The Scott Ross: Canada Originally Intended All Education To Be Free

Out of Canada’s 33 Fathers of Confederation, only one went to university.1

It’s not that Nova Scotia’s Charles Tupper was the only intelligent one among them, other founders were businessmen, doctors, and lawyers, it’s that none of those jobs, and many others, did not require any post-secondary education.

And the eduction jobs in the late 19th century did require was entirely made free shortly after confederation because provincial governments, though extremely small and limited, believed that their public schools should provide all the instruction necessary for citizens to obtain jobs in any sector, be it agriculture, engineering, manufacturing, commerce, medicine or law.

Today however provinces have lost sight of the importance they once placed on education. Where once provincial governments provided all the training necessary for a skilled workforce, they are increasingly providing less while at the same time businesses are only requiring more.

By 2020 the BC government predicts that 77.3% of all jobs will require a post-secondary education. That means in seven years provincial governments will not provide the education needed for three-quarters of all jobs whereas for decades those same governments believed it was important enough to provide the education for every job.

When Canada was founded, education was seen as the extremely important public good that it is. Even in that most conservative era of small government, where health care wasn’t paid for, roads were tolled, and government sanitation services were non-existent, education was such a priority that our provincial governments sought to make it entirely free to every citizen, to provide the training and skills for any and every job.

That is how education in Canada was originally viewed by government, and that is how all education necessary for all employment was publicly provided for decades. Of course over time that changed, and now Canada has a skilled labour shortage, productivity is declining, and our economy is stagnating.

And though today education remains perhaps the most beneficial public good, it is now a costly private expense, while health care, an almost entirely private good, along with roads and sanitation are completely paid for with public funds.

The great past of Canada was built on the importance of education and the complete public provision of it in order to train its citizens for every job. Over the last few decades that has changed, and with it so has Canada’s opportunity for a great future.  

1. [Richard Gwyn. John A, The Man Who Made Us, p.321 ]

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