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Alberta Government’s Decision to Cut Ties With Western College of Veterinary Medicine a “Shame”: MLA Dr. Richard Starke

The MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster Dr. Richard Starke is calling the Alberta government’s decision to end its 54 year partnership with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Saskatoon a “shame.”

The province announced late last week that funding that would be going to interprovincial veterinary medicine program at the University of Saskatchewan will now be shifted to the University of Calgary Veterinary Medical (UCVM) College. The government will reallocate $4.7 million per year to the University of Calgary’s veterinary program starting in 2020, with incremental increases of 20 seats per year up to an additional 80 seats by 2023. The province claims this will save them  $3.3 million annually.

“The University of Calgary’s veterinary program has grown into a world-renowned institution, and with this new funding we will now have the capacity to train all of our students right here in Alberta. The partnership with the other provinces worked for many years, but by focusing our support on one Alberta-based program, we will achieve provincial cost savings and increase access. This will make life better for students, families, and communities,” says Marlin Schmidt, Minister of Advanced Education.

However Starke, a WCVM alum, says, “they’re only telling you half the story. They’re telling you about the reduction in the amount that is actually being sent to the college but the University of Calgary is going to significant capital improvements and expansion to their facilities and all of that costs a lot of money. This is not going to save money in the bigger picture.”

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According the Alberta Government, the labour market demand forecast projects that the province will need nearly 1,100 veterinarians by 2023.

“They’ve identified there is a need for additional veterinarians, well that’s fine you can fund additional places in either location or both locations. If [the Alberta government] thinks it’s that easy to add 20 seats to Calgary, then add 20 seats to Calgary but keep the 20 seats in Saskatoon. That then increases the number of veterinarians being trained to 70. This announcement does not result in a single additional veterinarian,” says Starke.

The MLA says both programs have their positives and negatives while offering different approaches to learning but says this limits student choice.

“[Students] don’t have that option anymore. All Alberta students will be directed to the school in Calgary. I’m not saying the school in Calgary isn’t a very good school, it is but it has a different approach to teaching and for some students a school that has an onsite veterinarian teaching hospital, like Saskatoon has, is a better choice. For other students the distributed like they have in Calgary is a better choice. I’m disappointed.”

Starke goes on to say, “to take the choice away from Alberta students, I think, is a real shame.”

The WCVM was created as a cost-sharing agreement with the governments of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. Alberta currently funds 80 seats at a cost of $8 million. There is currently 130 seats in the program in Calgary.

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