Higher Education Strategy Associates

Party Platform Analysis: The Greens

So, we’ve been in this ghastly election period for several weeks now, but it’s just starting to get interesting, with parties releasing actual platforms.  I’ll be putting together briefs on each of the parties as they come out, starting today.

Let’s start with the Green Party, which is the first to have released a complete platform.  This platform is slimmer than the sprawling 185-page monstrosity the Party had up on its website for the first weeks of the campaign, and which contained all sorts of fun stuff, like family policy that had been outsourced to Fathers 4 Justice.  It’s slicker, and presumably represents what the party thinks are the most salable bits of their full-range of endorsed policies.

So, here’s what they say they’ll do on post-secondary education.  First, they are going to abolish tuition fees for domestic students, progressively, by 2020.  Second, they will lift the 2% cap on annual increases to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program to First Nations (though why this would be necessary if tuition was eliminated isn’t entirely clear).  Third, they have a plan to cap federal student debt at $10,000 (again, with tuition eliminated from need, not entirely clear this would be necessary).  Fourth, they will abolish interest on student loans (what’s left of them), and increase bursaries (though why you’d need to if tuition was abolished, and loans capped, isn’t clear).  This, it says, will “jump-start the Canadian economy”.  On top of that, the Party says it is unacceptable that youth unemployment is twice the national average (though, in fact, internationally this is on the low side), so it will be spending $1 billion per year to employ students directly through an Environmental Service Corps.

On science policy, there is a lot about “evidence-based decision making” (though this seems to be conspicuously absent in post-secondary policy), and a promise to restore funding to scientific endeavours within the Government of Canada (e.g. at Parks Canada, Health Canada, etc.), but nothing whatsoever with respect to granting councils.

The costing for all of this is somewhat dubious.  The party puts the cost of eliminating domestic tuition at a mere $5 billion, which is about $3 billion short of where it is, and probably closer to $4 billion by the time the plan is supposed to be rolled out (seriously – just multiply the 1 million domestic university students by average tuition, and you get a number bigger than what the Greens seem to be assuming).  But on the other hand, they’ve probably over-budgeted on student debt relief; they have this costed at $2.5 billion in the year of maximum costs (it declines after that), whereas I can’t see how it would cost more than $1 billion even if they didn’t get rid of tuition (briefly: average federal debt of those with debt over $10,000 is about $19,000, and only 46% of the 200,000 or so who graduate each year have federal debt over $10,000, so 92k x $9,000 = $888 million).  So while the Party clearly hasn’t a clue what it’s talking about in terms of costing, at least the errors aren’t all in the same direction.

To its credit, the Party is planning to partially pay for this ambitious agenda by cutting $1.6 billion in education tax credits. But that still leaves a net bill of about $4.5 billion (their numbers – about $7.5 billion in actual fact) in 2019-2020.  And for what?  To make education cheaper for people who already go?  To transfer billions back to the upper middle-class?  To be – as the intro to the policy suggests – more like Germany and Austria, where access rates are actually significantly worse than they are here?

What should we think of such a platform?  Well, even if we ignore the fact that it’s a massive net transfer of wealth to the upper-middle-class (such benefits as the poor would receive from lower tuition would be counteracted by the loss of offsetting subsidies) it’s a pretty poor showing.  Is there really nothing better we could do in higher education with $8 billion than to make it cheaper?  What about using that money to hire more professors?  Do more with IT?  Invest in research?

No, apparently it’s all about cheaper.  And for what?  To be more like Germany and Austria, which have lower access rates than we do?  This is stupid policy made by people who can’t count.  The Greens can and should do better than this.

More as the parties release platform details.

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7 Responses to Party Platform Analysis: The Greens

  1. Jim Sentance says:

    On the debt relief costing, maybe they’ve fallen for the common misunderstanding of what average debt on graduation figures mean

    • Alex Usher says:

      That’s one possibility. It’s also possible they confused “total debt” with “federal debt” and forgot about existing provincial debt relief. But that’s the kind of scale of mistake you’d need to make to come up with a $2.5 billion figure.

  2. Joey says:

    What is the Green Party’s policy if a province decides it doesn’t want to eliminate tuition?

  3. Michael Hynes says:

    There was something about the federal councils, something about elimination of funding for any projects that involve GMOs. Now I am not sure what they mean here, and will give them the benefit of the doubt that when they say GMOs they mean only food crops and animals. And that is short-sighted enough, because although I might not like Monsanto and herbicide resistant crops, there are plenty of possible future projects that really would be beneficial. However, there is a nagging fear that they might actually mean any research involving genetic manipulation of any organism, even for research purposes. There was a lot in this platform, and its costing, that was not clearly thought out.

  4. Michael Hynes says:

    To elaborate further on what I said above, in the Green Party Budget (http://www.greenparty.ca/en/budget), under “Science” in the spending category, it says (headline) “Stop federally funded GMO research” which is alleged to save 101 Million a year. If you click on the information button for that line item, it says “Cut all federal biotech funding to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Resources Canada and 10% of funding (amount going to GMO biotech) from NSERC and NRC.” I find that a bit disturbing, without an explanation of what they mean by “Biotech” and “GMO” , and a 10 % cut to the NSERC budget is not a good idea.

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