PGSS Council passed an emergency motion yesterday reallocating $40,000 from its budget to fund legal counsel and research for postdoctoral students affected by the federal government’s elimination of the postdoctoral education tax credit in 2010.
Prior to 2010, postdoctoral students in Quebec were considered regular students. However, a change in federal tax law standardized the status of postdocs across Canada, categorizing them all as employees and trainees.
“If you are not pursuing a degree, you are not a student, according to the federal government,” said PGSS VP External Ryan Hughes.
According to Hughes, some McGill Postdoctoral Fellows have been audited by the federal government. As a result, their 2009 income has been declared taxable despite McGill’s issuance of the requisite T2202 forms to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), that normally exempt post-doc students from taxation.
The motion feared that “the CRA have put an untenable financial burden on these PGSS members and their families, and stand to threaten all PGSS members.”
It remains unclear how many postdoctoral students will be affected, and how much of their income may be collected as tax.
“Since education is a provincial purview, the question is whether the federal government has the right to determine who a student is,” said Hughes.
“Some students have been audited randomly at Laval [and] McGill, and will be taxed for this year and for the 2009 year. We are talking about thousands of dollars here, which will directly impact not only the students but also the families they support, “ Hughes added.
Hughes argued for the necessity to have funds available to challenge the changes in federal tax law if needed. The motion called for $2,000 to be allocated toward hiring the consultants needed to further research the implications of the changes and potential responses.
The remainder was to be allocated for providing graduate students with needed legal aid and financial support if audited.
The reallocation provoked heated debate at Council because the $40,000 was taken from the newly approved maternity and paternity program supporting graduate students with dependents.
PGSS had initially hoped that the McGill administration would match their $40,000 allocation in order to support a daycare program. When this did not happen, however, the daycare program was left in limbo.
PGSS Family Commissioner Hadley Myers, PhD Electrical Engineering, opposed the reallocation. Myers had planned on using the extra funds to buttress the current family care program, which currently receives $60,000, extending support to pregnant and ill graduate students. The current system only supports those who already have children.
“This was money that would have been used to benefit people. We had programs ready to go that we worked really hard on,” said Myers.
The PGSS Student Support Commissioner Ulrike Trojahn, MA Biochemistry, expressed concern about the reallocation of funding.
“I’m worried about the message we are sending regarding student families. They are a minority in our student society, and fundamentally these people have been overlooked,” said Trojahn.
“Last year, when the family care pilot project was launched, it was an exceptional step in terms of student societies taking care of their members, and I feel that this direction should be continued,” she added.
The emergency motion contained a clause, however, which would see Council hold final responsibility for the allocation of the remainder of the funds if legal action and financial support were not deemed to be appropriate responses, and would see the funds then funneled back into family care.
Despite the clause, Myers was still concerned about the decision to take the money from a program which had received widespread support from Council in previous meetings.
“It was an affirmative action program to support those who needed it. Taking it away now is unfair and many, many of the parents, a disproportionate number of them are in fact postdocs. So we are robbing postdocs to support ten postdocs,” said Myers.