Former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna says while the Maritimes need universities to help the economy in the future, unionized faculty need to lower their salary demands.

New Brunswick has seen two university faculty strikes in 2014 while St. Francis Xavier University faculty walked off the job for three weeks in January 2013.

"If our universities in Atlantic Canada are engines of growth, then we need every part of the engine to be working together," said McKenna in an interview.

"And we've had three strikes in the last year. Three debilitating strikes. Three damaging strikes. This is at a time when our resources are so very limited."


Frank McKenna says those who receive government money need to realize "how big the envelope is." (CBC)

Professors at the University of New Brunswick were on the picket line for three weeks in January in a dispute centred around compensation. 

"At UNB, the demand from [Canadian Association of University Teachers] was for 26 per cent over four years," said McKenna. "The civil servants of New Brunswick are probably getting wage increases of closer to one per cent and they are very hard-working people.

"But they've understood that we have less money available and we all have to exercise restraint."

Mount Allison University faculty also staged a three-week strike this winter in a dispute where pay levels played a role, although to a lesser degree than in the UNB dispute.

'Those who are at the receiving end of government money have to understand how big the envelope is and exercise some restraint.' -Frank McKenna, former N.B. premier

"Those who are at the receiving end of government money have to understand how big the envelope is and exercise some restraint," said McKenna. "Public servants in large measure have done that.

"But at the university level, the national agenda seems to have been to aggressively push for much larger increases than, quite frankly, there is money available."

McKenna, who is now deputy chairman of the Toronto-Dominion Bank, made similar comments on the weekend in Antigonish, N.S. when he spoke at a tribute to outgoing St. Francis Xavier University president Sean Reilly.

The UNB strike ended with an agreement to have the faculty's demands for catchup raises to bring salaries in line with similar sized universities settled through arbitration.

The Mount Allison strike ended despite the lack of a new contract, with an arbitration process agreed to as a way to settle the outstanding issues.