Quebec Students Need Lesson on Equalization

Commentary, Equalization, Frontier Centre

It would appear Quebec university students need to learn a lesson on equalization, fairness and pulling their own weight. Frankly, so does Premier Jean Charest and the rest of the province as well.

Quebec post-secondary students protested and some even rioted this past week in downtown Montreal over the provincial government's proposed increases to post-secondary school tuition fees.

Quebec plans to increase tuition by $325 for each of the next five years, which may sound like a lot to some, but not to most other university students in the rest of the country who pay much more than those in Quebec.

Currently, of the 10 universities with the cheapest tuition, seven are in Quebec. But that tuition is only inexpensive if you are a Quebec resident. If you are not a resident of Quebec, of the 10 most costly tuitions in Canada, five are in Quebec and are the same ones that are the least expensive for Quebec students.

As Charest keeps trying to inform these angry students, even with the annual in-creases factored in, the average tuition in Quebec would rise to only $3,793 per year, which would still be among the lowest tuitions in Canada. Tuition at the University of Calgary, for instance, is $5,257 or $6,264 when you include the fees. Currently, Canada's top-ranked university – McGill – is the eighth cheapest university in Canada for Quebecers. It charges just $2,168 for basic tuition or $3,727 once all of the compulsory fees are factored in. But, for an outof-province student – let's say an Albertan – basic tuition at McGill costs $5,858 and increases to $7,417 once the fees are added, making it the third most expensive tuition in the country for non-Quebecers.

Charest has tried to reason with the protesting pupils, pointing out that Quebec students are paying just 14 per cent of their actual cost of education and that it's a great investment, since they will earn much more than those who do not go on to higher education over the course of their lives and will be healthier and more fulfilled as a result.

What's more, while the cost of virtually everything else goes up annually, tuition in Quebec remained frozen for 33 of the last 43 years.

But here's where Charest gets an F. He was quoted as saying recently: "It's through taxpayers here … that we're going to do the lion's share of financing of our universities and colleges. Then we're asking students to assume their fair share."

The problem with that quote is the word: "here."

It's not the taxpayers of Quebec who are paying the lion's share of the financing of Quebec's university students' tuitions – it's the taxpayers in Alberta who are.

According to Alberta Finance, in 2009 – which is the last year for which data are available for all provinces – Alberta was the only net contributor to confederation. For all of you who hate oil and gas, you need to stop and contemplate that fact for a while. In that year alone, Alberta sent almost $16 billion more to the federal government than it got back in federal transfers.

In that same year, Albertans – including individuals and corporations – paid $35.990 billion gross in taxes to the federal government.

Alberta received $19.997 billion back in transfers from the federal government, meaning the rest of Canada got $15.993 billion net from Alberta that year. Without trying to be repetitive, Alberta was the only "have" province in Canada that year. Put that bitumen in your pipes and smoke it, Greenpeace.

Now, take a wild guess which province got the "lion's share" of Alberta's largesse? If you guessed Quebec, you'd be correct. Quebec received $13.641 billion in equalization payments from the feds in 2009 and since, as already mentioned, Alberta was the only net contributor to confederation, all of that money Quebec received came from Alberta.

Equalization, in case Quebec students are unclear, is a program designed to make the government services available to Canadians equal across the country. Except we all know that Quebec is more equal than others. Its students get cheaper tuition, the government provides $7-a-day daycare – that is not available anywhere else in the country – and the Quebec government subsidizes hydro rates for its citizens.

As a result, every Quebecer received the equivalent of $1,743 more from the feds than they paid into confederation. Albertans, by contrast, contributed a net of $4,356 for every man, woman and child in 2009. In other words, every Albertan gave more than any Quebecer pays for tuition in their province, while Albertans pay much more.

Since many of the media elites in Quebec are separatists, this information never seems to get distributed in Quebec. Indeed, Quebecers seem to believe that they are subsidizing the oilsands – a lie that now deceased NDP leader Jack Layton spread during the last general election. But it only stands to reason that if Quebecers took a brief lesson in equalization and studied the numbers even briefly, it's highly likely even the most strident pure laine's appetite for sovereignty would evaporate as quickly as the tear gas Quebec police have been shooting on those student protesters.

What's really curious about all of this is why students in Alberta aren't in the streets protesting as a result. Maybe it's because they're all working too hard in their evil oilpatch jobs subsidizing Quebec students' tuitions and trying to save enough money for their expensive university tuitions at the same time.