Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Perils of Being Painted Into a Corner

If you live in Quebec, over the past several weeks you have been treated to daily reporting of the student protests against the Charest government's plans to eliminate a freeze on tuition. The issue has claimed one Minister and a Chief of Staff to the Premier, with thousands of students taking to the streets to voice their anger.

Students, eh? That crazy lot.

The cost of post-secondary education is an important issue. It is well-understood that a modern economy needs an educated workforce; a work force that is able to compete and succeed in what is a rapidly changing global environment.

However, when I look at the protests and consider the issue I am drawn towards another angle. Tuition rates in Quebec have been significantly lower than in the rest of Canada for several years. There have been no increases of note in over a decade. In fact governments of both stripes have patted themselves on the back for maintaining a freeze and derided those who suggested otherwise.

As a result, the issue has been politicized to such an extent that both the Liberals and the PQ have been painted into a corner. Reasonable debate about the province's ability to maintain a strong post-secondary system take a back seat to ever-escalating rhetoric.

There is a lesson in all of this for the other provinces and the federal government.

I see a parallel between this issue and the issue of tax increases. More and more we see the use of the tax system being pilloried and attacked. The party that proposes any form of tax increase is attacked, and often backs away from their proposals regardless of their initial merit.

Taxes fund public services.  Some of those are very visible, such as health care.  Others less so, but they remain important (defence, food safety, research).  Is there waste in the system?  Without question.   But the fact remains that taxes are a very important tool which governments use to govern and sustain the state.

Unfortunately, Canada seems to be following the path of the United States where the Republican Party has made an art of anti-tax rhetoric and policy.  As I noted here, the U.S. has "effectively taken off of the table one of the major tools available to a government to manage the affairs of the state."

Should Canada mirror the U.S. example and stigmatize taxes to such an extent that no one dare mention them unless the propose a reduction, then we will be depriving ourselves of real and important debate on what we can and cannot afford; about what we are willing to pay for and what we are not.

Quebec politicians have painted themselves into a corner; a corner which the Charest government is desperately trying to get out from - for the right reasons.  The system is simply not sustainable with the freeze in place.  Yet this conversation is getting lost in the noise, and more's the pity.

Across Canada we should take heed and consider the implications of extremes.  We should ask ourselves whether a debate on taxes is being avoided or stifled.  We should be challenging ourselves to think ahead and consider the corner we could paint ourselves into tomorrow if we avoid the difficult conversations today.

Students.  You can learn a lot from them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a comment?

Canadian Blogosphere