BACKSTAGE At Ottawa

What It Costs To Be Independent

BLAIR FRASER September 3 1955
BACKSTAGE At Ottawa

What It Costs To Be Independent

BLAIR FRASER September 3 1955

What It Costs To Be Independent

BACKSTAGE At Ottawa

BLAIR FRASER

BECAUSE Canadians are quicker to talk about national independence than to put up money to prove it, Canadian students are in danger of losing $125,000 worth of scholarships now being granted in the humanities and the social sciences. U. S. foundations that have been giving the money are willing to continue doing so, but only if it s matched by some reasonable fraction from Canadian sources.

Although it has had plenty of warning, the federal government is not yet ready to do anything about this problem. Eventually it hopes to do so, but meanwhile it is humbly hoping that the U. S. foundations can be persuaded to carry on for one more year.

Scholarships in jeopardy are the one hundred and thirty-odd awarded each year by the Canadian Social Science Research Council and the Humanities Research Council of Canada. Some are relatively small grants for summer work, others are yearround scholarships of up to two thousand dollars apiece. They were established with the idea of offsetting the heavy emphasis on scientific and technical research in the distribution of scholarship funds. All the money was put up by the Rockefeller and the Carnegie Foundations, which contribute ninety thousand dollars and thirty-five thousand dollars a year respectively.

At the outset the grants were quite unconditional. The Rockefeller Foundation has given about twelve million dollars to various Canadian causes since 1914, the Carnegie about eight million since 1911. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, to all concerned on both sides of the international border, that plans for

aid to the humanities in Canada should receive American support.

But then, four years ago, the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences made its report. It paid high tribute to the generosity of U. S. foundations to Canada, but it also expressed some doubts. In the opening section, which is generally supposed to have been written by the present governor - general Vincent Massey, the report had this to say:

“We have gained much (from U. S. aid). In this preliminary stocktaking of Canadian cultural life it may be fair to enquire whether we have gained a little too much . . . Granted that most of these American donations are good in themselves, it does not follow that they have always been good for Canadians. We have not much right to be proud of our record as patrons of the arts. Is it possible that, beside the munificence of a Carnegie or a Rockefeller, Canadian contributions look so small that it seems hardly worthwhile making them? Or have we learned, wrongly, from our neighbor an unnecessary dependence on the contributions of the rich? . . . Perhaps we have been tempted by a f.oo-easy benevolence, but this leaves us in an undignified position, unworthy of our real power and prestige.”

Of course the Massey commission intended these words as a spur to Canadians, not as a reproach to open-handed Americans. Nonetheless, the U. S. foundations were understandably nettled. If their “tooeasy benevolence” was putting Canada in an “undignified position,” the error could be easily corrected. They were impeccably polite and moderate in their

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language, but their rejoinder to the Massey Report could be boiled down into one short rude sentence:

"Put up or shut up.”

The flustered and embarrassed research councils did their best to find someone to put up a respectable Canadian share. Last year, for the grants which cover the academic year now about to open, they were able to scrape a small amount together—the W. Burton Hurd Memorial Foundation contributed fifteen thousand dollars, various industrial companies such as Imperial Oil and Canada Packers put in smaller sums, and altogether about fifteen percent of the total was raised by Canadian sources. The foundations agreed to accept this rather pathetic percentage as adequate for one year, anyway. But the Canadian share was not only lamentably small, it was nonrenewable; these had been one-shot contributions, not annual income. Plans for next year, therefore, were still left in the air.

One source of Canadian funds which came immediately to mind was, of course, the federal treasury. Cabinet ministers were approached: Would the Government put up an annual lump sum of perhaps one hundred thousand dollars for these scholarships? In that case the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations would probably be willing to continue their donations on the present scale, which would mean almost twice as many grants could be awarded.

Some See An Invasion Threat

Some cabinet ministers were sympathetic, notably J. W. Pickersgill and Lester B. Pearson, both of whom were scholarship students at Oxford in the 1920s. But they found grave doubts among their colleagues, especially those from Quebec. These felt that a large grant for scholarships in the humanities and social sciences would be just as unpopular in French Canada as the Canada Council which the Massey commission proposed, and which is viewed by some Canadiens as an invasion of the provincial field of education.

True, the federal treasury already awards university scholarships on a much larger scale than the one proposed by the Humanities and Social Science Research Councils. The National Research Council gives about two hundred and fifty scholarships a year, running up to twenty-five hundred dollars each and costing more than three hundred thousand dollars, for

postgraduate work in the physical sciences. Some of the Labor Department’s vocational training program, which gives another three hundred thousand dollars’ worth of help to about five thousand students and apprentices, is extended to university work. Some fifty-five thousand war veterans went to university at the federal government’s expense after the war, and Ottawa is still spending two hundred thousand dollars a year educating the children of those who died on war service.

Why these things should be accepted without comment, and yet scholarships in the humanities should be opposed, is not quite clear. Maybe the apprehensions of federal politicians from Quebec are exaggerated. But for the moment at least, the government doesn’t want to take any chances on exasperating Quebec’s provincial sensibilities.

This fall the provincial premiers come to Ottawa for another full-dress conference on fiscal arrangements, something to replace the "tax-rental agreements” concluded piecemeal with nine provinces after the 1946 conference broke down. Quebec has never signed a tax-rental agreement, but Ottawa strongly hopes that the next set of dominion-provincial agreements will include Quebec on some mutually agreed terms.

Once the dominion-provincial conference is out of the way, advocates of the Canada Council proposed by the Massey commission will make a real effort to have the council set up. As the Massey Report described it, the council would consist of fifteen members who would award a large number of scholarships in all fields except the physical sciences, which would continue to be handled by the National Research Council. The Massey commission proposed that these scholarships, plus a loan fund also to be administered by the Canada Council, would give some measure of financial assistance to ten thousand students, or about twenty percent of the present university population.

Meanwhile, though, the Humanities and the Social Science Research Councils are in dire straits. L. B. Pearson, Minister of External Affairs, has many old friends among the Carnegie and the Rockefeller Foundation people; he has undertaken to intercede with them to delay a year cutting off the scholarship grants, to give the government time to consider what action it can take. Other ministers have made urgent appeals to wealthy Canadians for stopgap contributions. But whether or not these desperate measures will succeed, it’s too soon to tell. if