Progressive Views: Political Games

Tristan cropColumn by Tristan Turner

In today’s world, it’s easy for young people to feel disenfranchised. At every turn, young people are being let down by a scarce job market, staggering debt and a political parties that embrace them and their struggle come election time, but turn their back on students and young Canadians once they’ve won government.

This is at its worst here in Alberta. In the last election campaign, the ruling PCs offered a new approach to post-secondary education. For the first time their government was to put students at the heart of their concerns when it came to forming post-secondary policy.

Well, I thought I’d remind them because it seems to have slipped the Premier’s mind since she won the last provincial election with the help of a significant student vote.

In the last election campaign, university students were wooed by Tory promises like the one made not too long ago by the Premier herself. “We will not balance our budget on the backs of post-secondary students. We will not raise tuition.”

Well, she was right about one thing, she didn’t balance the budget. However, the last part about not hurting post-secondary students in a quick attempt to fix our large provincial deficits… Well, on that one she may have told a little fib. In fact, the last budget contained $147 million in post-secondary operating grant cuts.

Whether it’s their pocket books or the classroom (or more likely both), students will be dealt a harsh blow by the Alberta government’s most recent cut back to our post secondary institutions. Yet again, our students have been used by the PCs in their time of need, and cast aside when it comes down to the brass tacks.

Well, the fact is, we’re tired of it. Whether its high school students looking to apply to university, or current post-secondary students, we’ve been shown by this government, and governments past, that we don’t matter after polls have closed.

Social media has once again made politics accessible to young Albertans, and in the next election, the ruling Tories will feel a backlash from students they have repeatedly attacked in an attempt to make them numb and uninterested in our political system.

Ultimately, cutting back in education is never an intelligent long-term economic strategy. A robust and well invested in post-secondary system is essential for high-skill, high-paying jobs. Not to mention, by making high quality education opportunities available here in Alberta, we can ensure that our students don’t move elsewhere in Canada to receive their education, ensuring our brightest minds spend their lives here, instead of making their home elsewhere in seek of asylum from the regressive and destructive action our government has been taking upon our post-secondary system.

Instead of making intelligent investments in the future of our province, the PCs have lead us down a path of poor budget planning, and larger long-term deficits.

The actions of this government has burdened students further today, and hurt our province’s finances in the long term. No matter how you slice it, Albertans deserve better than broken promises and political tricks.

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  1. Tristan:

    So you’re a tad upset to discover that a politician would lie in order to achieve a goal of being elected (or re-elected, as the case may be).

    Get used to it!!

    By the way, while a university education may allow a student to flip a better grade of burger, perhaps some real thought about his or her future would lead some of these folks to the reality (yes, I did say reality!) that a good blue-collar trade might be the answer. Mind you, that decision had best come with the realization that a little hard work might also be necessary!

    I find your comment re: social media and a consequent threat that the ruling Tories will suffer some horrific student “backlash” to be totally laughable. Check the statistics concerning “who” actually voted in the last Provincial election.

    Don’t get me wrong – I truly enjoy reading your column because you DO provide a different ‘take’ on a whole host of issues. At least you are participating in debating the issues! Keep it up!

  2. I understand all too well the frustrations of being young and disillusioned, yet I think that you need to put things in perspective. I grew up in the 70’s in Manitoba, where the economy was dead. Unlike Alberta even today, finding a job was nearly impossible. The only way to afford secondary education was by working hard and saving; getting very good grades, and by putting yourself in a position of impossible debt via student loans, etc.
    Secondary education has never been cheap. It may seem irrational, but that may be a good thing. One has to ask, is it in societies’ best interest to allow everyone cheap access to a secondary education? Probably not. This would allow many people in who don’t belong there. You submit that our greatest minds will go elsewhere to fullfill their eductional needs. It’s possible, but not likely. Because it is the same, or worse, everywhere.
    You have to keep in mind that Alberta is the only province you have lived in, when in fact the grass is much greener here compared to many other provinces. I can personally attest to this, and grew up in a time and place with far fewer opportunities that exist in Alberta today.

  3. There is a people shortage not a job shortage. There are tens of thousands of jobs unfilled.

  4. Tristan,

    You often have a younger, refreshing viewpoint. We need that. But your lense is a lot different and closer to the ground those people have been around longer. The government has a finite amount of cash to spend and post-secondary education isn’t at the top of the list. I have it a solid fourth behind health care, non-post secondary education and job creation/training.

    While students are important, they are maybe 5-15% of the province’s population. They may have helped win a majority, but students can lay no claim to saying they played a significant role in electing the government. Their level of voter apathy is likely as high as the rest of Alberta’s.

    Post-secondary education is an investment in one’s future that costs money. Making universities pay more of their own way is not destructive, nor will it drive students away. As long as they are providing what students and industry needs, they will survive.

    As Phil said, Alberta has it pretty good compared to other provinces. While I’m not a supporter of the Conservative Party, I’m still waiting for the other parties (dare I say Wild Rose ?) to show us their master plan that will solve all of Alberta’s problems that the current government has caused. I asked to see a notional or shadow budget that would show the government what they should have done, since it’s so simple. No one has sent one for Stephen to publish yet. The big lesson for people such as yourself is that no matter who got elected, the same problems would likely still be there. How we deal with them is what makes us and political parties different.

  5. Ronald McElhaney said:

    Tristan has it right and Brent has it wrong! Government does not have a “finite amount of cash to spend…”, as neoconservative politicians would have us believe. The national conservatives have reduced the GST, slashed corporate income taxes in half, reduced personal income taxes, while at the same time increasing their subsidies to business. The provincial Tories have done the same, plus introducing a regressive flat income tax, as well as maintaining our ridiculously low royalties, not only on gas and oil, but on our other natural resources as well. Now both governments plead poverty and seek to balance their budgets on the backs of the poor, the elderly and the students. But of course rolling back any of these relatively recent tax cuts is simply unthinkable (not to mention politically dangerous)! Reford and company indeed promised no “new” taxes during the election, but they also promised to make education a priority too and said that higher deucation could count on at least 2% increases in the next 3 years! I am not asking for “new” taxes, just a progressive return to corporate tax and royalty rates that are fair and that would still be far below our historical levels and those on almost all other countries, including even the U.S.

  6. Ronald,

    While I agree that some taxes could likely be increased, I hold to my comment that the government has only so much money to spend. There is only so much the market can bear before bad things happen, like companies leave or people move.

    If the solutions were so simple, I believe that the government would have already used them. Why hasn’t some party published their “5 step miracle solution” to Alberta’s budget problems and got themselves elected? No one is stepping forward with realistic plans, so they may be more complex than you realize. Test my theory – ask Albertans if they would pay an extra 1% tax to go only to post-secondary education and see who signs up. Either university students or their parents, most likely. I earned mine, they can earn theirs, is what I would say.

    Many people want something for nothing, which can only go on for so long. People wanted free health care, so the government got rid of premiums. Now people complain about long wait times for their free health care! Students want lower tuition, but someone has to pay for it. Why should I pay for someone else’s post-secondary education? A deal for more rural doctors or nurses, maybe. Not much else makes sense.

    I’ll end with something my father told me when I was looking to buy my first car: when a car dealers offers a free” trip, it’s not really free. If you haven’t learned by now that the price of the “free” trip is buried in the interest or maintenance of the car, then you are uninformed.

    Other than opinions and advice, not much in this world is free. Someone has to pay. Higher taxes are not always the right answer.

  7. Thank all of you for your comments. I would just say that there has been a large backlash to the cuts made by Redford’s government. An organization to oppose the decision, the Coalition for Action on Post-secondary Education (CAPSE), has formed and have held multiple demonstrations in response to the decision, and Wednesday (coincidentally the day this article goes to print) there will be a Province wide day of action and a walk to the Legislature will be taking place. This shows that, with the assistance of social media, young Albertans have been effectively able to mobilize in large numbers in opposition to the decisions of this government.

    To Brent, I would say that there is a clear solution to our Province’s budget and underfunded program woes, and that is a simple progressive taxation system that would tax corporations and wealthy Albertans at rates comparable to similar jurisdictions around the world. I would disagree with your statement “If the solutions were so simple, I believe that the government would have already used them”, because when governments take a purely ideological approach to the act of governing, they fail to see reasonable and logical solutions to problems.

    Just as a final retort, the tax increases I so often support are on a very small portion of Albertans, our largest income earners. In reality, a majority of Canadians (and Albertans specifically) agree with me on this, its just a matter of governments abandoning their strictly anti-tax approach to budgeting. (Source: Environics Research Poll Spring 2012 73% of Canadians, including a majority of Conservative voters, support gradually increasing corporate tax rates).

  8. Tristan,

    Fair enough. The point I was trying to make was that if the progressive tax was such an easy fix and acceptable to the public at large, either the Conservatives would have been forced to use it, or the Wild Rose would have been screaming loud and often that it should happen now. But they aren’t. That’s because it would be political suicide unless there is a public upswell for it. There is nothing simple about increasing taxes. Anyone who thinks so is probably not paying very much.

    Student protests make good press, but organizing into a strong, coherent voting block at the next provincial election would be a lot more effective. Given the general level of voter apathy in Alberta, this will be harder than it sounds, but I wish them luck.

    Keep on writing.


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