Canadian Council on Learning

Canadian Council on Learning

What Happened

The Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) was given a five-year grant in 2004 by the Liberal government, worth $85 million. However, on December 21, 2009, Human Resources and Social Development Minister Diane Finley sent a letter to CCL, stating that the Conservative government will not be renewing the corporation’s grant. It was allowed to function for one more year, but without any state funding. In fall of 2011, CCL announced that it will be closing its doors permanently in spring 2012. 

Since its inception in 2004 by the Liberal government, the Council has produced reports on early childhood learning, e-learning, aboriginal learning, post-secondary education, literacy levels and attitudes toward learning. Its major report is the annual Composite Learning Index (CLI), which measures the extent to which Canadians are learning in school, at home, in the workplace and in their community. This index allows Canadians in 4,700 communities to see the learning conditions for their region. The index is also used at a national level. With its help, CCL has shown that by making learning conditions better, economic and social standards are also improved.

The groundbreaking tool and CCL’s online adult literacy assessment tests impressed the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to the point that its Secretary General Angel Gurria wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in May 2009, saying that "[i]t is a pleasure to pledge my personal support to CCL in its ongoing work." In fact, the CLI is now being adapted for use in Europe.

Despite this, Human Resources and Social Development Minister Diane Finley sent a letter to CCL on December 21, 2009 announcing that the Conservative government would not renew the Council’s grant. Federal funding for CCL, which represented 95% of its budget, would be terminated as of March 31, 2010.

Ryan Sparrow, the Communications Director for Minister Finley, told the media that the government seeks to work with the provinces to create a “more comprehensive learning information system” than the CCL and one that is “more aligned with labor market demands.”

Paul Cappon, President and CEO of CCL, was quoted expressing his consternation at the cuts: “I can't tell you why they ended our funding because … I'm quite convinced that it's well understood by everybody that this organization is an impartial organization, that it does no advocacy whatsoever.”

Critics have argued that the cuts come at the time when Canada is slipping behind other industrial nations in many stages of learning and education, while the cost of post-secondary education is consistently rising, leaving an increasing number of students with large, unsustainable and crippling debts. The CCL has been an independent and authoritative voice on the subject of education in Canada. For instance, with the release of CCL’s 2011 report, President and CEO Paul Cappon stated that “the principal cause of this unacceptable and deeply troubling state of affairs is that our governments have failed to work together to develop policies to improve the learning futures of Canadians of all ages.”

Arati Sharma, National Director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), noted that “without the research of groups such as the Canadian Council on Learning, Canada will continue to lack the knowledge needed to improve access, persistence and quality in our post-secondary institutions.”

The CCL announced that it will close its doors in the spring of 2012. On April 11, 2012, during the last meeting of CCL’s Board of Directors, a motion for dissolution of the council was passed. Paul Cappon explains that through an agreement with the University of Ottawa, CCL’s website will be kept alive.


Relevant Dates:

  • 2004: The CCL is established with funding from Human Resources and Social Development Canada.
  • 2006: The Composite Learning Index (CLI) is created to measure the annual progress in lifelong learning in Canada.
  • December 2009: The Conservative government announces that funding for the CCL will be discontinued. However, it is allowed to function for one more year.
  • May 2009: Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the OECD, writes to Prime Minister Stephen Harper praising the ongoing work of CCL and “pledging [his] personal support” to the council.
  • Fall 2011: CCL announces that the corporation will be closing its doors within one year.
  • April 2012: CCL’s Board of Directors approves a motion for dissolution of the council and announces that the website will continue to function through an agreement with the University of Ottawa.

Role or Position

The Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) is a national, independent and non-profit research corporation established in 2004. It focuses on lifelong and innovative learning in Canada, as well as on the general state of education in the country.

Implications and Consequences

  • Democracy: The termination of CCL’s funding has dealt a blow to critical research and thinking about education in Canada, thus diminishing our capacity to develop innovative and challenging alternatives. This diversity of voices and independent production of knowledge is critical to a healthy democratic society.
  • Equality: Without the research conducted by the CCL, Canada loses a unique knowledge institution which provides reliable and authoritative information on the state of learning in the country. Without proper knowledge to inform public policies on access and quality of education, those who are most marginalized by the current learning system may continue to be excluded.
  • Democracy: The reason invoked by the office of Minister Finley to terminate funding to the CCL points to a alignment of Canada’s priorities with those of the market demands, which sometimes go against the best interest of Canadian society, especially when it comes to learning and education.
  • Free Speech: The cuts to the CCL are part of the larger Conservative trend to retrench the state when it comes to supporting independent and non-profit organizations which voice strong opinions and alternatives to current government policies.


Date published: 22 August 2012

Photo from Getty Images/Huffington Post.