Canadians pay high taxes, and these taxes afford us the social services and luxuries of first world living, but why isn’t tuition funded by these sufficient taxes? As a student, this question haunts me, so I sought out the one scholar on campus whose opinion on these matters reigns supreme: Ron Dart.
Professor Dart is a climber of the golden era in the ‘60s and ‘70s when beatniks pursued freedom from “normalcy” in the mountains. He is a great philosopher, humanitarian, author, and authority on political and religious issues in our university. Serving on staff at Amnesty International before coming to UFV, Dart has underground notoriety amongst UFV students, serious street cred portraying our very own campus Chomsky.
Dart welcomed me into his office with a gentle handshake and, in a tone of voice reserved especially for philosophers, Buddhists, and surf bums, offered me a seat. Posters of sprawling mountain ranges and mountaineers clutching exposed rock-slabs above wild vistas covered the walls. “Excuse me if I seem a little tired,” Dart says as he reclines, “I only returned last night from two days of trekking.”
Canadian tax rates are on par with many Scandinavian countries, equaling or surpassing those places that offer government funded, tuition-free university to its citizens. I envisioned two reasons for Canadians not receiving the same treatment. First, the fact that the International Monetary Fund estimates our government diverts approximately $34 billion in subsidies and handouts for the fossil fuel industry each year, the lion’s share of which comes from uncollected taxes — a terrible short term investment when compared to the proven wisdom of subsidizing higher education for a better educated and capable workforce.
Secondly, the fact that Canada is utilizing an archaic voter system by global standards, one that suppresses voting on principals such as tuition costs and discards millions of votes from people who didn’t pick the winner of their riding. Our First Past the Post electoral system enables majority governments without the support of the majority of Canadian voters. As noted by Noah Gordon in his article “Should the Victor Share the Spoils?” published by ***the Atlantic, 21 of 28 western European countries use the Proportional Representation system, which gives representation for a wider variety of viewpoints and interests that reflect the citizens.
“Yes, our current voting system encourages citizens to vote strategically instead of on their conscience, and reinforces a centrist to centre-right government,” Dart exclaims. “But the true issue lies deeper.”
We, as students, are seemingly plagued with a deep apathy towards politics. Dart recounts asking a class whether they understand Canada’s parliamentary system when not one hand rose. Young adults and students consistently lead the country in low voter turnout. What hope is there for university students of having our voices heard amongst our countrymen when we are simply content in ignorance? University is supposed to be a place where young adults are exposed to a vast array of new knowledge and different opinions, and where we begin to consider the important issues that affect us, and the lives of others. Instead we cram for a quiz that will help us get a secure nursing job, for example, without realizing the government’s plan to cut funding to healthcare. If students continue to be apathetic towards politics, we shouldn’t be surprised when the government seems apathetic towards our desires for a more fair cost of tuition.
I look at my phone; we have been in the office for nearly an hour. I step into the hallway and turn around. Dart leans in the doorway, his small frame hidden beneath a loose button up, the only trace of mountain strength showing in his sinewy hands and the gleam of his narrowed eyes.
“Have you seen those new Hobbit movies?” he asks.
I wasn’t sure if this was a trick question, some philosophical quiz to be deciphered in the milliseconds before my response. I offered a tentative, “Yeah.”
“Well, there’s a scene when Bilbo meets Gandalf, and is offered to go on a grand adventure,” Dart says, beginning to smile. “Bilbo refuses. He is comfortable in his hobbit hole with his biscuits, smoking his little pipe in the sun. He has two sides on his family tree, the boring Bagginses and the adventurous Tooks. Bilbo has become complacent, compliant, settled-in to the status quo. Gandalf asks Bilbo what side he is going to listen to, the Baggins or the Took? Each person has a Took and Baggins warring within, and depending on what a person chooses to listen to, they’ll lead a life that is rich, dynamic, animated, engaged in the epic issues of life, or they’ll settle into their little shire.”