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Secret Fed consultations

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The federal government wanted your input on post-secondary education, but they didn't tell you.

And they didn't tell student representatives either--who found out by stumbling across the announcement on the federal government's website, according to president of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations Phillippe Oullette.

"Nobody was advised," added University of Calgary Students' Union vice-president external Julie Labonte. "It was put up somewhere one day, someone stumbled upon it, and that's how we learned about it."

The Human Resources and Social Development Ministry is responsible for post-secondary education and training. On its website, those wanting their say are directed to choose from one of three themes. Instead of commenting on the three distinct themes and questions in one form, individuals are instructed to submit their views on the themes one by one. Participants can also fax or mail their views.

The website says the consultations are part of the new collaborative federal mandate to restore Canada's fiscal imbalance, but Oullette and Labonte question how collaborative it can be if there has been no effort to publicize it.

The website says individual inputs "may" be collated into the proposal the ministry provides to the federal government to address the fiscal imbalance, but it doesn't state what will be included, why, or when this will happen.

"The majority of our concerns are related to the weak attempt at consultations," said Oullette. "We just found out about this on Aug. 15 and the deadline is Sept. 8. They haven't publicized this in any capacity except on their website, so how would this consultation reach the public?"

The website states that input will be used for policy analysis and research purposes but student representatives say they are puzzled about what the federal government wants to get out of this.

"We don't know about its purpose," said Labonte.

The collection of views would not represent a random sample needed for scientific research, noted Oullette. Since the federal government didn't inform the media or special interest groups, Oullette said those who know about it, and respond, would likely have been regular visitors to the Human Resources and Social Development website.

"We're all disappointed," said Labonte, noting she appreciates the federal government's desire to get public input.

Oullette noted that when CASA tried to get more information about the consultation they were unsuccessful.

"We have provided repeated calls to the department and people don't appear to know what's going on," Oullette said, noting submissions are collected by Ascentum, a private firm hired to carry out the process.

"We can't find any information because the department is just passing us back and forth," said Oullette.

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