Manitoba rethinks vet college commitment

The Manitoba government may cut its funding to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

Manitoba now funds 15 new students each year, or 60 for the four year program, to study at the WCVM in Saskatoon.

The province has proposed to reduce its seats at the WCVM to 10 new students per year, says Keri Hudson-Reykdal, a vet in Ashern, Man.

“As part of their efforts to balance the budget, the minister of advanced education is considering taking a knife to one-third of the students admitted to the regional vet school,” Hudson-Reykdal, the star of Dr. Keri: Prairie Vet, a TV show on the Animal Planet network, said in an email to the Western Producer.

“Not only is the government trying to cut these very important funds, but they are trying to keep it hush in order to avoid public outrage.”

Doug Freeman, WCVM dean, confirmed Manitoba may reduce its financial support for the vet school.

“Manitoba is on an austerity budget. They’re cutting funding to a lot of things. So, they’re looking critically at everything, including this partnership.”

For now, the WCVM is jointly funded by the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Each province pays an amount proportional to the number of “seats” allocated to its students.

In 2017 Alberta tossed a wrench into the funding system when it pulled its support for the partnership. After the 2019-20 academic year, the province of Alberta will provide funding for student seats only at the University of Calgary’s veterinary school.

With the loss of Alberta funding of more than $8 million, the WCVM is looking at different models, including opening up spots for international students.

The WCVM is negotiating the next funding arrangement with western provinces. Each funding term typically lasts five years. Manitoba’s proposal to cut its funding is part of the ongoing negotiations.

“There’s still a fair amount of uncertainty,” Freeman said. “British Columbia is (also) considering what they want to do with the partnership…. We have a long list of possible program changes that would help replace some of that lost revenue.”

As for Manitoba, Hudson-Reykdal said reducing funding for vet training is a mistake.

Manitoba needs more vets, not less.

“There is a severe lack of veterinarians throughout the province as we try to look after the huge animal industry in Manitoba — from family pets to the animal production industry… on which our economy heavily relies. Rural areas feel the biggest impact of the vet shortage.”

Right now, the Manitoba government provides about $6 million annually to the WCVM.

That funding does more than just train vet students from Manitoba, Hudson-Reykdal said.

It supports WCVM research, helps train vet specialists and is used for diagnostic services and public education.

As an example, WCVM research discovered a vaccine for the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, a major threat to Manitoba’s hog industry.

The Manitoba government has complained to WCVM that only 70 percent of Manitoba students return to the province to practice. In other words, Manitoba taxpayers aren’t getting a fair return on their investment.

The 70 percent figure is too simplistic, Freeman said.

Some Manitoba students go on to advanced studies at other centres or they may remain at WCVM and become specialists who serve Western Canada’s livestock industry.

As well, students from other provinces may move to Manitoba after graduation to become vets.

“That (70 percent) is reasonably one measure, but it shouldn’t be the measure.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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