A memo was passed to various government offices recently, denoting the impending ‘soft announcement’ of the cancellation of the NB-EI Connect program. This, at least, is what the Saint John Regional Office of the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour claimed, upon probing them for answers about the decision.
To explain the program’s cancellation, the department cites New Brunswick as the only province that still offers such a program and the lack of workers available for vacant part-time jobs. The logic, one gathers, is that students who the NB-EI Connect program had previously funded will now work, with all their spare time, at the local fast-food place or gas station, where they will be pushed too hard and paid too little.
By funding students, the NB-EI Connect program has allowed thousands to attend post-secondary institutions that they would otherwise be unable to afford.
Ordinarily, individuals who work for a total of 420 hours within 12 months qualify for employment insurance. The typical university student is able to work this number of hours during the summer and apply for benefits as they study, allowing them to pay for rent, food, and other necessities. The NB-EI Connect program helped students who worked summer jobs access the employment insurance benefits they are entitled to. The abrupt dissolution of this program leaves students scrambling to consider how they will pay tuition, rent, and food – the prices of which are notably rising.
The cancellation comes when students’ futures are already decidedly grim. Inflation and tuition are at record highs, while the thought of owning a house is becoming more of a pipe dream than a realistic financial target. This is without mentioning the climate crisis, about which our concern rises with each UN report more forbidding than the last.
Depending on one’s perspective, they may take respite in the fact that it is not all bad for everyone. The announcement to cancel the program coincides with the economy for one particular industry having never been more profitable.
Excess profits in the oil and gas sector have been met unchallenged by our elected officials while many families are struggling to make ends meet – one of the great injustices of recent memory. Writing in Business Insider, Ben Winck and Madison Hoff detail how American energy companies are profiteering from the recent hikes at the pump. The exuberantly high gas prices are not solely a consequence of supply and demand. Rather, they are largely caused by the profiteering of the gas companies themselves.
Pertinently to New Brunswickers, the province’s richest man, Arthur Irving, the sole owner of Irving Oil Ltd., has seen his fortune increase by hundreds of millions this year, according to estimates from the Bloomberg Billionaires Index (Since the beginning of the pandemic, his wealth has fluctuated between approximately $3.83 billion and $9.23 billion). With these facts in mind, it is logical to assume Irving Oil’s finances are accumulating similarly to the American companies.
Unfortunately, calls to combat the contrasting fortunes between classes are falling, largely, on deaf ears. Like that implemented in several European countries, a one-time windfall tax on the oil and gas industry’s excessive profit has been proposed by NB Green Party leader David Coon. The idea of a windfall tax, however, has been met with a mixed appraisal. Coon says that he has received a lot of support. But from some of his colleagues in the Legislature, the proposal has been met with ridicule and contempt.
There are ways to fund the NB-EI Connect program; Higgs and his colleagues are choosing not to. The claim that this government cannot afford to pay for the program is patently false. Students should not be made to work arduously, balancing low-paying, part-time jobs with full-time studies, at a moment in time when both tuition costs and inflation have never been higher. Meanwhile, executives and shareholders in the oil and gas industry are lining the pockets of their already egregiously expensive trousers.
Duncan Murray is an undergraduate student at the University of Prince Edward Island, majoring in Psychology and Biology.