Are young Quebeckers really getting a bad deal?

John Geddes on “intergenerational inequity”


Republished from Capital Read,your source for Parliament Hill news and gossip on Macleans.ca.

I often find arguments about “intergenerational inequity” compelling. There’s an obvious injustice when governments allow deficits to accumulate into debt, keeping current taxes low and spending high, on the assumption that future taxpayers will somehow be in a better position to pick up the tab than the current ones. Same goes for underfunded entitlement programs.

But I don’t know if John Moore, over at the National Post, has quite figured out the situation in Quebec when he argues that the province’s seemingly endless tuition-fee protests expose an intergenerational imbalance of this sort. “Quebec has had low tuition rates for a half century,” Moore writes. “That means almost every living adult in the province, having already been afforded a plum goodie, is now wagging his finger at the first generation that will be asked to pay the tab. So who really is entitled here?”

Actually, nowhere near “every living adult” took advantage of low tuition, but never mind. The point is to look at who is paying now for Quebec’s colleges and universities, and the rest of the province’s bloated public sector. As Jeffrey Simpson writes today over at the Globe and Mail, better-off Quebeckers already pay much higher taxes than those earning similarly comfortable incomes in other provinces, and so do small businesses.

Premier Jean Charest’s fiscal plan—in which raising tuition fees over seven years play a modest part—is a bid to balance the province’s books and gradually reduce its debt burden. That should allow Quebec taxes to be eased in the future, with any luck meaning students now completing their degrees stand a hope of paying less in taxes than their parents.

Where is the generational inequity in all this? Let’s say you’re a boomer Montréal taxpayer earning a six-figure salary. Sure, your tuition, back in the day, was nice and low for four years. But you’ve paid a premium in provincial taxes for decades since to cover a slice of Quebec’s questionable public-sector generosity. This was some sort of sweet deal you got?

Or let’s say you’re a second-year UQAM student paying about the lowest tuition in Canada. You’re being asked to cough up a few hundred dollars more for the next two years, as part of a plausible, gradual plan to bring sanity to the province’s finances. If it works, you’ll pay less in taxes for your entire working life. This is a cruel intergenerational raw deal being foisted upon you?


Are young Quebeckers really getting a bad deal?

  1. I believe the mainstream media is missing the point when they choose to focus on the dollar amount of tuition increase; the increase is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    In past generations, a high school education was all that was required to get a job with a salary that would support a car, a house and a family. We are now in a situation where university is the new high school, and even a university degree cannot guarantee a living wage. That is, older generations had their entry-level education (high school) paid for completely by the government, while the current generation must shoulder a portion of their entry-level education (university) themselves. Given the state of the economy, many youth will not be able to support themselves even with this entry fee into the labour market. By increasing this fee, the government is showing their they are either unaware of, or apathetic towards, this situation.

    Given the gradual cuts in government funding and slow uptick in youth unemployment, there will likely be no big ‘aha!’ moment in the form of a stab in the heart to our youth. Rather, they are dying of a thousand paper cuts. The fact that journalists are bemoaning students for protesting over a paper cut reveals the media’s shallow examination of the situation. I applaud the protesters for being proactive, and not waiting until an entire generation is past the point of recovery.

  2. I think the author’s no-so-implicit assumption that taxing less in taxes than our parents is necessarily a good thing ought to be contested. Taxes are not inherently a bad thing: Taxes allow us to pool resources together in order to complete projects or provide services that might be prohibitively expensive for any one person to attempt. Part of the problem in our current system is not that our parents pay too much in taxes, but that they didn’t pay enough. This should be obvious simply by looking at how public debt was accumulated, and which programs (eg. CPP/QPP) are underfunded. And this is to say nothing of environmental costs that will invariably be passed on to future generations.

    The starting paragraph flirts with this idea but then abandons it. If we wish to have a certain set of social programs, then we need to provide the government with revenues to fund them. If we want high social spending and low taxes, then we are being irresponsible, and are, yes, essentially ensuring that our children or grandchildren will pick up the tab for our excesses. When we finally realise that yes, our financial mismanagement has left both us and our children in dire straits, it is more than a little disingenuous to suggest we kick the legs out from under the programs that help them rather accepting responsibility for our actions and either raising our own taxes to pay for the programs, or placing most of the burden of cuts on programs that benefit us, rather than on the programs who benefit the people who we’ve left to pick up the tab for us.

    I have no interest or expectation of paying lower taxes than my parents. I will happily pay higher taxes in order to provide for government services that are worthwhile. I will also happily pay higher taxes to reduce the public debt, because I have no interest in passing undue burdens onto my children.

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