Denis Herard, the newly appointed minister of Advanced Education, has one message for students concerned his appointment might slow down the ongoing review of the post-secondary system: Don't bet on it.
"Don't underestimate the resolve and the passion of this team of ministers," said Herard. "Post-secondary is the top priority. Just look at the level of funding allocated to it over the next couple of years."
Herard is replacing former minister Dave Hancock, who resigned the post last week to pursue leadership of the Progressive Conserv-ative Party. Hancock had spent nearly a year directing a comprehensive review of Alberta's post-secondary system. The A Learning Alberta steering committee is now in the final stages of drafting new policy frameworks covering everything from tuition to Aboriginal learning.
For some, Hancock's resignation has put the process into question.
"I am disappointed," said University of Calgary Students' Union president Bryan West. "I would have liked to see [Hancock] finish the review before he stepped into the leadership race. Having been heavily involved in the process, it is frustrating to have this monkey wrench thrown into it."
West recently sat as the only student representative on the transformational sub-committee tasked with reviewing affordability and tuition. He stressed how complicated details of the system are.
"It's going to take [Herard] some time to even comprehend the system, never mind the system review," said West.
As MLA for Calgary Egmont, Herard has also served as chair of the Standing Policy Committee on Learning and Employment. He said his experience has prepared him for his new role.
"I haven't been in the woodwork on this," he said. "Virtually every policy issue in the last five years has had to come through my committee. We are open for business and we've got some phenomenal initiatives started by my predecessor. We'll push on with them."
Herard wouldn't give a timeline for wrapping up the review process, but said he's expecting reports from the steering committee within the next few weeks. From these, draft government responses must get through the standing policy committee before being passed on as recommendations to cabinet, he said.
"In this business you're not going to get a second chance," said Herard. "You better get it right the first time through and that's what I'm committing to."