Quebec's protests and the intergenerational question -

Quebec’s protests and the intergenerational question

he point is to look at who is paying now for Quebec’s colleges and universities


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?


Quebec’s protests and the intergenerational question

  1. But if the useful life a public work will continue into the next generation, it makes sense for that generation to bear a portion of the cost.

  2. Merci, il n’y a rien de mieux que le Québec bashing, vous avez la recette pour nous aider à faire notre indépendance.
    Vous voyez bien que vous êtes un autre peuple, vous préférez le bien individuel au bien de l’ensemble.
    Nous serons de meilleurs amis si nous nous laissons vivre nos choix respectifs.

    • Tu as tout à fait raison Alain, les propos retrouvés à l’intérieur du ”Natioal Post”, du ”MACLEANS” ou à l’intérieur d’autres quotidiens Canadiens démontrent bien leurs divergences d’opinions.

      Le Québec se dissocie de plus en plus de ce Canada conservateur.

      Je n’ai rien contre le ”ROC” (rest of canada), au contraire, mais je pense sincèrement que les Québécois, de par leur différente culture et idéologie, n’ont plus leur place au Canada.

      Séparons-nous et affirmons nous en tant que peuple!

      De toutes manières ils ne nous aiment pas… tant mieux!

      • Yes, Guillaume, lots of opinions in the media. In Quebec too. Kinda representative of the wide range of opinions in the public too, even in Quebec.

        As for Quebec’s culture being different…that is certainly true. Of course, lots of places have “different” cultures: Newfoundland, the prairies, British Columbia/West coast, Nunavut., to name but a few. In that respect, sorry, but Quebec is nothing special. It is a great province, with great people, and a wonderful part of what makes Canada such a marvelous beacon of diversity to the world.

        And all I have to say to “…they don’t like us…” is “baloney”. Go peddle that other separatist, blinkered die-hards.

      • For Guillaume and Alain…I was hoping that when Quebec leaves, as it eventually will, you could take my province.. Ont.. with you.

        Then we could be the original Canada again.

        At least we know the difference between a ‘geographic location’, and a ‘culture’.

        • Quebec may take you with it, Emily, but I’d like the rest of my province-of-origin to stay in Canada thanks.
          Suggesting that different provinces (and even different regions within provinces) don’t have unique cultures means that a) you’re being disingenuous or b) you haven’t travelled within your own country much.

          • Well, you’re probably part of a very small group, Matt.

            Most Ontarians prefer civilization to a bunch of yahoos.

            Not my problem you can’t tell a culture from geographic locations.

            PS….I’ve lived all over Canada…and elsewhere.

          • Culture:
            1: The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively: 20th century popular culture

            2: The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society: Afro-Caribbean culture
            What part of that applies to Quebec, but doesn’t apply to other provinces, or as Matt said, even parts of provinces?
            On a more personal note, I have to say I’m disappointed. I’ve usually disagreed with you, but at least I respected what you had to say, and how you carried yourself in any given conversation, but after this exchange, I think Canada would be better keeping Quebec and getting rid of you.

      • separer vous, mon beau nieiseu, et tu va voir comment vite vous aller descendre comme le Cuba.

    • “There is nothing better than a bit of Quebec bashing…”. Sorry, Alain, but if you found anything in this article or thread
      to be “Quebec bashing”, then your skin is either waaaayyy too thin, or you are simply a closed-minded radical whose opinion can summarily be dismissed.

  3. a) Yes, we will pass on a debt, as every generation before us has done. Canada began with debt, as did the US.

    b) We will also be passing on the benefits gained. Canada is now quite a different country than it was in 1867….when healthcare meant a ‘doctor’ in a horse and buggy showing up with a medical bag and leeches….if you could afford it. Education meant very basic reading, writing and arithmetic….if you could afford any church-run tutoring for a couple of years. Even today 42% of Canadians are ‘functionally illiterate’….that is, not literate enough to be able to function is todays society.

    c) It’s easy to say ‘low-tuition’, but even that is unaffordable to many…especially those in rural areas who have to send students off to the city….they can’t live at home while learning…so living costs plus tuition put it out of their reach. We won’t get anywhere that way….

    d) Not everybody is as concerned about taxes or debt to the degree that rightwingers are…and our rightwingers got it from the American taxphobes, who refuse to invest in the future or their own people, and assume you can live for free….Libertarians.

    e) Countries, unlike individual families with their ‘kitchen-table economics’, go on for centuries, and you build as you go.

    f) There is a difference between the generations because young people want tax money spent on sensible things….things that will make a difference to society….not on nonsense ….the best example of which is the F-35.

    • Since this site isn’t allowing ‘edit’ anymore….

      g) This problem isn’t unique to Quebec…it applies all across Canada.

    • I was just reading the OECD ranking of 17 countries on education from June 2011 and Canada ranked 2nd just behind Finland (available on the Conf Board of Canada website). While it is true that 40% of Canadians lack in the “literacy skills necessary to be fully competent iin most jobs in our modern economy,” this situation is global. Even in the highest ranking Sweden, 30% of adults have low-level literacy skills and in Italy, 80% do.
      Suprisingly, an article a few days ago in the London Telegraph on this subject pointed out that despite spending far more money than Canada on education and social programs for the young, the UK has a much higher rate of funtional illiteracy in their youth than Canada does.
      Interestingly in June 2011, only 2 of the 17 countries were given an “A” grade for education: Canada and Finland. The “A” grade was given for the provision of a quality education for youth from childhood through to age 25. Canada fell behind Finland due to fewer PhD’s.

      • That’s nice….now how does a 42% illiteracy rate help Canada?

        • As I am sure YOU can figure out, a 40% low-level literacy rate doesn’t help Canada and a 30% low-literacy rate doesn’t help Sweden either.
          The question is how do we improve people’s literacy skills. Unfortunately, according to the OECD report, people tend to not report their literacy level as low…and they do not tend to seek help in improving it as adults. There are all kinds of suggestions in the Conference Board Report on how companies can try to help people who work for them who have low-level literacy levels to develop better skills.
          Maybe you have some suggestions that the rest of the planet hasn’t tried, Emily.

          • No, the question is when are we going to stop spending money on nonsense, and start providing free university?

          • So your are only real concern is that taxpayers embrace an elitist policy that excludes, through no fault of their own, at least 40% of Canadians who are functionally illiterate and maybe only benefits 30% of Canadians who have high-level literacy and are able to complete a university degree.
            Meanwhile, you have admitted that the tution is low and is only a small part of the cost of an education, especially for rural students who must relocate to a city. Are you expecting the taxpayers to pay for their living as well?
            Given that the Conference Board has clearly outlined the financial benefits of getting a university degree for the recepient, I am wondering what we taxpayers will do for the 70% of Canadians that won’t be qualified to attend university…..nothing???? We will just ask them to foot the bill?

          • My real concern is that the majority of Canadians get the kind of education that will advance us into the knowledge economy of the 21st century. As a nation.

            I have often noticed that those already with degrees….don’t want anyone else to have one….and they come up with the lamest reasons why others absolutely shouldn’t have one.

            Your current post is a veritable circus of lame. Dog-in-the-manger lame. Envy-lame. Resentment-lame. Class envy-lame.



          • Say what???? You have “noticed” that people with degrees don’t want others to have one. Gee, I have noticed the opposite. People who have degrees are the ones who encourage young people to attend university. It is a well known fact that one of the indicators of whether a child will attend university is if one or both of their parents did. What is not true is that a university education is not a great investment for the recepient. It is and the current enrolment figures show that students across Canada recognize it as such.
            Further, you cannot compare university to high school like you Emily, are want to do, when the entrance requirements mean that not everyone can attend….unless you are going to start offering lower-streamed technical school options at universities for those who aren’t able to handle the courses…just like they offer in Canadian highschools.

          • Parents encourage their own children, yes, but not necessarily

            anyone else. Lessens the competition.

            High school used to require an entrance exam….not any more.

            No one should be denied a chance to go to university because of money. Same thing we went through when high school was opened up to the masses.

    • Everybody should be concerned about unmanageable debt. It’s not a right wing vs left wing thing. It’s about being able to afford a certain standard of living. And unmanageable debt makes that impossible – as the Greeks are now finding out.

      • This is not Greece

        This is nowhere near Greece. Nor could it be.

        Greece doesn’t actually have an economy…..Canada does.

        Kindly stop making Greece your latest boogey-man

        Godwin’s law now applies to mentions of Greece

        • Never said this was Greece. I said that unmanageable debt is very bad and that the Greeks are finding that out now.

          I also wouldn’t say Greece necessarily has no economy – I would, though, say that Greece’s inability or unwillingness to crack down on tax cheats and streamline their business environment probably has a lot to do with the position they are now in.

          But regardless of whether Greece has an economy or not, it’s moot. Any country, state, or province can get itself into a position of unmanageable debt. All it takes is being unwilling to acknowledge fiscal realities. The Drummond report exists because Ontario realizes that.

          Hmm, 5 mentions of the G word – ooops.

          • And we don’t have….never have had….never will have…unmanageable debt.

            Canada is an immensely wealthy country

            Greece certainly has tax cheats, and corrupt politicians…but they don’t have an economy either.

            And no, the Drummond report was political theatre, Ont is fine thanx.

          • Just to be clear – you’re saying Ontario is fiscally perfectly fine and McGuinty has absolutely no reason to be concerned about his province’s future financial situation? And McGuinty commissioned the Drummond report and is now seemingly picking a fight with teachers, doctors, etc for “political theatre”?

          • Just to be clear….Ont had far worse debt in the 1840s when we invested in canals, and then had thousands of Irish refugees…most of them ill….show up.

            Debt goes up, debt comes down, up, down….routine cycle.

            We’re still here.

            The rest is political theatre.

          • Just to be clear – you’re saying Ontario is fiscally perfectly fine and McGuinty has absolutely no reason to be concerned about his province’s future financial situation? And McGuinty commissioned the Drummond report and is now seemingly picking a fight with teachers, doctors, etc for “political theatre”?

          • Just to be clear – you’re saying Ontario is fiscally perfectly fine and McGuinty has absolutely no reason to be concerned about his province’s future financial situation? And McGuinty commissioned the Drummond report and is now seemingly picking a fight with teachers, doctors, etc for “political theatre”?

        • Maybe you should ask Godwin before you appropriate his name for a law you just made up.

  4. Not so long ago Maclean’s wrote a article about the corruption in Quebec… And now that we decide to get up against that corruption you’re bashing us… Look at what happen yesterday, it’s not just a question of tuition fees, it’s a question of how we are tired too pay more taxes then Ontario and Alberta (and let’s not talk about the cost of gas) and having all those corruption going on… If you’re good doing good in your province good for you… but quebec province is not and that for 10 year and more… We finally decide to wake up and fight (not always the right way but at least we’re trying)!!! We don’t have the same mentality as you cause we’re not from the same culture, but we bring things to Canada like every province do, so please put your self in our position for once and go deeper than just those tuition fees… I’m not a student and I think tuition fees should be raise a bit cause we all need to pay but before asking more money to everyone M. Charest should stop those corruption… In fact we are in a delicate position every quebecois as to pay for the mistake of Liberal it’s a question of survival… But what we’re doing at this point is to aware all futur governement that they can’t do whatever they want to do and think nothing is gonna happen… Charest decided to put quebec in deep shit well he’s got to pay…

    • “we are tired too pay more taxes”

      Your argument would make more sense if you were fighting for lower taxes. But you’re not. The students are fighting for high taxes. 83% of their education costs are covered by taxes, and they are fighting for it to stay that way. In fact, they’re fighting for that number to increase, since by freezing tuition that number has been rising over the years.

  5. When you see hundreds of thousands of people walking on the streets demonstrating AGAINST their government, you can only imagine that there’s something really wrong. We are a very good natured population, nicknamed ”Pea Soup”, but we are a very resilient and persistant group of people who have come a long way from the Duplessis era.

    I am very proud of those young, intelligent students, and the majority of the population is as well. My grandson told me that this strike has taught him a lot about the different levels of politics, whether it be in his school or in the community.

    What is happening in Quebec, is happening else where in the world as well. People are fed up of the way our politicians rule the world, without any human consideration.

    I am against poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, poorly managed health care and education systems, the cost of unionized employment, the deterioriation of our environement (land and sea), the greediness of our governements and banks, etc. etc. etc.

    The demonstrations in Quebec are about all the above.

    • “I am against poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, poorly managed health care and education systems, the cost of unionized employment, the deterioriation of our environement (land and sea), the greediness of our governements and banks, etc. etc. etc.
      The demonstrations in Quebec are about all the above.”
      Are you implying that people who believe that it is reasonable for tuition to modestly increase are PRO all those things you listed? I mean…really…who is pro poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, etc? Perhaps we just have different views on how to diminish those things.

      • No no no. My comment was simply to say that people of all ages and walks of life have joined the students and are protesting for greater issues than just the projected increase in tuition fees.

        Even though a government is in power, it is ultimately the people who are in charge. The people of Quebec are simply expressing total insatisfaction of their government, and it is their right to do so.

  6. I would be more impressed with the student movement if they allowed secret votes, respected their signature on an entente, didn’t wear masks and allowed students who voted to continue classes to do so.

    If the police and municipal governments had not allowed the Occupy people to take over public places for months and showed that they are afraid to confront young people, we might not be in this mess.

    The government should ask the educational institutions to stop collecting for the associations the associations part of the compulsory activity fees. If the contribution was voluntary, the associations would have a lot less money. Of course international busybodies and unions might help fill their coffers. As it is the associations could hike their fees in order to force all students to help pay for any fines the government imposes.

    • Yeah, the lack of secret votes is pretty galling. Claiming some great democratic legitimacy because 8% of your student body came out to a public vote, and the majority of that 8% raised their hands at the same time as everyone else in the room did is pretty pathetic.

  7. While it’s understandable that education costs money, how can you justify all the car infrastructure debts that this generation – the climate change generation – are still paying? They will be impoverished by environmental destruction while trying to pay for all the cement fly-ways their parents glided across. What a legacy.

  8. Je ne partage pas les opinions des francophones qui ont commenté sur les propos de ce journaliste, sauf que je suis d’accord que Macleans pourrait faire plus d’analyse d’Ontario qui est aussi corrompu, sinon plus que le Québec avec les histoires de L’ambulance Orange et l’energie verte.

  9. The problem with your analysis is that you assume that the tax burden with be lowered because of the tuition increase. First, there is no reason to expect this unless the government reduces its subsidies to the universities and reduces the tax burden in an equal amount. If that is the case, then no new money is given and the initial reason for the increase is lost. This is not the case. Moreover, the increase in seniors will have a large effect of health costs, etc. There is no reason to expect the tax burden to be lowered in the next few years. In short, there is no direct automatic correlation between this and the tax burden.

  10. “If it works, you’ll pay less in taxes for your entire working life”

    Ha ha ha, that’s a good one Geddes. So funny. Pay less taxes. In Quebec. And there will be unicorns and leprechauns.

    The only reason for this move is to slow the rate of tax increases, as the bills for daycare, health care, education and the mammoth Quebec state require more and more money each and every day.

  11. If my affordable education means that I will pay higher taxes after I’ve graduated and found a well-paying job? I’ll pay the taxes. And I’ll pay the taxes for my son’s and my grandson’s affordable education and I don’t mind a bit and I’m sure they won’t mind a bit paying more in tax on the income that will be higher than the income they’d earn without that education.

    When we make education unaffordable in order to protect our children from taxes we demonstrate the inadequacy of our education.

    High prices reduce demand. That’s a basic economic principle.

    Now why? Why! Would any sane society want to reduce the demand for education?


    Where does this notion come from? That we are doing our children a favour by depriving them of education in order to spare them future taxation?

    It doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s an infuriatingly stupid notion.

    • Education is currently free until high school, and this is available for everyone. University education, in other hand, is for the ones that can afford it from the marks perspective, not financial, meaning some kids, even having money nowadays, would not be accepted by a university. There is the main reason university cannot be free – it is for an elite, not everyone like elementary to high school, not mentioned it will be unfair asking someone that cannot afford (from the marks perspective) a university, to pay to someone university degree.

      • How about this? If you can make the grade then you can stay in university whether you have money or not.

        Under the system you are defending, you have to have money and make the grade. Although in practice often the money is enough – as long as it it’s enough money, like maybe an addition to the gymnasium.

        If all you needed was to make the grade, then the quality of students would be higher. Since we are not eliminating those who don’t have money, the grade requirements of entry and of graduation would increase. Whereas a kid with money can get in with an A-, he or she would be beaten out by a poor kid with straight A’s.

        The tax expenditure is justified by the higher quality of graduates. Higher quality graduates will make a greater contribution to the general welfare so that even the poor kids with bad grades will live in a better world.

  12. You just didn’t get anything. Please, cover your own subjects instead of bashing on what you mostly know half.

  13. I think Geddes hits the nail on the head here. The protesters seem to be labouring under the delusion that the tuition help they want is “free”. It’s not – it will be paid for by them as well as by those who don’t get a college degree….which hardly seems fair.

    I think a fair number of the disagreements one encounters on fiscal matters resolve to an inadequate grasp of the simple fact that subsidized services aren’t “free”, but are paid for by government, and that what government spends, it first must collect from working citizens.

  14. I would like to think that the arguments you make in your article are correct, but the track record of past Quebec governments indicate otherwise. Sure, they downplay the whole thing by talking about “fair shares” and what not, but I would be willing to bet that they will hike tuition fees for students and will refuse to budge on income taxes.

    In other words, you would think that by raising tuition fees, income taxes might be reduced for all. It won’t be the case, they will simply ask students to pay more for their tuition, and then keep being overtaxed for the rest of their stay in Quebec.