Thursday, October 11, 2007

Universal ideas

While most of the coverage from the first day of Saskatchewan's election campaign has focused fairly narrowly on the first policy offerings from both the NDP and the Saskatchewan Party, I haven't yet seen the broader philosophies behind those platform planks receive much attention. But it looks like another issue in addition to federal/provincial relations will serve as a major point of difference between the two main contenders, as the parties are seemingly taking polar opposite views on the idea of universality in access to services (even while trying to put money toward the same issues).

Of course, the NDP's prescription drug plan figures to be the largest universal program to be brought up during the course of the campaign. And it only makes sense as an extension of universal health care to make sure that Saskatchewan residents receive relief from the fastest-rising share of health-care costs.

But with the Sask Party having not yet unveiled anything by way of health policy, the most stark contrast for now lies in the parties' respective treatment of education costs.

The NDP's promise to adopt the McCall report would result in an across-the-board tuition cut, making education more affordable to all students while they're actually enrolled at Saskatchewan universities - particularly in light of a concurrent increase in student loan limits for housing and living.

Mind you, some elements of the plan would involve some differentiation - based either on individual accomplishment (i.e. added scholarship funding) or a specific need for improved access (i.e. incentives for students from neighbourhoods of low socioeconomic status). But even the latter differentiated benefits can be classified in terms of universal access. And the obvious core of the NDP's plan is to make sure that all students are better able to afford university at the time they attend it.

In contrast, the Sask Party's education platform is aimed almost entirely at tax credits after graduation. Student debt would pile up no less quickly, and the cost of seeking a university education would be no more affordable at the time when a student actually attends school. The only difference from the status quo would be the possibility of paying any debt down more quickly after the fact.

That graduate credit is also accompanied by a promise to offer an additional credit limited solely to income earned through self-employment - despite the lack of any apparent difference in principle between the merits of self-employment and employment generally. I'd think that's a fairly curious choice, but it certainly offers a stark contrast to the NDP's more universal focus.

While education offers the most obvious example of the differing philosophies so far, it figures to be far from the only issue where the question of universality comes up. Again, health care looks to be an obvious one as well, as the Sask Party is already attacking the NDP's prescription drug plan precisely for its universality. And the NDP's focus on low utility rates also serves as an effective universal benefit which figures to be a topic of conversation.

Of course, it's always possible that the campaign could go in an entirely different direction. But the difference in views on universal access could both serve as the main point of distinction between the NDP and the Sask Party, and lead to a far more meaningful policy debate within the Saskatchewan campaign than we've seen in other provinces which have recently gone to the polls. And hopefully that's a result that would be universally well-received.

Update: And not surprisingly the Sask Party's prescription drug proposal feeds into the argument somewhat as well, clawing back the existing benefits for thousands of seniors, providing no similar plan for anybody aged 15 to 64 and adding a cap on costs only for children under 14. Though it's interesting to note that the Sask Party's means-testing for seniors wouldn't be applied to children (or their parents).

No comments:

Post a Comment