Educationally speaking, Finance Minister Paul Martin, like any smart businessman, has done some long-term investing.
Last Tuesday, Martin and the Liberals announced they had balanced Ottawa's books and were ready to start putting an $18.1 billion surplus back into the country and they did, beginning with education. But does the creation of the Millennium Fund, a $2.5 billion scholarship initiative that will assist postsecondary students beginning in 2000, as well as government grants for parents with registered education savings plans, really bring a new ray of hope for the future of learning in Canada?
Well, if you consider the ever-rising tuition costs across the country along with the downward spiral of education spending by the provinces, not really.
In fact, the spending appeared to have more of a political flavour, rather than an educational one.
What these investments will do is help the federal Liberal party look more like a political Robin Hood giving riches to the poor leaders of tomorrow. But in order to give, Martin had to take from guess who the provinces. Decreasing transfer payments from Ottawa to the provinces, have left politicians like Mike Harris dangling in the wind, all while the free-spending Liberals blow away the competition.
And, by no coincidence, the spending of the Millennium Fund dollars, along with any new programs the Liberals create with the leftover money (over $7 billion is still unspent), will bide well for the Liberals in the 2002 elections. Alas, the ultimate long-term investment for a political party.
However, the provinces, deeply angered by the federal government's decision to spend on education (normally a provincial matter), can respond by continuing to cut education provincially, just to cancel out the federal initiatives which could leave the student population in no better position.
The plea, then, must go to the provincial governments.
In Ontario, Mike Harris and the Conservative Party still has the opportunity to invest more in education, seek different financial relief options for students in debt and, regardless of any fury with the Feds, work to make opportunities better for students in Ontario.
If educational initiatives are on the minds of Canada's politicians, then it is up to them to work together to improve the minds of Canadian students.