I decided last week that the main purpose of this blog during the election period would be a review of the Harper Government™, which in my opinion has seriously endangered the future of Canadian democracy. But before going forward on that, I want to be clear on another point: Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, in its present form, is very unlikely to advance a fundamentally different alternative if they form a government. I wish I could say otherwise, because the course we are on is a very unhealthy one. But this was made clear Tuesday with the first major announcement by the Ignatieff campaign, the Canadian Learning Passport.
This was the first major announcement of the election campaign, and the start of the election campaign was not a surprise. So it is safe to assume that this announcement — and other “first planks” from the NDP and the Conservatives — were carefully planned out in advance as the right start to the campaign: impressive enough to draw attention, but not so huge that there is nothing to follow up with next week as voter attention starts to wander. Unfortunately, the Liberals have completely blown it with this one. It might have been okay, if Ignatieff hadn’t chosen to call it “revolutionary.” It isn’t. He is lying, plain and simple.
Basically, what the Liberals are offering is about $450 per year to Canadian students. It takes the form of an up-front grant of $1000 per year, but it replaces the textbook and education tax credits, currently worth somewhere around $550 per year. It’s nice that now that money will get paid up-front, instead of deducted in taxes years down the road, but it’s just a matter of timing, it’s not actually new money. This, frankly, is the sort of backhanded grant I’d expect from the contemptuous and manipulative Harper Government™, not from a party that says it can replace that government with something better.
Students will be happy to take the money, of course. (I would include myself in this number, except that I imagine I’m too far along in my educational career to get grandfathered in.) Most students will jump through hoops for $500. Most students would jump through hoops for $50. Or $5, even. But it has to be said that this falls incredibly, sadly short of “revolutionary,” which Ignatieff calls it.
Let’s look at the facts for a change. In 2001, a full-time student at my alma mater paid $2472.30 in tuition and fees. Now, it costs $5373.40 — an increase of just over $2900, or 117%. So the Ignatieff Tax Bonus cuts the increased tuition costs of the past decade by 30% at face value, or 15% at actual value, and that’s before we start talking about increased textbook prices and the cost of living. And in 10 years we’ll be faced with the same attrition in value, because of inflation (unless the government is going to index the bonus to the cost of education, which I doubt). So while plenty of students will be happy to pocket more money, the reality is that this does not even return students to the financial situation they were in even 10 years ago. Does that sound “revolutionary” to you?
In some countries, postsecondary students do not have to pay tuition. In some, they actually get paid by the government to go to school, as a collective social investment in the future workforce. That would be revolutionary. Doling out a beer and chips allowance isn’t revolutionary, it’s just more of the same.
I’m not just disappointed in the Liberals, by the way. I’m also disappointed in the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (not to be confused with the Canadian Federation of Students). They allowed themselves to be quoted supporting this half-measure. They should not have. It is an insulting and pathetic scrap handed out to make up for decades of cutbacks and the proper response from the student union movement should have been to denounce it as just those words.
Basically, on May 3, on this blog I expect it will be time to get back to work as usual.Tweet