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School on Tory hit list

Murray would ice University of the North

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TORY leader Stuart Murray said yesterday if he is elected premier he will cancel plans to create and fund the University College of the North and instead use the money to help pay for his promised tax cuts.

"Funding the university of the north is something we don't think is a priority," Murray said during a campaign stop at a private residence in Fort Garry.

Murray's property and income tax cuts will cost $260 million over the next two years, according to his party -- a figure the NDP and the Liberals dispute, saying the real cost would be closer to $375 million.

Yesterday was the first time Murray named a specific line item in the current NDP budget that his government would not follow through on.

"We think there are opportunities in distance education," Murray said. "I just don't think putting bricks and mortar in the north is going to enhance education."

Northern Manitobans have clamoured for their own university for more than two decades, and the NDP began studying the idea of creating a northern post-secondary school three years ago. It has been envisioned that ultimately there would be main campuses in Thompson and The Pas, with satellite programs across the north.

Having a school closer to home would make it easier for northern residents to attend university. Education programming would be focused on the northern economy, including hydro, forestry and mining. The NDP hopes to have the first courses up and running this fall.

Murray's rejection of a northern project comes just as Premier Gary Doer is on a northern tour courting aboriginal and northern voters in Thompson, Flin Flon and The Pas.

Doer did not mince words when he heard of Murray's announcement.

"This is spiteful," Doer said. "What would they say if all I was going to do was cut off funding to St. John's Ravenscourt?"

Murray's party does support an expansion of Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, which could cost $25 million for bricks and mortar. The Tories have heavy support in southwestern Manitoba, while they haven't held a seat in northern Manitoba for decades.

Francis Flett, Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the northern chiefs association, said he thinks Murray's stance is purely political.

"It just goes to show they don't care for the people up north," Flett said.

Flett said the university is needed to help northern aboriginals get a university education and into the business workforce, something he thought a Conservative government would support.

"It's surprising the Tories are rejecting the north getting a university," Flett said. "Distance education can be good to a certain point. But to actually have a university would enhance the productivity of our young people."

Currently, a lot of northerners are turned off of university because they would be forced to move south to Winnipeg or Brandon, and that is often something they can't manage, financially or culturally.

"For families, it's easier to move to Thompson than a big urban centre," Flett said.

The initial recommendations called for a $19-million campus in Thompson, but Advanced Education Minister Diane McGifford said last fall the NDP would build no new multimillion-dollar campus for the project. Instead, it would use existing facilities, including the Keewatin College campuses in Thompson and the Pas. UCN is intended to be used by mostly aboriginal students in 35 northern communities.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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