First of all, a happy 2007 to all my readers.
I was thinking this morning, as I often do, about the future direction of this country called Canada. Where do we see ourselves in 5 years? 10 years? in the year 2020? What will be the issues that dominate political debates and shape the ever-nebulous Canadian Identity? Of our current leaders, which, if any, will be the one to lead Canada along that path and lead us to their vision of a Canada that fulfills all of its potential? What will it take to forge an immortal prime ministerial legacy that resonates with Canadians for generations to come?
These are no simple questions to answer. Sure, I may be able to conjure them up during a sleepless night at 4am, but I don't really have the full answer right now. I can see some resolutions and paths, however, and I shall discuss but one of them now.
The Next Great Canadian Social Engineering Project
First, do we need one, and if yes, what is it? In the past election campaign, the battle lines were drawn around a National Daycare Program. This, to me--a child-less as yet 20-something--seemed quite odd as a national election campaign issue; it was as if I woke up one morning and a National Daycare program of some sort became the predominant issue in Canadian politics. Every party platform had one, even the Conservatives, which was strange because they're supposedly--in the parlance of our partisan times--really neo-conservatives, who are renowned for their wariness of social engineering projects.
Now, there are a number issues on which I trust the state to take care of me, namely those defined under s.91 of the Canadian Constitution: peace, order, and good government. I don't have kids, as I mentioned above, but I once was one, and let me tell you something: I would much rather have been looked after by my mother, father, step-father, grandmother, aunt, or family friend than the Canadian State. I'm glad that this indeed was the case, as I turned out rather well and with a close bond to my familial unit. The state does other things better, and I would greatly prefer if they stayed out of the business of raising whatever future children I have and allowed me to do so within my family. I'll even take the $100/mo. to pay a babysitter when necessary.
Ah, 25 bucks a week. Folks, what is more "mean-spirited?" Giving mom & dad only a few bucks to help out, or saying that they'll blow the money on beer & popcorn and adding in that without the state's all-knowing and -calming hand they're much more likely to end up in prison? If you are a responsible parent who is able to look after his own affairs and those of his family, you'd almost certainly say the latter. But if you see yourself as a pseudo-European citizen who can't wait for the next state intervention to relieve you of the burdens of looking after brats and managing your own life, you would have fit in nicely on Carolyn Bennett's leadership campaign. The daycare issue, moreover, is a bit of a red herring because of Canada's declining birthrate, which hovers somewhere around 1.5, meaning that for every parenting nucleus (i.e. 2) only 1.5 children are being born. In the future, there will be fewer children and a smaller population of Canadians while the baby-boomers are easing into retirement and collecting all the benefits that the Canadian state has created for them now. The people of my generation, of which there are fewer, will thus each have a higher share of a burden to bear in paying social security and pension benefits. So, not only are the Liberals being mean-spirited in their attitude but they've also focused on the wrong demographic. Unless, of course, they're running on the assumption that all of us young folk are going to be working 16-hour days to be able to pay for ourselves and the benefits of the generation before us, in which case we'll have very little hope of seeing our own kids, should we even be having them (giving more credence to "not tonight, honey, I'm far too tired after having to work all day").
Rather than focusing on child-care, the state should be working on a comprehensive national post-secondary education plan. Yeah, yeah, provincial jurisdiction. Work it out with the provinces, then. Knowledge is the key to almost every aspect of a successful economic life; the more educated a person is in a relevant field, the more money they are likely going to make. Canada is already in the transition to a knowledge-based economy, but those who are on that curve are increasingly finding themselves in an economic hole when they begin their main working years. I should know, I'm one of them, and my burden is much less than that of some of my friends. The pretty degrees and fancy suffixes come at a very high cost, and when you're living in a weaker province like Nova Scotia (which, by the way, is almost entirely shut down today...meanwhile, if I still lived in BC, I'd probably be getting ready for work right now) it can be a real challenge to pay off those costs.
In the last election campaign, Paul Martin trotted out a good idea that simply did not go far enough to be a good idea, the "50/50 program." Under that plan, which would have kicked into effect this coming September, the feds would fund half of the costs for a student's first and last years at university, making it, in effect, a 25/75 program. One of the major flaws with this program was that a student who began study in 2006-07 would not see any benefit from said program until at least September 2009, by which time they'd potentially have accrued a debt load in the tens of thousands of dollars. A true 50/50 program, however, would significantly lighten that load and ease the concerns that many Canadian teenagers (and their parents) have when it comes to further their education beyond Grade 12. Money is almost always the #1 issue a university student faces, and can readily affect the decisions they make regarding where they go, what they take, and how they will live. Not all students are exceptional enough to receive large-scale scholarships, and many don't even know that they exist, but there is a very capable and willing pool of students out there that can make a contribution who end up excluded because they can't pony up enough cash or make a large enough withdrawal from the Bank of Mom & Dad to pursue their training. I don't know about how things work at every university in Canada, but to my knowledge, UBC (and perhaps just the one in Kelowna, at that) is the only school at which a student will not be turned away due to financial reasons (if there are others out there, let me know). We must enable our students to be able to pursue their post-secondary training without fear of emerging from the halls of academia with a crushing debt load that they will be paying off for years to come.