
Unfortunately this government is satisfied with the status quo, even when it clearly defies the principles of equity and logic. When questioned on it, Victor Boudreau, one of the six regional ministers said, “You know there’s an expression, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. It’s been like this for decades.”
Hédard Albert MLA for Caraquet took this logic a step further when he said, “It’s always worked the same way…the system is the system.”
Time to Change the System:
A right to information request revealed that the staff within the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour have suggested that the distribution function be brought within the department.
“This is what we want,” said Coon. “Let the civil servants make unbiased decisions based on need, merit and equity. That’s what these non-profits and the students of New Brunswick deserve.”