Latest federal budget: lots of talk but very little action
On the eve of his 2007 federal budget, federal Finance Minster Jim Flaherty followed the tradition of buying new shoes. However, in Mr. Flaherty's case, the shoes were hockey skates. After reading the details of his March 19th budget, you can see why he opted for skates. His fiscal plan weaves all over the ice, but he never seems to put the puck on net.
Nowhere is that fiscal flourish more obvious than in his proposal to increase transfers for post-secondary education. Instead of delivering the much needed funding support for public post-secondary education in his 2007 budget, Mr. Flaherty has promised to increase funding by $800 million, but not until next year.
In the dazzle of numbers and promises surrounding his current budget, Mr. Flaherty is able to make it appear as though he is doing something for post-secondary education when in fact he's doing very little. He is able to talk about "more cash for post-secondary education", but as we have seen too many times with the federal government, a lot can change in a year.
Even more disconcerting, the proposal for transfers to the provinces comes with no direction as to how that money should be used. The two most urgent priorities for any new money in our public post-secondary education system-improving access and affordability-don't even merit a mention in this budget.
Accepting for a moment that this federal budget follows through with its stated commitment of $800 million, Canadians need to ask whether this begins to reverse the damage done by cuts in federal transfers that the then Liberal Finance Minster, Paul Martin, initiated in the mid-1990s. The short answer is no.
Mr. Flaherty's proposal for post-secondary education falls well short of meeting the basic needs of public post-secondary education across Canada. In its analysis of the funding short fall, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) shows how the cumulative effect of federal under-funding at the front end (2007) combined with less than necessary increases over the next seven years adds up to a $6.2 billion gap.
Affordability and access will continue to erode under Mr. Flaherty's proposal, leaving thousands of existing and potential students frustrated at having their post-secondary education opportunities stymied. Mr. Flaherty certainly had the budget surpluses to craft a much different outcome for these students, but instead he chose to ignore those needs.
In the months ahead, as the Finance Minster crisscrosses the country trying to sell his new budget, it's time for post-secondary educators to remind him how his plan for post-secondary education funding just doesn't cut it. Mr. Flaherty, you need to sharpen your skates.
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.