Canadian Fedwatch! News Across the Nation

Working to Learn not Working?

Statistics Canada has recently released a report (http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/030526/d030526a.htm) on the correlation between dropping out of high school and working. Not surprisingly, they have found that students who work 30 hours per week or more at paid employment are more likely to drop out than students who work moderate hours or not at all while going to high school. While high school and post-secondary are different things, it stands to reason that this same study has implications that the Provinces would do well to consider.

The implications are of course that by continuing to encourage tuition hikes and by allowing students to work to afford their education, we are also encouraging students simply not to go on with their education. The study indicates that high school students who work moderately are actually less likely to drop out than students that do not work at all, but of course there is a key difference in that post-secondary students often have to work much more than moderately to afford their tuition, books, and living expenses.

There is some acknowledgement of this by the Provincial Government. Alberta, at least, recently increased the yearly allowable maximums for student financing. They neglected to raise the total maximum allowable however, which means that the final year of studies for those students having to use the maximum student loans is the one where they will have to work the hardest outside of their studies. Of course, this is the worst time to have to work more hours, since the education itself is the most difficult in this last year.

The problem is that to governments obsessed with the bottom line, post-secondary education is simply not a productive enterprise. Students do very little to improve the GNP or GDP, but people who work cause things like pay rolls and taxes to go up, indicators that the economy is moving. So the more the government can get students working rather than just educating themselves, the more it looks like they are improving the economy as a whole.

Political Eh!

On the bright side, it seems there are some politicians who understand the value of post-secondary education. Deputy Prime Minister John Manley seems to be one of them. If he lives up to his speech (http://www.johnmanley.ca/en/article.asp?article_id=361) in Vancouver, it looks like there may be a reason to be optimistic about the future of post-secondary education, and thus the long-term future of Canada.

The speech was delivered to the Kitsilano High School, and outlined Manley’s education agenda should he be elected as leader of the Federal Liberal Party and Prime Minister thereafter. In it, he states: “In the 21st century, countries that learn are countries that lead. And Canada must be a leader in learning – for your future – for Canada’s future.” Manley outlines 4 actions that he believes will take us there.

The first is that “we have to make access to affordable, world-class early childhood development and post-secondary education a right – not a privilege.” Of course he’s preaching to the choir here. It’s strange to see that out of all the politicians, only a few bother to think about post-secondary education and what it means for Canada’s future, and of those, even fewer acknowledge that key word “affordable”. You can have all the access in the world, empty desks, waiting professors and tutors, world class learning aids, no entry requirements, but if it is not affordable, people simply will not go.

The second of Manley’s actions is that “Canada must be THE world leader in e-learning and web-based education.” As distance education students, a lot of us would agree with this, simply because it means an increase in value for our degrees. Should Mr. Manley manage to achieve this goal, it means some interesting times ahead for Athabasca University. It stands to reason that we would see more funding into the university, while at the same time seeing a lot more competition as well. I hope, for AU’s sake, that should Mr. Manley be elected, AU leverages it’s current lead in the field and doesn’t allow the competition to quickly overtake us.

The third action is that “this country has to create the best research and innovation climate in the world.” There is nothing terribly new about this one. Even Premier Klein has caught on to the advantages of research and innovation. The hope is that, like Mr. Klein and the current federal government, the research and innovation part of the package doesn’t eclipse the undergraduate educational aspects.

Finally, Manley makes the fairly standard statement in favour of “a culture of lifelong learning in Canada where employees continue to get the skills they need, long after they leave school.” While not a new sentiment, Mr. Manley makes some indications in his speech of backing this up not only with support for on the job training programs, but support to businesses who have their employees undertake further training.

I hope Mr. Manley is able to live up to his words, and that his words are able to live up to his goals in the Liberal Party and the federal government. It would just be a nice change to be able to vote for a politician who seems to care about many of the same things that I do.

United States Wrong.. Again.

International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew was pleased to announce (http://webapps.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/minpub/Publication.asp?FileSpec=/Min_Pub_Docs/106195.htm&Language=E) the recent WTO interim panel decision on the softwood lumber issue. Basically, the panel said that Canada is correct and the United States is wrong in their assessment of illegal subsidies being applied to our lumber.

This will be the third time the United States has attempted to blame the Canadian Government for Canadian companies selling better quality lumber cheaper than United States companies are able to do domestically. Of course in reality, even if in the end Canada is ruled as being completely in the right, we still lose. The duties that the US has been collecting have been being passed directly to the US companies that brought forward the complaint against Canada according to the United States’ Byrd Amendment. If eventually it is ruled that those duties should not have been paid, do we expect the companies will be able to pay that money back? Considering the reason for the complaint was their dire financial straits to begin with, it seems unlikely. In short, Canada will get shafted once again by our “Friend to the South”, and the Americans will get shafted by their government’s corporate welfare programs, as those duties will have to be paid back from somewhere. If the companies aren’t able to, then the American taxpayer will.

So while I am happy Minister Pettigrew has stuck to his guns on this issue, it’s still not perfect. What really needs to be done is to be able to apply severe penalties to countries that continuously make false accusations. That might make countries think twice about attempting these harassment techniques.

However Minister Pettigrew is not exactly in my good graces either, as his recent submission to the WTO stating that Europe’s unwillingness to import or sell any GMO foods in their stores is an illegal trade barrier is completely wrong. A country should be entirely free to say what will and will not be on its store shelves. So long as they do not sell a domestic version of the product, I feel a country is perfectly within its rights under free trade to refuse to sell or purchase foreign equivalents.

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