Thursday, March 03, 2005

Gateway: Canadian budget reflective of baby-boom values

Here's my latest for the Gateway.

Canadian budget reflective of baby-boom values

Last week, our glorious leaders in Ottawa doled out their “forgiveness budget,” a chicken-leg-in-every-pot strategy aimed at helping people with long memories forget past Liberal indiscretions.

In spite of Finance Minister Ralph Goodale’s lofty rhetoric of developing a high-tech, knowledge-based economy, he did very little to help generation debt take a step away from debt servitude and towards financial freedom. If you’re a student, and you voted at all, you probably feel pretty silly for being so na├»ve as to think your federal vote actually might have mattered.

Goodale’s budget speech should serve as a primer for political science students wanting to learn the nuances and methodology of Orwellian newspeak. Goodale promised that “Every penny will be reinvested in core federal programs and services that truly matter to Canadians,” and delivered on everything except postsecondary education.

According to an Ipsos-Reid poll of 2000 Canadians released by CTV and the Globe and Mail, the top spending priorities of Canadians were, in order of importance: healthcare, postsecondary education, tax cuts for the middle class, debt reduction, daycare, Kyoto and military spending. Somehow, the number-two priority of Canadians was blinkered out entirely.

How do I know Goodale lied to students? Well, for one, his lips were moving. Goodale’s speech achieved the upper ranks of hilarity with this zinger: “Today, we build on what has gone before—and for those who will come after—not by making promises, but by making good on promises, by delivering on commitments and by having a sense of the future, of where we want to go and the country we want to build: a competitive, productive 21st-century economy—knowledge-based, technology-driven, highly skilled and excellent by every measure; an inclusive and caring society in which fairness and equality of opportunity are the measures of our progress.”

Last June, Prime Minister Martin promised students that he would create a separate transfer to the provinces specifically aimed at restoring the cuts he made to the Canada Health and Social Transfer back when he was finance minister in the ’90s. The figure for this transfer, in fact, was somewhere in the range of $7-$8 billion, according to George Soule, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. Maybe Prime Minister Dithers is actually crazy enough to think that Canadians will fail to see the correlation between tuition increases across Canada and his tenure as finance minister for the last decade.

If, as Goodale claims, “fairness and equality of opportunity are the measures of our progress,” he has failed his own criteria as far as postsecondary education is concerned. According to a recently released Statistics Canada study entitled “Participation in postsecondary education in Canada,” increased tuition prices have not deterred entry into postsecondary education for the sons and daughters of lower-income parents.

However, the study points out that the primary determinant of getting an education still seems to be whether or not one’s parents have a degree. The Liberals have simply failed to eliminate this obvious social -class barrier.

A lot of the reason why this budget failed us has to do with demographics. We are on the forefront of what professor David K Foot of the University of Toronto terms the “echo” generation—children of the aging post-war baby boomers—the generation that has driven nearly every economic and political agenda of their lifetime simply from the sheer power of their numbers.

So maybe it’s not the Liberals who are the culprit, for they are just representatives of a generation that fails to see spending on postsecondary education as an investment. They are willing to reduce the national debt so our government can offer low interest rates to fuel their consumption and investments, yet show little regard for the debts they have devolved to students. They are willing to throw more money at solving their health problems, but don’t seem to want to train or certify the doctors that will take care of them. If only they could, as baby Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts”; then, maybe we could forgive them for being so selfish and shortsighted, and forgive ourselves for swallowing even more Liberal vote-bait.