The president of one of the largest unions in Ontario voiced his opposition to Algonquin’s Saudi Arabia campus in a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne on March 10.
“Is this really a regime we want to support? Do you consider Saudi Arabia a good place to invest Ontario citizens’ tax dollars?” wrote Warren “Smokey” Thomas, president of the Ontario public service workers union, which represents 120,000 workers across the province.
“Why are Ontario tax dollars being funneled into this overseas campus rather than being invested in our province’s college education system?”
These are the same questions Algonquin professor and local union vice president Jack Wilson has been asking since the college opened the doors of its Jazan campus in 2013. He was consulted by Thomas about concerns with the venture.
“Our opposition wasn’t initially over money, it was human rights,” said Wilson, pointing to the Saudi government’s record in dealing with political and religious activists.
He also pointed out that political turmoil in Yemen has added a new level of instability to the region, since Jazan is less than 100 kilometres from the border. “The combustibility is enhanced because right at the doorstep of Jazan we have al Qaeda, ISIL and rebel groups who are opposed to the Saudi government fighting for control.”
The political instability in Yemen has been going on since 2011 but has recently hit a boiling point following a coup d’état by Houthi rebels in Sept. 2014. The U.S., Britain, France and Saudi Arabia closed their Yemeni embassies and urged all citizens to leave the country in February due to the political climate.
The college has defended its position as one of financial prudence in the face of dwindling funds from the Ontario government.
“The [Ontario] government has encouraged us to be entrepreneurial in our thinking,” said Doug Wotherspoon, Algonquin’s vice president international, to the Ottawa Sun on March 19.
This echoed what Wotherspoon told the Times in January.
“It’s not acceptable for us to lose money internationally, that’s not the goal,” said Wotherspoonn to a Times reporter. “The goal is to make money and if we can do that in Jazan, we can pretty well make it work anywhere,”