New Brunswick

Donald Arseneault slams Mike Murphy in spat over free tuition program

Post-Secondary Education Minister Donald Arseneault has come out swinging against former attorney general Mike Murphy over the government's controversial Tuition Access Bursary program.

A war of words has erupted over New Brunswick's controversial Tuition Access Bursary program

Liberal cabinet minister Donald Arseneault is defending the government's Tuition Access Bursary program, which has come under fire for not being available to students at private institutions. (CBC)

Post-Secondary Education Minister Donald Arseneault has come out swinging against former attorney general Mike Murphy over the government's controversial program that offers free tuition to low-income students who attend public institutions.

"I have better things to do in my day than to pay attention to Mike Murphy. He's never changed. He likes the attention and he'll say all sorts of things to try to get a headline," Arseneault told Information Morning Fredericton.

Arseneault was reacting to Murphy's announcement that he and Kelly Lamrock, a former education minister and attorney general in the Graham Liberal government and a defeated NDP candidate, believe the program is unconstitutional and may take the government to court.

Murphy, a Moncton lawyer who represents the New Brunswick Association of Private Colleges and Universities, said the program's not fair to the thousands of students who go to private universities and trade schools and don't qualify for free tuition.

'Historic' program

Mike Murphy, a lawyer with Forté Law, says the Tuition Access Bursary [TAB] program violates the rights of students who attend private colleges and universities in New Brunswick. (CBC)

However, Arseneault says he stands by the $25 million program, which he called "historic," and "a base" to get things started.

He said the program will eventually be improved upon, though he stopped short of promising a sliding scale program, such as the one recently announced in Ontario.

"To enhance that program will require more dollars and that's what I need to work towards for the next budget," he said.

Arseneault underlined that Ontario's new system will not be up and running this fall, which is the aim of the New Brunswick program.

 "We wanted to make sure we can help somebody right now," he said.

If we know we're making a difference in people's lives I think that's the ultimate outcome we want.- Donald Arseneault, minister of post-secondary education

In April, Premier Brian Gallant announced the provincial government would set up bursaries for university and college students coming from families with a household income below $60,000 to receive free tuition if they attend public, post-secondary institutions in the province.

When asked if taxpayers should be funding for-profit schools, Murphy said publicly funded institutions are still businesses, so the argument is more about a matter of choice.

"You have some part-time students, who tend to be poorer than the others," he said.

"Some tend to try to go a program that may be tailored to their needs that is not available in a publicly-funded university of college.".

Twitter tempest

A war of words erupted on Twitter on Saturday between Murphy and Arseneault, leading to a series of tweets.

Arseneault says there are still options for students who attend private colleges, such as Oulton's and Crandall University, which entitles them to more than $3,000 in what he calls "non-repayable assistance."

The government is not going to please everybody, Arseneault said, "but if we know we're making a difference in people's lives I think that's the ultimate outcome we want."

Murphy has said he will wait until he meets with Arseneault before filing court papers.

Arseneault has not indicated whether that meeting will take place.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton