Youth should be a priority in federal, N.B. budgets

Sean Thompson - The Political Animal (Tom Bateman/AQ)

The backlash against two budgets unveiled last week, New Brunswick’s and Canada’s, has not begun in earnest, regardless of the protests on the legislature’s lawn and the foyer of Parliament.

Those demonstrations could seem like prayer circles once the details of budget cuts come out in the weeks ahead.

Budget speeches and estimates offered a small glimpse at what’s to come. While not as bad as expected, it leaves our generation holding the bag.

Buried amid pages of numbers, tables and other accounting pornography, the provincial budget revealed a cut of nearly $400,000 (roughly two per cent) to Student Financial Services, provider of financial aid to most New Brunswick students.

The cut will squeeze the pocketbooks of increasingly desperate students further, forcing some out of university or college and hurting their chances to advance their lives in the province.

Graduates wanting a career in the public service are also pressed. With the province now replacing only essential jobs after retirements, the chance for new blood to find a career in government, one of New Brunswick’s chief employers, is shrinking.

Numbers for summer employment programs, like the SEED Program, won’t be discussed until later this month.

Compounding this is a provincial economy sputtering even more than usual. With inflation (projected at two per cent) again set to outpace economic growth (1.1 per cent), the private sector appears unable to keep up with the growing demand for jobs, especially among youth.

While the provincial government is making good progress toward a balanced budget, its legacy rests on living up to its economic development rhetoric and creating jobs, not just cutting.

The same can be said of the federal government.

Its budget, titled Jobs, Growth, and Long Term Prosperity, notably cuts 19,200 jobs from the federal payroll.

It provides $25 million a year to the Youth Employment Strategy for two years. With national youth unemployment at 14.7 per cent, the strategy’s success is essential for the only demographic yet to recover from the 2008 recession.

The National Research Council, whose Institute for Information Technology is across the street from STU, will get $65 million to refocus on “business-led, industry-focused research.” The SSHRC program, a vital source of social science and humanities research, sees its budget stay the same.

All that money looks modest, however, compared to the $450 million budgeted for Pan-American Games facilities around Toronto, a nearly $475-million annual increase to the Coast Guard’s budget, and the ballooning costs of the F-35 fighter jets the government plans on buying ($9 billion for 65 planes at last report).

The budget’s lip service to student and youth needs was ultimately overshadowed by the cutting of Katimavik, the national youth volunteer group.

Odds are, you know at least one person who went through Katimavik – he or she can tell you how great an experience it was. Its elimination is a middle finger in the face of youth who want to be involved in the community and the nation.

To build a better province and nation, the governments of Stephen Harper and David Alward need to show they can support us, students and youth. If they can’t, New Brunswick and Canada will be lesser for it.

This is the Political Animal’s final appearance in The Aquinian. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and I also hope that perhaps you’ve learned something as well.

Thanks to the editors who’ve worked with me the last four years and tolerated my occasional mental breakdowns and sometimes flexible definition of “deadline.”

If you want to keep up with my musings on politics and life, follow me on Twitter @SeanDThompson and read my soon-to-debut blog at

Thanks for reading.

Update: In his report Tuesday, federal Auditor-General Mike Ferguson pegged the latest estimated cost for the F-35s at $25-billion and suggested even that is likely a lowball number.