ALBERTA

Thomas Lukaszuk's Office Upgrades Cost Almost $11,000; Meanwhile University Budgets Slashed

11/04/2013 06:56 EST | Updated 11/04/2013 10:54 EST

While universities across the province were slashing positions and cutting programs, the Minister of Advanced Education, and Deputy Premier, spent more than $10,000 to refurbish his office, a series of letters gained through a FOIP request state.

The letters show that in February, a month before the budget was tabled, staff at Thomas Lukaszuk's office in the legislature were busy finding new chairs, tables, design ideas and setting up work orders to refinish cabinets and a fireplace at the minister's office.

The total cost of the makeover was $10,379.81, the letters read.

Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman, who called out the deputy premier during Monday afternoon's question period, told The Huffington Post Alberta this is just the latest example of the Alberta PC's culture of entitlement.

"There's new office furniture for the minister while secondary education in the province gets gutted. I just can't believe it," said Sherman.

"He's re-arranging his office while his cabinet is inflicting some of the worst cuts to post secondary education we've ever seen.

"When he was talking about tough times for Albertans, tough times for families, tough times for students, he wasn't talking about himself."

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Among some of the items and services, which were all delivered by the end of the summer, include a conference table for $4,485.52, a sliding table for $1,445 and the refurbishing of an old fireplace for $600.

When pressed about the purchases in question period, Lukaszuk said, "The fact is that we have staff. The furniture was for staff that work in our office.

"They work long hours, and they need to have furniture that is safe and appropriate, much like any constituency office that many of them have benefited from."

"If he (Sherman) finds that furniture from IKEA is extravagant for government employees in a building that’s 100-years-old with furniture that has not been ergonomic, not sufficient for staff to work in, let him say so."

But Lukaszuk may not be telling the whole truth – or maybe his chief of staff never told him – as a letter dated Apr. 30 says, "other than the IKEA chair (to match the existing) everything else is from the Knoll standing offer so we don't need to go out for competitive pricing."

"And this is at the same time that staff and faculty are losing their jobs and students are having their programs gutted," added Sherman.

When the Alberta Tories delivered the 2013 provincial budget, it ran red with deficit ink – $6.3-billion, to be exact. The document was also chock-full of chopping block action. Amongst some the cuts were funding reductions to post-secondary education.

The government cut the $2-billion in operating grants to post-secondary education institutions by nearly seven per cent.

Then Lukaszuk said the cuts would have next to no effect on students, telling the Calgary Herald the province's advanced education system would remain the second-highest funded in Canada.

“They will continue to attend some of the best institutions in Canada and will not notice any appreciable change on campus,” Lukaszuk told the Herald.

“Students have many more bona fide problems to worry about. I can assure them they will receive a second-to-none education. There won’t be any hardship.”

But those cuts have resulted in significant layoffs at universities across the province, in the scrapping of programs and in fewer seats available to be filled, said Sherman.

The cuts mean fewer students can attend post secondary university, says Sherman. The situation is crushing for young students seeking a post secondary career but is also highly detrimental to the province, he said.

"Alberta already has one of the lowest post secondary education participation (rates) in the country," he said.

"Our province is growing and we need to prepare for that," said Sherman, adding that not having the necessary qualified people to help the province move forward is a recipe for disaster.