Opinion: Moving backward to the future with Canada

Intergenerational relations are more than the interaction between seniors and non-seniors, although this is the usual view. A recent example of this traditional definition is a report by the C.D. Howe Institute called Taxes, Transfers and Generations in Canada: Who Gains and Who Loses from the Demographic Transition. This study argues that seniors gain, while non-seniors lose in the tax and transfer game. The flaw here is in the premise, called Generational Accounting. As a 1998 Statistics Canada report (Government Finances and Generational Equity, edited by M. Corak) pointed out, generational accounting is misleading and requires extreme caution. It has a ‘long way to go’ before it can be applied usefully.

In any event, intergenerational relations also shape the Ontario government’s new tuition policy on university education. In this case, it’s the baby boomers who are sticking it to the generation after Generation X — that is, to the children and grandchildren of CARP members and, indirectly, to CARP members themselves. The politicians and university bureaucrats who have allowed tuition — the key to access to post-secondary institutions — to rise so greatly a the same people who benefited from low tuition fees when they themselves attended university.

The problem is that politicians and the others conveniently forget their history. Even before the baby boomer bulge reached university age, society built a host of new universities and community colleges to accommodate them. And tuition was kept low because society at the time — those who constitute today’s seniors — recognized the value (or the return on investment) of a highly educated population both to the individual and society. They assumed educated individuals would be more likely to have a better quality of life, earn more and, in return, repay society through the payment of higher taxes.

In contrast, the current provincial finance minister argues that those who have a higher education may get a higher paying job and therefore should pay more for that privilege. But higher paying jobs are not necessarily guaranteed as a consequence of higher tuition. If heavily indebted graduates don’t get higher paying jobs, can they sue the government for a broken promise? In future, as well as repaying their high debt with interest, graduates may also pay higher income taxes –a double whammy!

This new policy has shattered the social philosophy of an interdependent society. New students with the ability and desire to further their education will pay a greater portion of their tuition and start their post-graduate life with a heavier personal mortgage on their future than did their parents. As the policies of the 1950s — the ‘good old days’ for the current crop of political leaders in Ontario ? replace the guiding philosophy of the past 30 years, we move backward into the future.

B.C. has recently introduced a pilot project providing $2,400 in tuition credits for 1,000 students who spend 300 hours each on volunteer work. On the other hand, like the $2.5 billion Millennium Fund for 100,000 scholarships, it could be argued that these funds should be provided to post-secondary institutions rather than individual students. The more money the universities and colleges receive directly, the less they have to charge in tuition.

The Ontario government has adopted the same inter-generational approach to its healthcare policy. On the one hand, it closes hospitals, while on the other it has started the process of building new and expanded homes for the aged and nursing homes for seniors. Unfortunately, people who become chronically or acutely ill and are not 65 or over will find that institutions in which they can regain their health — our hospitals — have been severely reduced.

As for those over 65 who become acutely or chronically ill, it will take about eight years before the new beds in long-term care are available. And, based on the government’s current projections, there still won?t be enough beds at that time for everyone needing them.

So what to do? If you think this intergenerational dumping is unfair, write or phone Premier Harris, Education Minister Johnson, Health Minister Witmer, your local MPP, and your local newspaper.

Make your voice heard.