If I had a billion dollars...

Mar 2, 2011

If I had a billion dollars...

Cameron Fenton & Shelley Melanson

If I had a billion dollars, would I give it to the richest oil companies in the world?

Obviously not. Unless I was a member of the current Canadian government that is…

Each year the federal government gifts $1.4 billion in subsidies to the oil industry. That is $1.4 billion a year that is not going towards creating good, green jobs. It is $1.4 billion taken out of public services like health care, education or immigrant settlement, and $1.4 billion that is not going into making post-secondary education affordable.

These companies certainly don’t need the money. Take British Petroleum, currently involved in tar sands production, for example. Despite losing approximately $17 billion due to the disastrous Gulf Oil spill last summer, BP still turned a $1.7 billion profit in the third quarter of 2010.

Oil companies are doing just fine on their own.

On the other hand, skyrocketing tuition fees are both forcing students and their families to take on crippling student debt, and preventing many from pursuing post-secondary education.  Collective student debt in Canada has now reached $15 billion with the average student borrowing just over $4,500 in student loans every year. If the $1.4 billion currently going to oil companies was instead converted to student grants, two-thirds of all student loans taken out last year and the subsequent debt could be eliminated.

Why is the government putting our money into the pockets of wealthy oil companies when they could be making post-secondary education affordable and accessible?  There are so many ways in which this money could be better spent, and this is just one of them.

A recent poll conducted by Leger Marketing for Climate Action Network Canada showed that 70 per cent of Canadians would support reducing these subsidies. On top of that, Canada has already committed internationally to eliminate these subsidies. During the 2009 G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, world leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, promised to begin phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, a promise he has so far failed to live up to.

In November 2010, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty warned Canadians that he would be tightening the purse strings in this year’s budget, and looking to reduce spending.  What better place to start than  cutting tax breaks to the oil industry? It certainly makes more sense than cutting essential social services like health care and education.

Shelley Melanson is the deputy chair for the Canadian Federation of Students.

Cameron Fenton is currently serving as the national director for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.