Kelly McParland: Lots of pandemic cash for teens, not so much for starving artists

Maybe the feds could hire some of those bored teens to do the spadework for the two billion trees the government has pledged to plant by 2030

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When I was a callow youth studying for a career in the newspaper business, I was told of a student grant so easy to obtain you’d be foolish not to. I duly filled in the simple application form and the money arrived soon after.

Being callow and youthful I didn’t spend a cent of it on anything educational. Instead I bought a camera I didn’t particularly need but really wanted. A year or so later I was contacted by a public employee who informed me it hadn’t been a grant after all but a loan, and demanded I repay it. The camera was later stolen from my bag at an airport, which served me right, I guess.

I couldn’t help recalling this when reading that the ever-generous government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had sent $636 million from its enormous stock of borrowed money to some 300,000 teenagers aged 15-17, to make up for income from jobs presumably lost to COVID-19. It works out to about $2,000 each, which isn’t a fortune but raises the question of whether teen incomes should really be such a priority during a pandemic that civil servants need to be assigned to formulate a rescue. When I wasn’t wasting misbegotten cash from the government, my father used to overpay me for cutting the grass, which worked just as well and involved no input from Ottawa, but perhaps teenagers today are more disciplined, focused and responsible than I was and directed their $2,000 windfall straight into an upgrade of their high school math texts.

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It raises the question of whether teen incomes should really be such a priority during a pandemic

Teens appear to have done better than writers, poets and other artists, many of whom are being told to return money from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit because the tax office belatedly realized they hadn’t reached the minimum $5,000 in earnings. Perhaps if they’d masqueraded as 15-year-olds they’d have had more luck.

There’s something about Canadian teens that clearly touches the heart of the prime minister, given his earlier botched attempt to distribute $900 million by way of the Kielburger brothers and their WE Charity organization.

In that case the money was intended to pay students to do volunteer work. Apart from the fact Liberal planners apparently believe the point of volunteering is to be paid well, the scheme ran aground when no one could adequately explain why the government — having apparently put as much thought into the idea as it had into hiring Julie Payette as governor general — chose to hand the program straight to an organization known for paying generous fees to members of the Trudeau family. The goal was to pay “volunteers” up to $5,000, which, coincidentally enough, would have qualified them for the CERB program, as long, no doubt, as they weren’t writers or poets. In the end WE had to shutter its Canadian operations altogether, which meant no jobs for anyone, paid or otherwise.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, are flanked by We Day co-founders Craig Kielburger, left, and his brother Marc, during a We Day event in Ottawa on Nov. 10, 2015. Photo by Darren Brown/Postmedia News

Not that the government cares only about the young. Earlier it spent $2.5 billion to send a minimum $300 apiece to Canadian seniors, whether they needed it or not. You didn’t even have to ask. The prime minister may not be aware of it but a lot of seniors are actually well off. Many, indeed, are among the one per cent who Liberals and New Democrats keep demanding “pay their fair share” in taxes. Why Ottawa feels compelled to send money to people it already believes are undertaxed is a question for brighter minds than mine, but it does fit with the strategy of a government that thinks the best way to battle killer viruses is to spend more money.

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Additional expenditures are nigh. In her upcoming budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to include further anti-virus outlays. Rather than more gifts for students, maybe she should consider hiring them to do the spadework for some of the two billion trees the government has pledged to plant by 2030. Originally budgeted at $3.2 billion, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates it will likely cost double that. With that kind of loot, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan could not only subsidize bored 15-year-olds but pay “volunteer” artists to read to them while they worked. Maybe they’d even earn enough to qualify for CERB.

Chrystia Freeland is expected to include further anti-virus outlays in her upcoming budget

Economic thinking such as the above help explain how it is Canadians find themselves on the hook for a pension of $150,000, plus $200,000 a year for office and expenses, till death do us part, for a governor general who put in just three years on the job before being forced out over a bad attitude. Or how the Liberals calculate it will cost $2,000 for arriving travellers to spend three days at an airport hotel while awaiting the results of a mandatory COVID test, which is free anywhere else and can be had with online booking and test results. It’s not clear whether the government accommodation includes the all-day salad bar and HBO, but it’s a telling indication of the sort of digs civil servants, members of Parliament and cabinet ministers evidently expect when forced to leave Ottawa against their will.

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A year ago the Ontario government introduced a new school curriculum mandating mandatory financial literacy learning in Grades 1 to 8, “including understanding the value and use of money over time, how to manage financial well-being and the value of budgeting.” It takes time for these things to work their way up through the system, so it may be a decade or so before today’s elementary students begin to appreciate how much they owe thanks to Ottawa’s profligacy. It took me a couple of years to repay the “grant” I thought I was getting. It will take today’s youth a lot longer to cover the debt we’re handing them.

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