OTTAWA (CUP) —“The plan’s measures focus on the drivers of growth: innovation, business investment, people’s education and skills that will fuel the new wave of job creation,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters in advance of the budget’s unveiling in the House of Commons on March 29.
But apart from a heavy focus on industry-related research and additional funding for one particular youth employment program, Canadian post-secondary students were largely missing from the Conservatives’ 2012 budget.
“This federal budget is bad news for Quebec youth,” said Fédération Universitaire du Québéc President Martine Desjardins. “The reduction in grants for university research, for example, clearly shows the increasing place private corporations are taking in universities. We are also concerned to see that grants for social programs were lower than what the province asked and we worry about the consequences of these reductions on youth.”
Research and innovation
The Conservatives instead placed a clear emphasis on innovation and research funding, namely in the form of partnerships between businesses and universities. Among their plans, they intend to dedicate $14 million over two years to double the Industrial Research and Development Internship Program, which currently supports 1,000 graduate students in conducting research at private-sector firms.
The Conservatives also plan to send $6.5 million over three years to McMaster University for a health care research project, and will dedicate $500 million over five years to support modernization of research infrastructure on campuses through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, starting in 2014–15.
Paul Davidson, president and CEO of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, called the investments “smart and strategic” and was generally supportive of the research funding proposals outlined by the Conservatives.
“I think Canadian universities can be quite proud and quite pleased that the government recognizes the central role universities play,” he said.
The 2012 budget marks the end of the stimulus phase of the government’s economic action plan and thus the end of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, which provided nearly $2 billion over two years for construction projects at university and college campuses across the country. Budget 2012 reported that a total of 515 projects were completed under the program, and while five have yet to be completed, no further federal funding will be provided for those unfinished projects.
Katimavik funding eliminated
There were youth-related cuts in the document, too. Living up to rumours that swirled in the media in the days leading up to the budget, the government cut funding to Katimavik, a popular youth program that supported young Canadians traveling the country to participate in volunteer projects. The government announced its intentions to continue to invest in “affordable, effective programming” and that Canadian Heritage would pledge over $105 million in youth initiatives, though few details were provided.
In the area of job creation specifically for youth, the Conservatives only announced they would add another $50 million over two years to the existing Youth Employment Strategy, which, according to the government, connected nearly 70,000 youth with work experience and skills training last year.
While the government re-affirmed their plan to forgive student loans of up to $40,000 for new doctors and $20,000 for new nurses and nurse practitioners who plan to work in rural and aboriginal communities, starting in 2012–13, this plan had already been announced in last year’s budget.
Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May also said she was “very disappointed” that no greater moves were made to relieve youth unemployment and student debt in the budget.
“The priority is to engage people so that we can put up the kind of cross-country response. We need to mobilize,” she said.
Nevertheless, thanks to their majority government status, it’s expected that the Conservatives will pass their budget plan with ease.
The government also announced its plans to eliminate the penny. Pennies will no longer be produced and distributed to financial institutions starting in fall 2012, though the coins will still be allowed to be used in cash transactions.
Dubois warned that the government was trying to “balance the budget on the backs of students and older citizens,” while May felt there was another clear message for young people among the financial proposals.
“You’re the victims in this,” the Green Party leader told Canadian University Press. “Anybody younger than 50 is the part of the population that gets kicked in the teeth in this budget.”
With Files from Joel Ashak