In the furore over Stockwell Day’s arrival on the federal political scene, certain things remain ignored. Day’s overly fiscal agenda promotes huge tax cuts and decentralization of the government into tightly organized provincial units. With this comes his vision of post-secondary education: provincially-funded public institutions and a fondness for private universities.
Recently, Day was quoted as saying, "If the federal government thinks it has the fiscal capacity to help students with college loans, then they have too much fiscal capacity." What this means, should Day actually manage to achieve his goal of becoming prime minister, is Canadian students will suffer a blow bigger than any dealt them in the last 10 years of budget cuts.
Alberta students already know what a provincial government that doesn’t believe in supporting public post-secondary education can do to decimate funding and reduce universities to corporate-dependent operations. Without federal student loans and programs like the Millennium Scholarships, many Alberta students would find university an unlikely prospect. As it is, students finish with $20,000 debts (most of which are federal loans)–an amount that doesn’t include what they earned for school while working two or three jobs over the summer and during the school year. Now Day wants to take his ideas of education to the national level where, it appears, he would like to axe federal loans and programs like the Millennium Scholarships.
A move like this means students all over the country could be forced to rethink or forego their university plans when access to student loans and government funding disappears. Day and the Canadian Alliance will create an environment where universities become private businesses and only those with access to large amounts of money will be able to benefit from university opportunities.
In this push for provincial jurisdiction over education, Day ignores the fact that the federal government provides money to the provinces and to students for education because the provinces aren’t capable or willing to provide this support themselves. That much is evident from Alberta’s policies over the last seven years.
Usually the people pushing for tax cuts and breaks are those who can meet their own needs–and afford private education. Unfortunately, society inhabits a variety of states outside of the upper class and government intervention in certain areas like education and health care simply tries to address these states. Maybe this doesn’t seem fair to the conservative right of the Canadian Alliance, but nobody said life was fair. Perhaps Canadians can’t come to an agreement on their socialist needs or their conservative desires, but at least an arena currently exists in which to debate them.
What will happen if education is controlled by market values rather than social needs? If Day ascends to the parliamentary throne in Ottawa, then we’ll certainly know the answer.