Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.
Advisory committees and Quality Assurance Bodies
Subsection 7(1) of Bill 48 authorizes the Minister to, in accordance with regulations, establish a "post-secondary education advisory committee." The duties of an advisory committee include reviewing matters referred to it by the Minister, including the review of and the making of recommendations on applications for recognition as a post-secondary institution, and advising the Minister at his or her request on any matter respecting the administration of post-secondary education in the NWT. Subsection 7(2) requires the Minister to appoint a chairperson, a vice-chairperson, and one to five other persons to serve on a committee. Section 8 also authorizes the Minister to, in accordance with regulations, designate a "quality assurance body" to review matters referred to it by the Minister.
Committee determined that Bill 48 was unclear about the role of the advisory committees in the quality assurance process, as was the distinction between the work of an advisory committee and that of a quality assurance body. To clarify the role of advisory committees in the quality assurance process, committee worked with the Minister to develop Motion 3, set out in Appendix A. As appropriate, the department will use "homegrown" advisory committees, including for applications for recognition as an Indigenous institution and, in other instances, may draw on the expertise of quality assurance bodies established elsewhere.
Committee heard a general concern expressed by some presenters about the degree of power and discretion that the Minister has under Bill 48 and a desire for assurances that the quality assurance processes will be proper and independent. Given that conflict can arise between post-secondary institutions and governments, such as in the context of debates about principles of academic freedom, committee agrees that the advisory committees should have a measure of independence so that they may review and advise the Minister on matters without fear of consequence. To that end, we are satisfied with the specification of membership details in regulations as anticipated in paragraph (e) of section 66.
Committee identified an issue, however, with the limit placed on the number of members of an advisory committee to no more than seven individuals under subsection 7(2). Committee believes that broader representation than that permitted under subsection 7(2) may be needed in some cases, such as where regional perspectives may be beneficial. As such, committee and the Minister collaborated on Motion 4, set out in Appendix A, to remove this cap on membership.
A common theme among the concerns heard by committee was the degree and vastness of the Minister's power and discretion under Bill 48. Presenters indicated the Minister should have clear guidance and parameters to ensure that the Minister exercises his or her discretion appropriately and that post-secondary institutions should run at arm's length from the GNWT.
More specifically, a few presenters expressed concern about the bill's stipulation in several instances that a decision of the Minister is final (e.g. ss. 11(7), ss. 12(4), s. 18, s. 22, ss. 25(7), s. 32), regardless of the fairness or justness of a decision. This was indicated as a concern in cases where an advisory committee or quality assurance body makes a positive recommendation to the Minister with respect to an application for establishment as, for example, a university under section 11, but the Minister rejects the application regardless.
Presenters offered some suggestions aimed at ensuring that there are fair processes around decision-making, such as requiring the Minister to give written reasons for his or her decisions, setting time limits for the Minister's decisions, and providing for appeals of the Minister's decisions to the courts.
Committee agrees that decision-making should be fair and transparent and that there should be clear recourse for entities seeking status as a post-secondary institution. For these reasons, committee recommends that regulations be developed to address various procedural matters for ensuring fair decision-making, such as notice requirements, the right to be heard and timeframes, and that they require that the Minister provide written reasons for his or her decisions.
The Standing Committee on Social Development recommends that the Department of Education, Culture and Employment develop regulations containing a requirement that the Minister provide reasons, in writing, for his or her decisions under the act.
Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. I now pass the reading of the following section to my honourable colleague from Tu-Nedhe Wiilideh. Mahsi.