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Can a Grade 12 student know better?

April 15, 2009

Canada needs leaders able to embrace long-term objectives

who is a Grade 12 student at St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener)

The end of January was a time for both new beginnings and renewed disappointment.

The world watched history in the making Jan. 20 when Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States. Every television in my high school – and in most of the world, I imagine – was turned to coverage of the inauguration ceremony. At the heart of this monumental occasion was a sense of hope and inspiration that transcended ethnic, cultural, and national boundaries.

While listening to Obama’s inaugural address, surrounded by captivated friends and teachers, I felt a sense of solidarity with the crowds that filled the National Mall. We all shared a common dream for a brighter future.

Seven days later, I was brought back to the reality of politics with the unveiling of the Canadian government’s 2009 budget.

Parliament’s lack of vision and leadership was made all the more depressing by its marked contrast with the events that took place a week earlier.

In his inaugural address, Obama spoke of choosing “unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” proclaiming “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas” that have dominated American politics.

Meanwhile, the events that culminated in this budget demonstrate the Conservatives’ resolve to do the exact opposite. Stephen Harper’s reversal regarding deficit spending, his attempt to cripple rival parties by withdrawing public funding, and the prorogation of Parliament are symbols of a government that blatantly embraces the discord of partisan politics.

Instead of working to build the unity of purpose that Canada needs to navigate through the rough waters of this global recession, Harper appears content to continue playing political games, concerned solely with his own electoral future. Ultimately, it is the average Canadian who will pay the price of Harper’s single-minded emphasis on political expediency.

This budget is simply a result of the Conservative party focusing on the short-term instead of making necessary long-term investments. My generation is being saddled with a deficit numbering in the billions of dollars in order to fund “stimulus” projects, while the government cuts its support to areas that are critical to Canada’s future prosperity.

For proof, look no further than Genome Canada, a not-for-profit agency that the Globe and Mail reports has provided close to $2 billions in funding for major scientific research projects over the past eight years. Genome Canada has contributed to the human genome project and numerous other worthwhile scientific initiatives, but its funding was eliminated in this recent budget. Canada’s three research councils will also see cuts to their funding at the same time that billions are spent on infrastructure projects.

Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have a lot to learn from RIM executives Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. They have recognized the need to invest in research and innovation, respectively providing the bulk of the financial support needed to create the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Long after the infrastructure projects Flaherty commissions are completed, the research accomplished by these academic institutions will continue to pay dividends for Canadians.

Kitchener-Waterloo, like Canada as a whole, stands at the turning point between manufacturing and a knowledge-based economy. Now is the time, as Obama promised in his inaugural address, to “restore science to its rightful place.” We must invest in our collective future instead of wasting an opportunity on short-term stimuli.

However, this long-term objective will only happen when our leaders work to build the unity of purpose and vision that Canada needs during these uncertain economic times.

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