On Campus

Are young Quebeckers really getting a bad deal?

John Geddes on “intergenerational inequity”

Republished from Capital Read,your source for Parliament Hill news and gossip on Macleans.ca.

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?

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