Friday, April 16, 2010

Kidney Transplants, Human Rights, and Tuition Increases

Source: CBC News: Transplant Solution Ignored: Opposition Says
Source: CBC News: U of S Hikes Tuition Fees
Source: CBC News: Sask. Considers Moving Rights Cases to Court

Well, as usual, there's quite a lot to talk about here in Saskatchewan.

I'm going to start with perhaps the most serious issue to come to light in the past few days. I had first heard of this issue through a conference call, and was absolutely shocked and dismayed with what I was hearing.

I'm speaking of course of the sad state of kidney transplant surgeries here in Saskatchewan. In 2009, kidney transplant surgeries were put on hold in Saskatchewan, citing the illness of one of the surgeons in the Saskatoon Health Region. To compensate, the Saskatchewan Party arranged a deal with Edmonton to send patients in need of a transplant there.

Despite the surgeon now being recovered, the Saskatchewan Party has not done anything to reinstate the transplant program here. There have been a few reports on this issue, with suggestions as to why this has occurred.

One report (CBC News) suggests that it's the doctors who are to blame, as they are demanding a better payment system in regards to their workload. The Saskatchewan Party's response to this was that they were presently looking to hire more transplant surgeons in the health region.

Then today, information was brought to light that suggests the Head of Transplant Surgery at the UofS's medical school, Ahmed Shoker, had identified two potential candidates to be brought into Saskatchewan, as far back as August 2009, and that he had passed these recommendations onto the Ministry of Health.

Shoker then suggests that since his previous talks with the government, he was told on numerous occasions, to leave the issue in the government's hands; which apparently, meant not pursuing anything.

To date, around 12 transplant surgeries have been performed for Saskatchewan residents in Edmonton; despite a waiting list of 106 people, who are in need of receiving a transplant.

As it stands, the Wall Government seems to have no plan in place to get transplant surgeries resuming in Saskatchewan.

Now, obviously, this is a very important issue. And if Dr. Shoker's allegations are true, it raises serious questions over the Wall Government's actions. I'm sure we all remember when the Saskatchewan Party was elected, and their pledges to shorten waiting lists in our province for various surgeries, such as knee and hip replacements, and their grand plans to lure more doctors and health professionals to Saskatchewan.

And after they were elected, what have we seen? I'll give credit for nurse recruitment, but our doctor numbers seem to remain stagnate. And as for our wait lists, the only thing the Wall Government has done is hammer out agreements with other provinces to send Saskatchewan residents out of province to get the treatment they need.

And in a case like this, where a program existed in Saskatoon, the Wall Government seems happy enough to allow the program to stay in purgatory, while they send Saskatchewan residents off to Edmonton.

The Wall Government has a lot to answer for on this issue, and we need to ask our Premier why all our health care solutions seem to revolve around shipping our residents off to different health regions, instead of ensuring that Saskatchewan residents can get the treatments they need where they live.

Moving along. Anyone who knows me, knows that one of the thing I've always supported is equal rights. Which is why when I saw a headline today announcing that the Wall Government is considering scrapping Saskatchewan's Human Rights Tribunal and instead wants to move human rights cases into the provincial courts.

The Saskatchewan Party has not given a single valid reason as to why they want to removal the tribunal.

Frank Quennell, who gave a very passionate response to a question based around human rights at last month's NDP Convention, suggests that it is because the Wall Government does not like the past findings of the tribunal on a few cases.

Enter again, Orville Nichols, for example.

You may remember my former posts around Mr. Nichols, a marriage commissioner who refused to marry a same-sex couple based on his own religious beliefs and opposition to same-sex marriage. The couple filed a complaint against Mr. Nichols, which was eventually heard by the tribunal and found in favour of the couple; which then levied a fine against Mr. Nichols.

In response to the Nichols' case, Brad Wall jumped to the rescue by announcing the government's intention to create a law which would protect the religious beliefs of marriage commissioners and allow them to decline to perform services based on those beliefs.

As such, the Wall Government has referred the question to the Saskatchewan Courts, by two versions: One which would allow a religious opt out for all commissioners in Saskatchewan; and the second which would instead allow commissioners who were made commissioners before 1994 allowed to opt out.

Now, the problem with this proposal, is the wording of that was presented to the court. Due to the nature of allowing an 'opt out' in the first option, the Wall Government effectively established a means of opting out of more than just same-sex marriages.

If the commissioner has a problem, say, against interracial couples, this proposal would allow a commissioner to refuse to wed the couple. The same case could be made against an interfaith couple.

So, now that we have some background, you could see why the Wall Government has it's eyes on the human rights tribunal.

Now, I'm sure some of you might be thinking, what's the problem with putting human rights complaints through the courts we already have in place?

I can answer that in one word: backlog.

Anyone who knows anything about the justice system knows that courts often suffer from a bit of a backlog. Cases pile up, dates are pushed back, as people wait to get their day in front of the judge. Right now, our courts are just clogged up with criminal and civil cases; imagine what happens when we had human rights complaints.

I would imagine, for the most part, that criminal and civil cases would take precedence over human rights complaints. What this effectively does, is ensure that these cases are dragged on as long as possible, increasing costs to the complainant and possibly forcing them to drop the case before it is heard in court.

The Wall Government is trying to destroy access to have a case heard, by removing a tribunal with full legal authority to hear cases, and forcing these cases into a justice system which is already overloaded in some places. And I can't be the only one thinking that it's coincidental that the Wall Government is looking to remove the tribunals before the courts return the province's decision on their marriage commissioner legislation.

After all, imagine all the human rights complaints the tribunal would get if and when that legislation is introduced. And the best way to avoid that, if you're Brad Wall, seems to be just to get rid of the tribunal and put the complainants in judicial limbo.

Finally, we come to tuition.

When the Saskatchewan Party came to power, Saskatchewan was under a tuition freeze which prevented the costs of university from rising. Needless to say, the Saskatchewan Party didn't really like the tuition freeze, and allowed it to expire without renewing it.

And now, students at the University of Saskatchewan are going to be facing a higher cost.

Students in arts programs, agriculture, education, computer science and nursing programs are going to see a 4.4% increase in their tuition. Law students will see a 9.8% increase in tuition, while medicine students will see a 8% increase.

Does anyone else see the problem?

In a post where we've already discussed a judicial backlog and the need for more doctors and nurses in Saskatchewan, we see the University of Saskatchewan raising tuition on these programs.

The University defends the increase by saying that the programs offered are already among the lowest cost in Canada; and the outgoing USSU President also defended the increase as 'modest.'

So, if the Vice-President of Finance for the U of S and the outgoing USSU President don't think the increase is a big deal, there's no problem, right?

Wrong.

As a former U of S student, I like to think I have a fairly good idea of how I was charged for the classes I took over my time there. I want to preface this by saying that I enjoyed my time at the U of S, and still miss attending there.

The fact of the matter is, during my time there with the tuition freeze in place, the University didn't seem to be exactly hurting for money. There were construction projects almost daily throughout the University as you walked from class to class and building to building.

The on campus businesses, especially the Tim Horton's in the Chemistry Building and the Arts Tunnel, were flourishing.

And classes were usually filled with students, the largest class I had was around 137 people, each of them paying likely around $500 to be there. That's $68,500 in revenue for just one class.

So, considering that, why is the University moving to raise tuition to $4,900 for a full semester of classes?

I'll admit, I don't know the inner workings of the University. Their budget, how much they take in from tuition, donations, grants awarded to faculty, renting of the facilities, access charges to the Synchrotron, etc, etc, etc...

Not to mention operating budgets provided by the government.

So, is a tuition increase necessary?

Probably not.

In fact, according to the U of S website (link), tuition accounts for only 22% of the overall budget of the University. That means 78% of the University's budget comes from other sources.

A tuition increase on students is not a measure that is productive in the long run, as the increased cost of tuition will chose more secondary school graduates to enter the workforce upon graduation, as opposed to seeking higher education.

Like I mentioned, in a province where we're lacking professionals, can we really afford to increase the costs?

Effectively, this increase in tuition is going to further prevent students from attending post-secondary education. As the costs start to increase, enrollment rates will drop. Furthermore, I've known personally a dozen students who have taken years off of their education because of the costs associated with university.

A tuition increase is only going to keep lower income students out, as well as force students who are already struggling with the cost of living and tuition to reconsider their decision to pursue a college education.

And that is not something that we should allow to happen in Saskatchewan; as our demands for an educated work force increase, we should be facilitating those who want to seek higher education, not placing more barriers in the way.

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