A Yellowknife woman is raising a red flag over the fact that the association representing Northern social workers has been left off a list of organizations being consulted for the foundational review of Aurora College.
Dawn McInnes, a retired social worker and NWT director of the Association of Social Workers in Northern Canada, said that of the 19 community groups listed for consultation in the review’s terms of reference, her association is not one of them.
She worries the government’s lack of outreach to the group is a sign the GNWT plans to scrap Aurora College’s social work program, regardless of the review’s outcome.
“I kind of saw it as writing on the wall,” said McInnes. “It kind of concerns me, because it’s very heavily-laden with industry, trades, mining.”
She added the list of stakeholders indicates to her that the government already has an idea of the “direction” it wants post-secondary education to go in.
McInnes said she feels the way the review and possible cuts to the social work program are being treated is an example of “men in positions of power making decisions about women.”
“I’ve talked in person to both the premier and to the minister of finance and to my face they said, well they (social work students) can go south … but they’re not telling heavy equipment operators they can go south for training,” McInnes said.
In early March, Education, Culture and Employment Minister Alfred Moses announced a review would be undertaken to “inform the government’s long-term vision” for the college.
The announcement came after a public uproar against the GNWT’s plans to axe Aurora College’s social work and teacher education programs due to GNWT budget cuts – a decision that has been put on hold pending the completion of the review next March.
In the terms of reference for the review, the contractor is directed to gather input from groups ranging from aboriginal governments, friendship centres, students and staff, to the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, NWT Mine Training Society and the NWT and Nunavut Construction Association.
A letter dated July 12, 2017 shows the Association of Social Workers in Northern Canada sought involvement in the review before the contract was awarded at a price of $412,620.
However, the education minister deflected the association’s request in a letter response a month later.
“The Government of the Northwest Territories values the contribution that northern-trained social workers have made to people in the Northern communities,” Moses wrote to the association’s executive director, Lesley Carberry, in a letter dated Aug. 10.
He outlined the purpose of the foundational review before writing that Aurora College will be conducting its own review of the social work program.
“If you wish to provide input into the (Social Work Diploma) review, I recommend you contract Ms. Jane Arychuk, President (of Aurora College),” writes Moses.
Diane Reed, vice-president of education and training at Aurora College, stated in an email that the college’s review of its social work program was already scheduled to take place before the foundational review was announced.
“Aurora College has a five-year program review schedule that sets out which programs are to be reviewed,” said Reed. “Aurora College doesn’t publicly announce plans to undertake program reviews, as they are a regular part of College operations.”
The school’s review of the program has not yet begun, but is expected to be complete next April, said Reed, who added it is unrelated to the foundational review.
After the letter exchange between the social work association and the education minister, McInnes said she went to her MLA, Bob McLeod, in September.
She requested he talk to the education minister about adding the Association of Social Workers in Northern Canada as a stakeholder in the foundational review, she said.
“I didn’t hear from him until after session,” said McInnes. “He said unfortunately the association won’t be added as stakeholders, however … the association can contact the contractor to offer input.”
The terms of reference for the review state: “Additional stakeholder groups may be approved by the steering committee upon recommendation by the contractor.”
McInnes then called MNP LLP, the Calgary-based firm awarded the contract for the foundational review of Aurora College, but she said no one was able to help her.
“Next thing, I get a phone call from (Education, Culture and Employment),” said McInnes.
The department told her it would be creating an online survey to allow for broader public input into the foundational review, she said.
Yellowknifer was scheduled to interview a staff member at the education department about the online survey on Nov. 15.
However, at the time of the interview, Cherish Winsor, senior communications advisor at the department, called and said a phone interview would not be granted and a written statement would be provided to Yellowknifer instead.
Winsor stated via email an interview could not be granted because the GNWT feels “a written response is a more effective way to communicate.”
She stated the education department will release an online survey through its website in December to give all NWT residents a chance to provide feedback on the foundational review of Aurora College.
When asked what prompted the survey, Winsor stated: “It was anticipated that a number of Northern residents and groups, beyond the stakeholders identified in the (terms of reference), would be interested in contributing.”
She said a member of an association and one retired resident contacted the department about providing their input.
The department plans to notify people about the survey through “social media and written material,” Winsor said.
McInnes said she feels it is imperative to train Northern social workers in the North, given the territory’s history, and would encourage people to participate in the online survey and talk to their MLAs.
“Let’s overwhelm the system,” said McInnes.
NOTE: Online story updated for clarity Nov. 23.