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Prime Minister Speaks, but Doesn’t Say Much

The Prime Minister recently delivered a speech (http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/news.asp?id=177) to the Empire Club and the Canadian Club in Toronto, Ontario. In it, he speaks of looking for transformative change in key aspects of Canadian life, notably health, learning, aboriginal peoples, communities and Canada’s place in the larger world.

Unfortunately for learning, most of the “transformative” changes he suggests really aren’t that transformative at all.

In fact, when he first turns to the subject of learning, instead he talks mostly about the economy, speaking in worrying terms such as “That’s why we strive to reduce taxes and debt. That’s why we invest in research and development, and why we endeavour to commercialize what comes from R&D”. When I read these words it sounds like he is saying that we’re going to have another round of increased funding for “practical” research but not much else so that they can reduce taxes and debt.

What about striving to increase the level and depth of education among Canadians? What about research that may not have immediately apparent commercial applications?

No, for those problems we see a more of the same-old rhetoric. Increasing the available student loans (because the prospect of increased debt never scares people off), increased matching amounts available for Canada Education Savings Programs (because people who can’t afford post-secondary can afford savings programs), and, unsurprisingly (though certainly welcome) a few token grants thrown in for first year post-secondary students.

For me, transformative change would mean a national strategy on education. It would mean student loans that are forgiven on the condition that the student remain and use those skills within Canada for a term. It would mean money that would normally go to education savings programs would instead go toward lowering tuitions in general. It would mean making the occupation of teacher or professor among the most desirable jobs in the nation and fostering competition so that we can be sure that those in the positions are the best we have available.

It would mean funding research into education methodologies – maybe there is a more effective way to teach and learn than what we do now. And if we find something, it would mean acting on it.

Transformative change means something that actually changes the old system of doing things. Mr. Martin has yet to suggest anything for education that would qualify.

Tuition’s Up, Let’s Party!

What do you think? A winning slogan for the PCs in the next Alberta provincial election? No? Maybe somebody ought to tell Gene Zwozdesky, Minister of Community Development. The Minister is busy divvying up almost 30 million dollars (http://www.gov.ab.ca/home/index.cfm?Page=798) for various projects to celebrate Alberta’s Centennial in 2005.

After all, what matters when schools are insisting that tuition is rising because they’re not getting enough government dollars is that those same government dollars are used for a big old party.

Now, to be fair, a lot of that money is going to build, restore, or upgrade public-use facilities, but even if we assume that all of that is needed, there’s still almost 4 million dollars being used for “celebratory activities” with little definition other than that. A person has to wonder if this will wind up being anything like the Federal Liberals little affair with their sponsorship deals.

After all, imagine if even a quarter of that celebratory money went to things like grants for students who needed it to get into post-secondary?

Now there would be something to cheer about.

A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.

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