A Mechanic's Tour of the Federal Budget

The Olympics are over, parliament has been officially de-prorogued and it’s time to get back to the job of steering the country out of the financial badlands. One of the stops along the highway to recovery is Budgetville. The next federal fiscal budget is on the horizon, so let's stop for a quick inspection – and we're going to like it, because we're a family and we love each other, so shut up.

The first analysis shows us that this budget is lean and tight, but not in that good way.

According to the Tories, the budget is going to increase the amount of our national debt by just shy of $50 billion. They blame the global recession on our deficit, and that seems pretty fair, but it comes on top of last year’s $54 billion borrowing spree, so it seems that the borrowing is not slated to end. That means our national debt is going up faster than 'For Sale' signs on late model Toyotas. Canadians are going to be on the hoist for a cumulative $622 billion of national debt, and we are going to stay there until 2015, when the mechanics at the Ministry of Finance promise to perform an alignment and balance out that bill. That’s almost $20,000 per man, woman and child. So much for the preventative maintenance that the federal stimulus program was supposed to achieve.

Speaking of maintenance, remember last year's budget? It gave a tax break to anyone who wanted to perform renovations on their homes, but I doubt that the shiny new rain gutter on your suburban duplex will balance out this year's price tag. The renovation stimulus also mostly helped out the construction business, not the family. That industry has had a record windfall over the past decade thanks to low interest rates, creating demand which has driven up wages, the cost of building materials and therefore the cost of housing. How's that new gutter looking now?

The next check is on the job market. The stimulus program is not keeping unemployment down far enough for us to yield a successful return on our investment. The 2009/2010 “Action Plan” is conservatively estimated to protect around 25,000 jobs, but almost $50 billion is pumped into that tank, which works out to a whopping $2 million per job. Yes, we’re keeping the economic wheels turning, but those rims aren't made of gold.

The next point of inspection is education. Its cables have been cut. Funding has just been slashed like my grade 11 math teacher’s tires, though she deserved it. Given the value of post-secondary education to students and what that can mean to our future economic stability, there should be more funding to universities and colleges. Lower tuition fees mean that students borrow less, and are given a better chance at contributing to the federal piggy bank by putting that money directly back into the economy, and not into a repayment plan. The Conservative budget neglected to offer any additional dollars to post-secondary because the government says that there just isn’t any extra money available. That's like patching your tires with duct tape.

According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the amount of debt that we owe to the federales through student loans is $13.5 billion. That’s a federal estimate and does not include personal or bank loans. According to the budget, there is no money available to help us finance our expensive scholastic driving lessons. Be it through direct funding to our institutions, or through tax breaks, we will still have to work three jobs to cover tuition, books, food and lodging. Tuition keeps going up and funding keeps dropping; it's time for a tune-up.

As we drive out of the bay, we're paying by credit for poor repairs. Now, we pick a new destination, like City Hall. It’s time to make an action plan of our own, by educating our own government as to what the future may hold for us when we graduate with crippling debts. Write emails, call and pester your local MP, and warn them of what the future generation is facing without better help from them. Caution them on the reality of students declaring bankruptcy because they can’t pay back their education. Tell them point blank that the cost of education is like a fancy car without insurance. Tell them you're worried. Tell them you require extended metaphors about cars to even swallow the facts, and check with your CFS or student union reps for projects, strategies and information.

// Paul Garbini

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