Letter to Stephen Harper: Understanding Canada?

I recently received the following call to action from the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS):

On May 1, the Canadian Government abolished in its entirety the Understanding Canada grant program. Funding for the Canadian Studies grant program, including Program Enhancement Grants, has been terminated. National Canadian Studies associations around the globe have completely lost their funding, including ACSUS which has relied on an annual operating grant of approximately $95,000 for many years. Although it was known that the Government planned to cut DFAIT’s budget by approximately $70 million in the current fiscal year, no one knew which areas and programs would be targeted, and by how much.

Canadian High Commissions, Embassies, and Consulates around the globe began calling associations and universities on Monday with the news. These updates coincided with a message which suddenly appeared on the Understanding Canada website:

We received no information about the internal review process nor a reason why the program was targeted. We are asking the global Canadian Studies community comprising 7,000 scholars, and dozens of national Canadian Studies associations to mobilize by sending an email/fax to Foreign Minister John Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It is critical that your voice be heard during this crisis. We should think strategically and demonstrate the value of the Understanding Canada program, and articulate what impact loss of program funding will have on Canadian focused research world wide.

At our 40th Anniversary Conference last November, Senator Pamela Wallin read a statement on behalf of Foreign Minister, John Baird:

I would like to commend ACSUS members for helping to advance Canadas advocacy interests in the United Statesthrough the academic community’s research and through engagement with the media. Your efforts have made positive and lasting contributions to the understanding of Canada-US relations.”

A similar letter from the Prime Minister stated:

The Canada-US relationship remains one of the strongest in the world and is enriched by the programs and events offered by institutions such as yours…Thanks to the efforts of organizations such as ACSUS, the population in both countries will continue to be informed about, and engaged in, important developments in the context of the Canada-US relationship.”

The dissonance between the recent abolishment of the Understanding Canada program, and the strong support expressed in the letters received by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister last year presents an important opportunity for the academic community to mobilize.

Please send your responses to the email addresses provided above, and also consider faxing your response.

Sincerely,

David Archibald, Executive Director and the ACSUS Executive Council

My message to the Prime Minister follows. Please consider sending your own.

Right Honourable Stephen Harper

Prime Minister of Canada

80 Wellington Street

Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A2

Fax: (613) 941-6900

Dear Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada,

As a member of the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University, the Association of Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS), and the Midwestern Association of Canadian Studies (MWACS), I am writing to express my dismay at the recent funding cuts to international Canadian Studies programs, particularly the Understanding Canada grant program.

In these dynamic times, with pressing issues like globalization, urbanization, environmental change, technological advances, and international agreements, the Understanding Canada program is key to encouraging bilateral relations, rigorous academic analysis, and thorough consideration of past events, current situations, and future plans.

While austerity measures are understandable in light of current financial strictures, cutting funding for education at this juncture may in the end prove short-sighted. Rather than eliminating the small amount of funding allocated to Understanding Canada (and understanding Canada), it would be beneficial to maintain such funding to enable nuanced international discussions of domestic policy concerns, global changes, and Canada’s role in the twenty-first century.

As I am sure many of my colleagues have pointed out, last year was the fortieth anniversary of the ACSUS. At our meeting in Ottawa last year, Senator Pamela Wallin read Minister John Baird’s congratulatory statement to our organization, which read, in part: “Your efforts have made positive and lasting contributions to the understanding of Canada-US relations.”

Furthermore, as you stated in a letter:

“The Canada-US relationship remains one of the strongest in the world and is enriched by the programs and events offered by institutions such as yours… Thanks to the efforts of organizations such as ACSUS, the population in both countries will continue to be informed about, and engaged in, importnt developments in the context of the Canada-US relationship.”

In the past, you have recognized the importance of the strategic alliance between Canada and the United States, as well as the importance of maintaining a strong academic component in that relationship.

In keeping with this interest, the 2012 MWACS conference in North Dakota was planned to bring together established academics, young scholars, and government policy-makers to discuss “Canada-US Relations, Past, Present, and Future.” This topic is directly in line with your December 2011 action plan, “Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness,” issued jointly with President Barack Obama. Presentation topics include threat management, trade, economic development, law enforcement, border security, cybersecurity, digital infrastructure and the border, the Arctic, military history, oil pipelines, water management, and cross-border flooding.

MWACS speakers would include members of government, professors from across Canada, and international experts. Without the Understanding Canada grant, this conference cannot take place as planned, and international scholarship as well as domestic policy initiatives will lack nuanced analysis and critical consideration as a result.

Please stand by your words and reconsider the funding situation of the Understanding Canada grant program.

Sincerely,

Amanda Murphyao

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