We know how much angry mail politicians are going to receive on the subject of EI reform. So we’d like to pose a couple of provocative questions: What if New Brunswickers do not need better Employment Insurance benefits? What if the people of this province would benefit more from better access to effective education?

Some very great New Brunswickers have subscribed to the notion that education is the surest route to prosperity. One was Sir Max Aitken, the first Lord Beaverbrook; another is Dr. Richard J. Currie, chancellor of the University of New Brunswick and one of Canada’s most prominent and accomplished businessmen.

Lord Beaverbrook became one of the western world’s most recognizable industrialists and a political power broker, but he never forgot his childhood in Newcastle, New Brunswick. His greatest contribution to this province was arguably the Beaverbrook scholarships, which brought world-class education within the reach of ordinary New Brunswickers – a key to knowledge with which one could open any door.

Richard Currie was one of those Beaverbrook scholarship recipients. In the 1950s, when student loans were unheard of, Lord Beaverbrook’s scholarship program enabled him to attend the University of New Brunswick. He became an engineer and then, a Masters of Business Administration student at Harvard University. He graduated to one of the most celebrated careers in Canadian business history, leading companies such as Loblaw, George Weston Ltd., Bell Canada and BCE Inc.

Dr. Currie has become a champion of higher education – asking, for example, why this province spends more on paving roads than it does on preparing students for a life of learning and personal achievement. Like his benefactor, Lord Beaverbrook, he has also tried to pay the benefits of education forward to future generations, investing more than $20 million in new facilities at UNB and endowing Atlantic Canada’s most valuable undergraduate scholarship, the Currie scholarships.

This week, he announced the creation of a new award – the Dr. G. William McQuade Memorial Scholarship, which will be granted to young medical students. He is funding it in memory of his friend, a fellow Saint Johner who became a surgeon through hard work and determination.

Would New Brunswick or the world have been a better place if these three men had settled for lives of seasonal work, subsidized by Employment Insurance payments?

Frankly, we doubt it – and their success affirms that it is drive and access to education New Brunswickers need, not bigger EI payments.

This editorial originally appeared in the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal on Friday, May 25. Republished with permission. 

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