Editorial – A Lose-Lose Budget

Yesterday, the PC Government of Alberta released its much warned about “dire” budget. Most came away saying, no doubt as intended, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”

I’m not one of them.

A lot of people who have anything against the budget are most upset about the lack of any corporate tax increase. Personally, I think that’s probably a good thing as corporate taxes are just a way of letting corporate management decide who’s going to shoulder the tax burden, and we can be pretty sure they’re not going to pick themselves, either directly or by driving their customers to their competition. Instead, they’ll just cut back on the people who are the easiest to replace if they leave. So the three guys doing janitorial become two, with no expectations changed as to what they need to get accomplished.

No, for me the big concern in this budget was the part that wasn’t explained. Finance Minister Robin Campbell declared that they would be looking to rebalance the equation between public and private funding for post-secondary institutions, as well as trimming “low-demand” programs while preserving “high-demand” programs. This is simply a recipe for disaster, both for the province, and for students. What they’re forgetting, if they ever knew it, is that education is an investment. And like any investment, if all you do is follow what’s popular right now, you’re almost always going to be on the losing end of the deal. The true rewards come to the investor who gets in before the masses, not after the masses have already gotten in. Requiring universities to focus primarily on popular programs means we’ll primarily be educating people for the jobs that will already be filled by the time they graduate. It’s setting us up for failure.

And then there are the rumblings about how they’ll rebalance the tuition equation. I, personally, consider it insane that the government will happily fund private K-12 schools up to 70%, but has difficulty justifying providing a little under 60% to what are supposedly public post-secondary institution. While they haven’t removed the tuition cap just yet, there are strong hints that this is part of what’s being planned, especially by the increases they are supplying to the student loans system. I’m not sure who thinks, in our society where personal debt numbers are widely cited as one of the most worrying signs about our economy, that having newly graduated students unable to purchase anything due to crushing debt loads is going to be of any assistance to us. It’s setting us up for failure.

This is also completely ignoring how businesses in Alberta have some of the highest reliance on bringing in Temporary Foreign Workers for skilled positions. The reason we have to do that is because we’re simply not creating enough skilled people here at home so companies need to go outside the country to find them. Yet Mr. Prentice and Mr. Campbell, who claim that they want to avoid doing anything that would hamper business in these troubled times, are talking about making tuitions higher and cutting operating funding from universities. It’s setting us up for failure.

My only hope, at this juncture, is that enough people in Alberta are finally tired of being set up for failure. If we’re going to lose, they should as well.
Enjoy the read!