Dutifully blogging Stéphane Dion's knowledge-economy platform plank in a way our more sensitive readers will not find snide or dismissive! - Macleans.ca

Dutifully blogging Stéphane Dion’s knowledge-economy platform plank in a way our more sensitive readers will not find snide or dismissive!


So Stéphane Dion showed up at Western Western Western U (college fair and square™) this morning to unveil his plank on student aid and university-based research. It is substantial. So much so that when you get to the bottom of the news release, there’s a link to a .pdf backgrounder with yet more detail. So this is only a quick read. Here’s the quick read:

  • Some handy housecleaning in the forest of student tax credits and benefits. These would be replaced with an up-front Education Grant payable every three months, at the same time as GST rebates. This grant plus the GST rebates (which most but not all students receive) adds to about $1,000 a year. Paid for by re-allocating some of the money that now goes to tax credits. (See how tax credits are actually spending programs, and are in fact often treated as such? Andrew Coyne wins another argument!)
  • Students who work will get an extra $250 from the Green Shift’s “enriched and refundable employment credit.” Because what you want to do is encourage students to get jobs while at school. What?
  • I’m going to need to quote this one directly. “A Liberal government will create a 20-year education endowment fund worth $25 billion. By creating this fund, the federal government will be able to turn a
    relatively small investment – which would allow for the borrowing of the initial funds needed to start the endowment – into a significant, long-term investment in students.” I’d be genuinely interested to hear how this makes sense. An endowment pays for benefits out of interest on the principle. But if you borrow the funds needed to start the endowment, then the scale of the benefit is reduced by the size of your own interest payments on the loan. Or am I completely misunderstanding this?
  • Anyway, this endowment would pay for 50,000 needs-based bursaries per year, at a value of up to $3,500 per year. Again: I’m seriously not clear, after hearing the speech and reading two layers of backgrounder, on whether this bursary program would replace or supplement the Harper government’s own student-aid program, revealed only five months ago in Budget ’08, which itself replaces the Millennium Scholarship program. Anyone? Inkless Irregulars?
  • “We will also provide 100,000 access bursaries of up to $4,000 per year,” to aboriginals, people with disabilities and others who are traditionally under-represented in higher education. Take the “up to” seriously, take average bursary value at closer to $2,000, and that’s still $200 million per year for this promise.
  • And more more more. “Taken together, these improvements to the student loan system will represent an additional investment of $500 million.”
  • Research. More. A 60% increase to indirect costs of research (keeping lab lights on and centrifuges equipped with, um, centrifuge stuff, after the lab is built and the researcher bestowed with a grant); a 33% increase to the budgets of the hard-science granting councils; and a 40% increase to the smaller budget of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the perpetual poor cousin to the pure sciences. This is a substantial increase over Conservative rates of growth.
  • I don’t see total aggregate costing for the research elements, but taken together they seem at a glance to be worth more than an additional $500 million on top of the student-aid proposals.

Great. I’ll be curious to see how it’s costed in the context of a complete Liberal platform.


Dutifully blogging Stéphane Dion’s knowledge-economy platform plank in a way our more sensitive readers will not find snide or dismissive!

  1. It will be easily affordable thanks to the Green Shift tax grab.

    Rickety, Rickety, Rackety, Roo,
    High up, sky up, Western U!

  3. Guh. Very much like the intent of the plan, but, like you, some serious questions on how the hell that’s supposed to work.

    I mean, it’s not like Canada doesn’t (didn’t) have the money to support a world-class, low-cost education system in order to make sure our kids are ready to do their duty as Canadians in filling the jobs we’re going to need them to fill in the next 20 years, but the priority has always been missing.

    But an endowment based on loans? I can only think that his english got messed up somehow somewhere between a point about student loans and a point about this endowment thing, because that makes zero sense.


    Sorry. September flashback.

  5. Cue the old guy to run around the track…

  6. “Cue the old guy to run around the track…”

    Unfortunately, Allen Philbrick passed away last summer. :(

  7. Depends. If the “borrowing is from Bank of America/Lehman Bros., well,yes, makes no sense.

    If the gummint is “borrowing” from itself and the interest paid is less than the interest earned it might- just might – make some sort of sense. But it makes more sense to fund post-secondary so that it’s cheap or even free. As some other jurisdictions seem to be able to do. It might even cover blonde joggers.

  8. …and when this game goes down in history,
    as another Western victory…

  9. Thanks for reminding me why I hated Western when I was in university….at Waterloo.
    The Black Plague!

  10. Westminster lives forever…we shall not be moved….

  11. Westminster is no longer a student residence. It’s a conference centre or something lame like that. This makes me sad every time I think about it. My God we had fun there.

  12. Thanks Paul for this posting!

    Let the debate begin! Participation rates in post-secondary education of young Canadians have gone up, particularly among women and ethnocultural communities, but so have drop out rates! The leading factor, among several, for a great percentage of these intelligent and motivated students is the fear of excessive debt.

    The ongoing demise of the smoke stack industries and the difficult yet urgently required construction of a 21st century knowledge-based economy require great foresight and courage by all concerned Canadians.

    If only Monsieur “Vert”, Stéphane Dion could articulate more clearly and more forcefully how the Green Shift can and should be at the heart of building this new economy. The countries of the European Union have enjoined this debate for some time and are in the process of constructing the world first Green economy. Why are the political elites in the USA and Canada so eager to lag behind?

    Surely it is urgent that Canadian citizens insist that all of our political, social, economic,intellectual leaders take the lead in this debate on their behalf.

  13. Close, Paul…
    And though the other team has lot’s of PEPWhen they meet our boys,
    they’ll know they’re out of step

    And when the game goes down in history,
    As just another Western Victory

    Let all our cheers go out for
    Western U, Western U
    Rah, Rah, Rah

  14. I would suspect that the 100,000 bursaries would be unlikely to break the bank, as I suspect (but don’t know….) that there would not be 100K of such individuals who would be applying.

  15. Oh, yes, Hazzard, lest we forget the University of Waterloo theme song…





  16. Costed??
    Surely that’s unnecessary.

  17. A. Will the Education Grants be means-tested (re. parents, etc.) in a way that the tax credits aren’t, making it harder for some students who don’t receive substantial parental support? Note that increasing these tax credits was a Paul Martin (as Finance Minister) move.

    B. Waterloo’s anthem is actually 1,2,3,5,7,13…

  18. Matt, the Education Grants appear to be universal (for university students, anyway. Community Colleges? Not sure.) The new program would therefore cost more, because it benefits more people, than the forest of benefits it would seek to replace.

  19. As always, a question arises: What’s to stop provinces from floating tuition rates by the amount of a universal federal grant? Net benefit to students = zero

  20. “Because what you want to do is encourage students to get jobs while at school.” What?

    Actually Paul, that’s quite reasonable. I’ve never understood the belief that students, even “full-time” students, should not have to work part-time during the year.

    The argument goes something like “adequate post-secondary funding would allow them to focus full-time on their studies without the distraction of menial McJobs.” Yeah, right. When they’re sober anyways.

  21. Ranter: That’s because you don’t understand the value of post-secondary education. Most people don’t, though, so you’re not in bad company.

    Basically, a post-secondary education should not be seen as a priviledge, or a right, it should be seen as a duty of civic minded Canadians. Statscan has shown that people with a post-secondary education are less likely to be unemployed, and be unemployed for a shorter period when they are thus requiring less government services. They tend to be healthier than those who do have a degree, saving us money in health care. They tend to donate more to charity in both money and time than their less educated counterparts simply because they have the resources, not neccessarily out of any enhanced sense of volunteerism, and they are more likely to start and successfully run their own businesses, providing employment opportunities for others.

    In short, a post-secondary education should almost be seen like military service. It’s not something you do for you, it’s something you do for your country, and how dare we be forcing these people to be unable to give their all toward that goal?

  22. The education “grant” is about $200 every three months, then – given that the max annual GST credit is just over $200 for an individual.

    The tuition credit on taxes for students paying the average canadian tuition fees ($4524 for 2007) and taking a full course load for 8 months works out to about $1236.

    Thus, this is actually a net reduction in expenditure by the feds for students. sure, it’s an upfront $200 every couple months, but after students graduate they will be losing approximately $400 a year for every year of study – about $1600 then.

  23. Erg. Tend to be healthier than those who do not have a degree, of course. Supid fingers.

  24. When I went to Western there were lots of bursaries that went begging because people didnt apply. Got a couple myself just by putting my hand up.

    Of course flooding the market with BA’s just makes getting a Masters the differentiator.

    Education is a good thing, but do we need more technical college education as opposed to more sociology and psychology graduates?, no offense meant to those degrees.

    200,000,000 each and every year? At least? I just dont know if driving the demand side of the equation is what is required as opposed to either increasing supply of spaces and or increasing the quality of the existing supply.

  25. T. Thwim,

    A lot of the arguments you make about the benefit of a university degree may be equally attributable to the socioeconomic status of the majority of university students. Or their parents’, more precisely.

    As someone who teaches at a university, I’d be hesitant to make attendance near-compulsory. While there are many bright and motivated students in my classes, the last decade has seen an increase in students who lack both the essential skills and motivation to benefit from that particular form of education. Cramming our colleges and universities with almost every young person would require a lowering of standards, which would undermine the benefits for all.

    That said, any program that eliminates financial barriers to post-secondary education – and allows entrance to be strictly based on merit – is a good thing, in my opinion.

  26. I’ve always been uncomfortable with redirecting money towards grants for undergraduate students. Two reasons:

    1. University graduates are a minority (albeit a relatively large minority) of the population, and tend to earn significantly more than non-graduates. Handing out money to people who will eventually become more affluent strikes me as regressive. My solution would be student loan reform.

    2. It’s not obvious that Canada’s economy needs more BA/BSc graduates, or that grant recipients would end up in fields that are of economic importance. Instead, there are serious needs outside of the undergraduate band: on one end, in trades, which are in desperately short supply; and on the other end, in graduate-level technological research, in which it is almost impossible to be a practitioner with only a bachelor’s degree. I’m not sure what to do about trades, but I would be way more excited about massive investment in research. Jacking up NSERC by 33% doesn’t count — this would need game-changing money.

    I agree that the Tories have largely sucked at this file. They talk a good game, but the money is not flowing on the ground. There was a program announcement (CFI) in 2006 for which my grant application remains in limbo, as the government hasn’t gotten around to actually allocating the funds.

  27. Sean: Of course they are. That’s because Statscan has also shown that the most significant factor as to whether a person attends university is if their parents did. But this virtuous cycle has to start somewhere.

    Now, I’m not saying make attendance compulsory. I am saying that we as Canadians should stop villifying and burdening those Canadians who take on the task of educating themselves further when doing so leads to so many benefits for the nation as a whole.

    In many ways, we should look at undertaking a post-secondary education like military service, and while we do underfund our military, we don’t require our service men to pay for their own equipment, training, and guidance as we do university students. We certainly don’t require that they take a side job to survive while serving.

  28. Last time I checked you werent facing down IED’s and snipers at University. More like STD’s and the freshman 15.

    The comparison to Military Service is tenuous at best.

  29. Stephen: And they get paid for that. I didn’t suggest we pay university students. Just that we stop charging them for the priviledge of preparing to better the nation.

    And while currently our military is facing IED and snipers, that’ll apparantly last until 2011. After that? The comparison become far more apt. I’m not attempting to trivialize or deny the efforts our servicemen and women put forth for our country. I’m attempting to show that both our military forces and our post-secondary students (whether that be in career based training or university) are working to benefit this country. The one group we laud, even during peacetime when the bulk of their activity is training, the other group we disdain and seem to view them as a parasite on the taxpayer, even though the bulk of their activity is also training.

  30. T. Thwim,

    That’s a compelling way to look at things, I must admit. And I would gladly endorse any program that essentially made university and college free for students, so long as the standards of admission and progression were set reasonably high.

    But remember, since both college and university graduates can expect to earn more than other citizens, and don’t have to risk their lives like those in the military, many will argue that they ought to pay for the privilege.

  31. T. Thwim, as someone who worked my own way through school, I’ll have to disagree with you. I don’t dispute any of the stats you’ve given, but I don’t think more funding for BAs is going to accomplish anything.

  32. Well, you’re certainly entitled to that opinion. However, based on the stats, and on the precedent of what having a fully public primary school system has done for us, I’ll have to disagree.

  33. Back-end loading tuition would be fairer through higher taxes paid on their higher income.

    On the other hand, scrapping the tuition tax credit penalizes those who pay more for their degree. My tuition was $4,000 per term, not per year.

  34. Why is no one pointing out that this is a horribly regressive policy? As someone in this thread pointed out (pat yourself on the back, whoever ye be) the single best predictor of whether Joe or Jane Jr. will go to college is whether their parents went to college. But there are other metrics that also correspond to college entrance: high intelligence, good health, family wealth. Subsidising higher education subsidises the weathiest, least needy members of society.

    The kids who get into college (he writes amidst his textbooks in the library) are predominantly (not, thank God, exclusively) the smart kids from well-off and nurturing families who get all the advantages in life anyway. Why should the government be subsidizing their attainment of credentials that will cement their social advantages?

    The social utility of a university degree is plummeting. The percentage of university graduates that work in menial positions continues to skyrocket. So does the average number of years it takes university students to graduate.

    Annual Gov’t spending on higher education divided by the number of students enrolled in even a single class comes out to about $16, 500 per head. Keeping in mind the relatively small percentage of subsidies givent to part time students, and those at community colleges, one can get some idea of the level of subsidy that is given to every Gender Studies major whose parents gave them a Jetta for their last birthday. It should make every egalitarian blush.

    Query: why do we give all that money to the kids of the middle and upper classes, rather than spending it on the public school system, that every strata of society enjoys? Perhaps if we did that, University graduates wouldn’t come from such predominantly affluent backgrounds. Just a suggestion.

    We students will reap the lion’s share of any benefits we manage to produce using our education. Why not make our parents pay, and us borrow?

  35. Alphonso: No. You won’t. As a post-secondary grad, you’ll make, on average, an extra million dollars over the course of your lifetime compared to someone who isn’t.

    Assuming even Alberta taxation levels of 10%, this works out to an extra $100,000 in taxes in return for that $16,500 in support. More realistically, you’ll probably be taxed at around 28% or so.

    This is without taking into account any of the other benefits already noted, and without taking into further account the recurring benefits this generates through increasing the likelihood that your kids will go to post-secondary.

    Your post-sec benefits you over the course of your lifetime, it benefits society far longer than that.

  36. Sometimes I think that people place entirley too much credit with degrees from university. I started main frame computing in 77 – eventually becoming one of the first Admins for an Internet Service Provider in Western Canada (93) and in my time I have hired and fired countless people and I have come to the point that I rarely even look at the resume of any young person that goes from High School -> University without a job mentioned I will pay attention if it appears that they worked as they studied. I much prefer Technical Colleges and again a work history especially flipping burgers or working in a mill … anything – the rest of the resumes see file 13 the circular – one last note the quality of computing science graduates from University is just awful the last few years and the technical colleges are far superior!

  37. Wayne, I tend to agree wrt how universities teach computer science. To be honest, university level computing science should be a specialization of a pure math or engineering degree (depending on if you’re focusing on software or hardware), and what is typically taught as computing science should be moved to the technical colleges.

    One problem with the post-secondary system I will admit is the creating of new “degree” markets that are really just ways for the university to generate additional cash flow through tuition when what is being taught is more akin to the level of studies that should be taught at a technical college. I like to think that a properly funded post-secondary education system wouldn’t bother with that kind of credentialism, but that’s just me being idealistic — no evidence suggesting it would happen.

  38. T. Thwim, a much similar argument is made for tax cuts to the rich, which generally fail to produce the promised taxation benefits.

  39. Andrew E: I don’t believe that tax cuts to the rich have the statistics backing them up on the overall increased productivity. It’s more handwaving theory.

    And I KNOW that the theory of reducing taxes in general increases government revenues has been proven false at this point by the US Treasury. They noted that Reagan and Bush’s reductions in taxes caused drops in the amount the treasury took in.

    To be fair, they also noted that the drops were not as large as indicated by the tax cuts themselves — indicating that some of the Laffer model was in play.. people were becoming slightly more productive as taxes dropped, but not nearly enough to make up for the drop.

    So while I’ll agree that the argument is made for tax cuts to the rich the benefits of providing post-secondary are proven.

    A study in Alberta found that the government there sees a $4 return for every $1 invested in college level education, and that’s under the narrowest definition of the benefits. When they expanded what would come under benefits (such as the reduced health care costs and increased volunteerism) the return went up to $21 for every $1 invested.

  40. Need a plumber or an electrician? Good luck. Need a BA in Poli-Sci? What the *(&^*( for?

    I would much prefer seeing government (provincial, not federal) tackle the scary high-school dropout rate. You’re sixteen? OK, here’s the form to fill in to de-register from school, and here’s the welfare application form, and here’s the social worker who can read the big words like “Address” for you.

    If the feds (well, the Liberals) want to prime the pump by feeding $ to post-secondary students, do not lament the inevitable tuition fee rise at the university, Paul. The market is responding to the inflationary goosing the way it should.

  41. I agree, madeyoulook. Pour that money into high schools (and elementary schools). The quality of university education can only improve if the students are better educated when they arrive.

    That’s just from the BA/BSc point of view, of course. More money for high schools would also (I hope) mean offering genuinely useful technical training to those who prefer a non-generalised education and don’t plan to go to University.

    Of course, you will be the first to tell me that it’s a provincial responsibility. Compared to the last Ontario election, though, this federal campaign very policy-oriented, very innovative, very inspiring – enough to restore faith in our democracy.

  42. Jack, I guess I was the first to tell you it’s provincial, not federal, ‘cuz it was in my original comment, :)

    And, while certainly more money probably wouldn’t hurt the undergraduate public school system, I have no doubt the unions will suck up the extra $, and then some, in 0.6 seconds. I had more, um, evil, right-wing thoughts in my head, like welfare payments contingent on adult education attendance and progression, and-or more serious attempts to get to work if able-bodied, up to and including payment cuts if a job offer was declined. A bit like what Clinton achieved in his Nixon-to-China welfare reform changes. But again, I continue to drift into provincial jurisdiction, so I am cool with federal politicians staying out of all this.

  43. I can’t believe he made this speech in London, and at UWO of all places.

    London’s major hospitals have had at least 3 instances (that I can recall, it may be more) where they told the public NOT to come to hospital unless it was literally life and death. “don’t come, we can’t and won’t help you”. Right.

    Dion does not know the places he’s visiting at all. He has integrity (or did) but what others have said is true – he’s a Professor. Not a leader. And the way he’s misdirecting money and the mass quantities of it (in promise) is irresponsible at best. He’s trying to buy votes with monopoly money. Everyone knows Harper has Canada in a deficit or close to it.

  44. Meant to include, those hospital warnings all happened within the past 12 months. I’m just waiting for the next one. It’s horrifying here with the healthcare situation. Dion should have spoken to that.

    What an idiot.

  45. Uh, beary, you do realize that the hospitals around London fall under provincial authority, right?

  46. mr. dion, i am only 12 but i am very interested in these debates, i am wondering why most are against liberal, maybe you should do something about this major deal of healthcare?

  47. oh ya, also, what do u plan on doing with every one putting you down? i would hate that…i am just saying if i could vote, you’d have mine!